Keep it charged: Power wheelchair users need to be mindful that batteries won't hold a charge as well in colder weather. You also might go through your battery quicker when you're having to get over snow and ice, because your wheels work harder if they don't have enough traction. Make sure you have a full charge before you head outdoors.
Watch out for moisture: It's important to remember that the joysticks on power wheelchairs are not waterproof and are only somewhat water-resistant. A joystick cover is a great idea, or you can use a plastic grocery bag if you're in a pinch.
Tune it up: Manual wheelchair users should make sure to do a little tune-up before heading into winter. Make sure all the hardware on the chair is secure.
Get traction: It's a good idea to have an extra set of tires for the winter months. Tires that will perform better in the winter are going to be wider with knobby treads and softer rubber. Pneumatic tires are great for winter because you can decrease the air to improve the traction.
All Wheelchair Users
Make yourself visible: It's important to remember that wintertime means shorter days. So if you're using your wheelchair to get around in the community, recognize that people will have limited visibility. You can buy headlights and taillights, add high-visibility tape, or wear high-visibility clothing. Make extra sure that others can see you when you're crossing roadways.
Dress warmly: Wear several layers. If you're using a manual wheelchair, wear water-resistant gloves so your hands don't get saturated with water. Cold weather can lead to other problems if you have medical conditions that impair regulation of body temperature. Make sure you have enough clothes to ensure that you are going to stay warm, even if that means bringing a backpack with extra essentials in case you get wet.
Be prepared: You never know when weather might be worse than the forecast. It's a very good idea to have enough food in your cabinets and fridge, backup power, and a refill or emergency supply of medication in case you get in a situation where you can't get out and about in the community for several days on end.
How Can Everyone Help in the Winter?
Everyone can do their part to make winter safer for wheelchair users.
Clear your sidewalks: Take the initiative to keep the sidewalks in front of your home or apartment clear of snow. Get out there and shovel in a timely fashion. Some people really rely on that sidewalk being clear in order to get from point A to point B. Pay special attention to the curb cutouts to make sure they are cleared and accessible.
Offer your help: If you see someone out in the community that appears to be struggling, like a wheelchair user that may be stuck in a snowbank or on an icy section of road, reach out. Ask if they'd like your help, and if so, how you can help them.
Keep an eye out at night: A person in a wheelchair travels at a lower line of sight, plus it gets darker earlier in the winter, so wheelchair users are much more vulnerable. Be especially watchful at crosswalks and lot entrances and exits.