Stairs are trouble for disabled.

Mobility Minefield

Have you ever had to BUMP, bump, bump a wheelchair down the steps at your front door?  Well, welcome to the club. It’s not good for your back, or for the person in the wheelchair.

Have you had to SQUEEZE the wheelchair between the door jambs of multiple doors bouncing over the rugs, the dog, and the high thresholds, while just hoping that your loved one is holding on tight and is still in the chair when you finally get out the front door?

We’ve been there. And we didn’t like it. The conditions around the entrance and the exit of the home were such barriers that the frustration was not worth the effort of leaving the house, it seemed. We were trapped in the house by the difficulties we found at each door.

Having an accessible and safe entrance and exit to your home for you and your elderly family member is not a luxury.  It could be a life-saver in a house fire or other emergency when you must get out of the house quickly. An entrance which is problem-free makes returning home after an outing easier and safer for everyone. If getting out the door or in the door is a hassle for you, then a little planning and problem-solving is in order.

Clear Obstacles First

Clearing away the obstacles in the path to the door is the first step. Look for furniture, rugs, toys, shoes, and other things in the pathway, and move them aside. Keep the path clear all of the time. Having a place for everything and everything in its place is an old and wise saying. There may be things that you want near your door, such as an umbrella, or a container for mail.  Think of some ways to put those nearby, but not on the floor taking up space and blocking the pathway.

Fitting Through the Doorway

Does the wheelchair or walker you use fit through the doorway? Standard widths of wheelchairs vary in range from about 22 to 23 inches. Standard walkers range in width from 22 to 27 inches.

Yes, the patient must be fitted to his wheelchair and walker, and that’s essential. When you are considering a wheelchair or a walker, keep in mind the width of the doorways at the entrance and inside your home. While it is not impossible to widen a doorway, it could be expensive and it will take time. Choose a wheelchair or walker which fits through the main entrance and exit to your home. You must have at least one entrance to your home where the wheelchair or walker can pass through.

It might be easiest to use a transport wheelchair to leave the house. We had a transport chair, and I found it much easier to lift, to roll, and to pass through tight doorways than with a standard wheelchair. The width of a standard transport wheelchair ranges from 20.5 to 25.5 inches, and its weight ranges from 20 to 28 pounds.  I liked using a transport chair for outings, because it was easier to load and unload from the car trunk. There is a nice selection of transport wheelchairs out there (including on our website.)

Over the Hill

         Thresholds can be troublesome to cane, walker, and wheelchair users. If you have a threshold at any door over ¾ inch to 6 inches in height, a threshold ramp would be a good solution for that doorway. There are threshold ramps for both outdoor and indoor use, and in both aluminum and rubber. They are removable and lightweight. The ramps are perfect for sliding glass doors, raised landings, and door-to-sidewalk transitions that might have.

Rubber Threashold Ramp
Rubber Threshold

High Thresholds

Certainly, a caregiver should supervise a patient when she is crossing a threshold. The patient certainly needs to have the seat belt on the chair fastened around him. A wheelchair might be able to power over the top of a threshold; however, the user could lose control when rolling down the other side. This is a time when a fall or serious injury could occur, so the caregiver should be present and alert. A threshold ramp takes the back strain and the frustration out of this effort.

Landing Zone

Once you are over the threshold, where do you land? If the landing or step is not level, not the right size, or not solidly built, then you are in trouble.  That was another of our personal difficulties in getting out the door.  It was necessary to simultaneously lift the wheelchair, hold open the door, and balance on a wooden step that was too narrow for the wheelchair and the caregiver both. I felt that I could have really used a crane just to get out the door.

Once again, a ramp is the solution. There are portable ramps for use with scooters, wheelchairs, walkers and canes. The ramps are aluminum and skid resistant. It’s not necessary to remodel the area of the doorway. These ramps are assembly-free and can be used temporarily or permanently. Yes, a ramp does cost some money, but so does an emergency room visit or a hospitalization after an injury that could have been prevented.

Fast and easy

If you are in an emergency situation, you need to leave the house quickly. You and your loved one want to leave the house without risking your lives and health every time you leave the house.  Plan ahead to clear the way, and to make the exit fast and easy for you both. Discuss the barriers you have, and choose solutions which make your way out of the house easier, quicker and more comfortable for everyone in the household.

This article was undated on 4/5/20 for clarity and content.

Standard Wheelchair, Transport Chair or Both?