10 essentials for wheelchair maintenance

In 1974 , Robert Pirsig published ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’. It became a classic. I read it years ago and must confess I learned more about motorcycle maintenance from it than I learned about Zen…but that probably says more about me than it does about Pirsig’s book.

Anyway, in the past 15 years, I have learned a lot about wheelchair maintenance. Being the one who pushes the wheelchair, rather than the one who rides in it, I have been called on many times to repair, lubricate, straighten, bend, lengthen, shorten, or replace a recalcitrant component.

These are the top 10 items I have come to rely on over the years and no self-respecting, manual wheelchair-maintaining carer can afford to be without them…

10. A tough, waterproof, all-purpose carry case
There are always bits and pieces to carry when out and about with a wheelchair. We have tried slinging a backpack over the wheelchair handles, velcroing a specially-made canvas bag to the seatback, and tucking small objects in beside the occupant. None of these has been very successful. I used to wear a backpack when pushing the chair, but found it too awkward taking it off when needing something from inside it..
I now sling a canvas Messenger Bag (satchel) over my shoulder and tuck the bag behind me as I push. It is easy to slide the bag around and reach into it.

9. Water Dispersant/Lubricant
OK, you may not need to carry this everywhere with you, but a can of WD spray somewhere nearby is very handy when you have a sticky or corroded fastener to deal with. I have heard that the best wheelchair lubricant for wheel bearings is lanolin oil. More about sheep soon.

8. Old wheelchair accessories.
Don’t ever throw away straps, tubes, wheels, buckles, etc. I have often had to jury-rig some kind of temporary contraption with old parts while waiting to get a component replaced or repaired.

7. Velcro straps
Very versatile for temporarily binding things together. I never knew velcro could lose its ‘sticky’ when the little hooks get clogged with fluff and lint, etc, but this does happen, so from time to time you will need to patiently pick out accumulated fibres from the velcro, but various lengths of double-sided velcro strap are light and compact and very handy in an emergency.

6. A small, cheap shifting spanner
Not only for nuts and bolts, but can also be used as an American screwdriver (ie., hammer) for those bits that need to be ‘tapped into place’.

5. A screwdriver set (battery-powered screwdriver optional)
Some wheelchair components are held with screws. You will find that screwdrivers are, apparently, potential highjack weapons, so keep them away from airports. The trick is to check all bolts and screws before entering the airport and cross your fingers that the baggage handlers don’t wreck a vital piece when dismantling/folding up the chair to place it ever-so-carefully and gently in the cargo hold of an aircraft.

4. Sheepskin
I cannot tell you how often I have used sheepskin and lambswool. The chassis of a wheelchair is necessarily hard, and inevitably has hard lumps and bumps and corners. The human occupant inevitably has soft bits that come into contact with, rub against, press on these unforgiving shapes. The remarkable properties of sheepskin are a life saver. I have used sheepskin rugs, lambswool seatbelt shoulder pads, sheepskin mattress protectors, the lining of ugg boots, anything that has come off a sheep. Brilliant. But of course, it gets filthy and can wear out. Expect to have to clean it or replace it.

3. Duct tape
The good, dear friend of any wheelchair home-mechanic. Make sure you get the expensive, good-quality fabric tape, not the cheap plastic stuff. It is a marvellous fastener, waterproofer, shield and protector. And black goes with everything doesn’t it?

2. A good set of Allen Keys
It is amazing the number of hexagonal-head bolts that are used on the frame of a wheelchair. It is equally amazing just how often they work themselves loose. A set of metric and imperial allen keys is essential. Just be sure to remove them before attempting to pass through airport security as they are obviously also considered a weapon of choice by would-be terrorists.

1. A Sense of Humour
Indispensable, and, unfortunately, sometimes in short supply, but try to get some if you can! Perhaps this might be something Zen can help with?


~ by Garry on October 5, 2011.

One Response to “10 essentials for wheelchair maintenance”

  1. You should submit this to some the agencies which publish newsletters. It is very comprehensive and would be most useful to those who are starting out.
    Glad to see your ‘handbag’ tops the list (he he BC).

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