April Showers: Wheeling in Wet Weather

We’ve all wished away rainy days.  Sure “April showers bring May flowers,” but that whole positive outlook only lasts for so long before you just want to see some sunshine!  Though a few rainy days can make some folks gloomy, wet weather can bring real challenges for those using wheelchairs as their main means for getting around.

Let’s face it; it’s not as simple as whipping out an umbrella and perhaps a pair of goulashes. How do you stay dry while propelling a chair around town?  How can you keep from looking like a mud puddle attacked you when you arrive at your destination?  If you use a power wheelchair, can you still get out and about when it’s drizzling?

Here are some practical tips for wheeling in the rain from a few of Magee’s experts:

Plan your path.  Keep an eye out for places that tend to flood.  Curb cuts without adequate drainage nearby are infamous places for puddles.  If you have help, ask someone to go out after a rain storm and take a look at any common outdoor routes you travel to see if they are typically passable.  If not, establish alternative routes.

Accessorize…if you wish.  There are oodles of products out there all claiming to be the ultimate solution to keeping dry while using a wheelchair. Be a smart shopper and do your research before you buy.  Ponchos made specifically for wheelchair use can be great especially for someone with a helper pushing the chair.  For independent users however, they can be bulky and get in the way.  Similarly, canopies or umbrellas that attach to the chair or body can be useful for some, but others may find them a nuisance and not worth the hassle.  Hats, gloves and other water-resistant clothing options are smart to help stay dry, but be sure to practice transfers with all the gear in place to ensure it doesn’t hinder performance.

wet deckingKeep an eye on the sky, but also the ground.  Surfaces that are typically easy terrain can become incredibly challenging when wet.  Bricks and other stone paved areas can turn slick quick.  Wooden ramps or decking without appropriate tread can become very slippery making uphill propulsion tricky and downhill downright dangerous.  Dirt or gravel surfaces that are normally negotiable when dry can become mud traps during or after rain. Test the terrain when it’s wet before traveling independently if you are able.

Protect your power.  It’s true, electronics and water typically do not mix, and thus power wheelchairs come with their own hindrances.  While a few raindrops will not likely be detrimental, most controls are not able to hold up against hours outside in a downpour.  Manufacturer’s recommendations should always be reviewed, but in general a common-sense approach to using power chairs in the rain is your best bet.

Take your time.  It is so easy to want to move faster when it’s raining, but so important to take your time. Wet rims can allow hands to slip, causing you to lose a little control of the chair. Most importantly, it is critical to not cut out steps due to rain, especially when transferring out of the car. Make sure brakes are on and wheels are not slipping on the wet ground.  Water will dry, but skin issues or injuries due to a poor transfer will take a lot longer to resolve.

If you have other tips for new wheelchair users, please let us know. We’d love to pass them along!

Meanwhile, remember… it takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow.  Happy spring!

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  • I like to carry clear ziploc bags–quart size, not sandwich size–to cover my joysticks (I have the rear attendant one as well) when we have had no choice but to load in a downpour. You put your hand underneath to steer. I’ve also asked stores for small plastic shopping bags on vacation, but you can’t see through those.

    I’ve almost turned my scooter over with me on it when U-turning during a heavy downpour to try to load quickly. The wheels don’t have much traction!

  • Frida, these are great tips! Good idea to keep those on you at all times in case of a sudden down pour, which we are certainly prone to here in Philly. Thanks for your input, and keep the excellent advice coming!