Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Strapped in and ready to rock

When taking a bus, one of the most interesting things that I notice is how others hook up or strap down their wheelchairs. It seems like everyone has their own method or preferred hooking up/strapping down method.

I apologize for the craptastic art.

The first thing to consider is that everyone's wheelchair is different. It's just like how people drive different cars. My wheelchair has things that others don't, and vice versa. I mentioned on Twitter how no two people load their wheelchair the same way – it's because everyone's chair and car are different.

Instead of seeking a single universal answer, it may be helpful to think about where is a "good" place to place the wheelchair restraints and where is a "bad" place to do it.

Handrims are stable hooking-up/strapping-in places... right?

When assisting, some drivers immediately try to use the restraints on the handrims or rear wheels of the wheelchair. This is a BAD idea.

There is the misconception that the wheel is a stable part on a wheelchair because, well, the whole reason the chair moves is because of the wheel! But for most rigid manual wheelchairs, the wheels can detach (part of the mechanism that makes it easier to store the chair). You don't want to be attaching a vital safety restraint on a removable part.

In addition, wheels can be damaged or bent due to force. I have heard of cases where using the wheel as a location for the restraints has resulted in a bent wheel, resulting in expensive repair costs. (I have Spinergy wheels on my chair and they routinely cost $600 a pair.)

The backrest should be an obvious place to strap down the chair... right?

Another seemingly obvious place to place the restraints is the backrest bar. After all, it's one of the closest areas to the restraint belts on a bus, right?

Well, it is the closest for sure. But I don't find that it is a safe place to strap down a wheelchair either. There are two big reasons why I don't think so.

The first reason is exclusively for rigid manual wheelchair users. Many rigid chairs cannot be folded down vertically (as in folding it down until the rear wheels are an inch apart from each other). Instead, they rely on the backrest folding DOWN on to the seat. As you can guess, since the backrest is a moving part, you don't want to be compromising its structural integrity by using it for a restraint belt.

My other reason has to do with safety and applies to all manual wheelchairs. Some people don't think of this, but wheelchairs can tip backwards. There are many methods to tip backwards (mostly to do "wheelies"). I tend to use my hips. But some others use their backs, which means – you guessed it! – putting force on the backrest. Imagine strong G-forces being applied on the backrest. It would be the ultimate wheelie, a.k.a. falling backwards and knocking your head on the ground.

Okay, how about using a non-moving part?

Another possible area to put the wheelchair restraint belts is on the axle area. This axle is also known as the "centre of gravity" bar. While it is movable, it requires strong tools to do so. I have great hand function and arm strength and believe me, you may need VERY strong tools and willpower to adjust it. Putting force on this axle will not cause the wheelchair user to tip backwards and it would take some extreme effort to make it move. This should be a good place to put the restraint belts, right?

I have never tried to use that bar, nor do I wish to. Why? Because I simply don't know if it would be damaged if the bus brakes and G-forces are applied to it. That bar is one of the most vital parts to a wheelchair that would be a complete nightmare to replace (and perhaps it might even be un-replaceable). I can't say it's a BAD idea to use it, but I can't say it's a GOOD idea either. It would be a huge risk to even test it, in my view. If anyone has input about this, please post in the comments; I'd appreciate it.

The method that is least risky to me and my chair.

My method is to choose a spot that is least likely to move, bend, or become damaged – the front bar, just above my casters. That bar doesn't look as secure as the other locations I mentioned, but for a titanium frame, it is least likely to bend. It will not move no matter what. It does not affect any moving parts. It is also easy to reach when getting off the bus. And it won't tip my chair over, which is a big plus. In short, it is nearly a foolproof place for the restraints.

Some drivers have expressed doubt over the security of this method. To the naked eye, it actually does look like a flimsy way to strap down a wheelchair. But this is the only method I've tried that has NEVER given me any problems. I've even been on a bus that had a collision before and this method passed the test. So when drivers look and ask, "Are you sure that's where you want the restraints?", I just look at them and say, "Definitely."

Do you have a preferred method of hooking up your wheelchair on a bus?

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