Getting Around in Wheelchairs

Getting Around in Wheelchairs

Mulligan, Brian A

Have you ever imagined what it would be like if you could not go to work because you were physically unable, or you didn’t have enough endurance to make it from the parking lot to the front door?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were unable to get through the front door of your office or unable to use the restroom without assistance fr in someone else?

These are questions that many people who are physically disabled think about everyday. These are people from all walks of life-students trying to further their education on a crowded campus, men and women working in large companies and corporations, and managers of Fortune 500 companies. For many of these individuals., their method of mobility is not walking, but rather getting around in a wheelchair. A wheelchair does not stand at the average height for a man or woman, but rather stands 18 inches off the ground so that the individual is seeing others at waist level.

Some of the many things that we take for granted during our workday are things that have to be seriously thought out and sometimes planned, for those in wheelchairs.

For instance, if most people wake up late for work, they can get ready in 15 minutes. For those who are paraplegics, if they oversleep, it may take them an hour just to get dressed and out of bed. It then takes another hour to bathe, and 15 minutes to get in and out of the car.

Getting a cup of coffee, using the water cooler, using the copier, reaching door handles, struggling to keep the door open until you exit, using the restroom, are all examples of the daily complications that those in wheelchairs experience. They often have the same responsibilities and salary levels. However, the time involved in planning their day differs greatly.

Although these individuals do experience many obstacles during the workday, major advances in technology have improved the wheelchair industry and enabled those wheelchair users to lead a more normal and fulfilling life. Wheelchair users often say that it this their way of life and that the wheels are now their legs.

Linda Simon, manager of Quality Systems at Johnson & Johnson states, “I have been working my entire adult life. My disability was slow but progressive and now, I use a three wheeled electric scooter to get around where I work. I have Multiple Sclerosis and I could look at my situation and get angry and say ‘It’s not fair!’ and stop living the best life I can. Or, instead, I could choose to find something positive and celebrate being different.”

At St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center, we run a seating and wheelchair clinic for both inpatients and outpatients. The patients are evaluated for seating and wheelchair needs based on their functional abilities and strengths.

There are several wheelchair vendors who bring out sample chairs for the patient to consider whether they are looking for power or manual chairs. We discuss different options with the patient and have them try out various chairs. We then take measurements and recommend specifications for the chair to be ordered. A letter of medical necessity is written by myself as the therapist to, justify the patient’s need for the wheelchair and sent to their insurance company to be approved and ordered. The entire process can take anywhere from 2-3 months.

The patients who we see for the clinic include adults of all ages and varying diagnoses. Some are being fitted for a wheelchair for the first time and others are trying to get a replacement for the chair they have used for many years.

People who are in wheelchairs for their mobility have needs that change over the years, and based on those needs, they require different chairs or different seating components. There is an entire industry devoted to wheeled mobility, and fitting someone with a proper wheelchair is a difficult task. There are many kinds of cushions and positioning devices that are necessary for people who are in chairs for up to 10-12 hours a day to avoid further medical problems.

Although we as therapists make recommendations based on knowledge and experience, we recognize that it is the patient who must sit in the wheelchair all day. We must consider the different types of activities that they will participate in, whether they will be inside or outside, on grass or dirt, getting in and out of a car, whether or not they will need a van to transport a nonfolding power chair.

Other considerations are manual or power chairs, if individuals have the use of their hands for driving a chair or need head controls, do they take public transportation, do they need a lift or ramp. There are many lifestyle changes that take place in order to maximize a person’s independence.

Unfortunately, many people are denied wheelchairs by their insurance company for various reasons, although their needs may be justified. In addition, many people are denied their independence in the workplace because areas are not properly accessible or an employer doesn’t understand that they may need more time than an average person.

Gloria Teti, former mayor of Lawrence Township and owner of Triangle Art Center, reports that people who are not in wheelchairs do not realize that from a business perspective, not enough is being done to accommodate those in wheelchairs. For instance, in many malls and stores, bathrooms are simply too tight. Seating options in many theaters are often limited.

Teti stated, “The American with Disabilities Act was a great thing to implement, however, the way businesses are carrying out the specified codes is not utilitarian. No one knows exactly how difficult it truly is to get around in areas that are up to ‘code’ as far as the ADA goes, until you have to get around in a wheelchair.”

It is important to respect everyone’s right to live a life as fully as possible and for them to have as much access as possible to their workplace, shopping, recreation, etc.

The goal of the wheelchair clinic at St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center is to provide independence and autonomy to individuals in their homes and in the communities.

As Ms. Simon states, “Life is too short to be miserable. I want to live each day to the fullest. I can’t say it is always easy. I can say that I always find a way!” Our goal at St. Lawrence is to help everyone find a way.

For more information on the wheelchair and seating clinic, please call (609) 896-9500, ext. 2270.

Copyright Mercer County Chamber of Commerce Jul 01, 2002

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