Navigating Life in a Wheelchair: Tips to Make Things Easier

About Haley Burress

Haley has been working with seniors and their caregivers for more than 17 years. She has held local and national leadership roles in a variety of senior services and senior care agencies. Today, she is a sought after writer specializing in topics for older adults, their family members, and professional caregivers. When she isn't at her computer sipping coffee, you can find her hiking with her husband, son, and dog or trying a new cookie recipe in the kitchen. Follow her on LINKEDIN. Read her LATEST POSTS. Learn more about her HERE.

A wheelchair helps in allowing people with disabilities to move and continue with their daily life while managing their disabilities. Being in a wheelchair may seem “limiting”. This doesn’t necessarily have to be this way.

If you are having or are afraid to have a difficult transition, I will help you. Here are some things you will want to take note of to help you manage expectations when using your wheelchair. Read more!

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Common Everyday Problems

As a wheelchair user, there are common issues that you may face every day, especially if you live in an inaccessible city. Here are some tips that experienced wheelchair users recommend for navigating your wheelchair life.

Blisters on Hands

Remember that navigating your wheelchair takes a lot of hand and upper body movements. Friction from the wheels can cause calluses and even blisters to appear. Using gloves can help you avoid this problem.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) [1] was created to allow people with disabilities to gain more access to public spaces by requiring establishments to provide facilities that will make wheelchair use more convenient.

Sadly, there are still many establishments that do not comply with this act, since able-bodied people often forget about the variety of issues that accessibility obstacles bring to the disability community.

It is best that you always check if establishments that you plan to go to are wheelchair accessible. Make sure that they have accessible facilities so you can move around and get to where you intend to go.

Besides ramps, one should also consider narrow spaces, like doors, where maneuvering a wheelchair may pose some difficulty. This, unfortunately, may not have some immediate solution, so you may need help in these situations.

Elevator Issues

man in a wheelchair getting inside the elevator

This may seem trivial, but being in a wheelchair will, at times, find you racing towards an elevator hoping to catch it before the door closes.

If you find yourself in this kind of situation, don’t hesitate to call out. There are always people who will be willing to hold the door for you when this happens.

Read more disadvantages of manual wheelchair.

Managing the Outdoors

Going outdoors can be one of the most challenging aspects for a wheelchair user. Differences in terrain may make movement more difficult.

There are ways to circumvent these problems though and some things you would want to keep in mind in order for you to be more at ease when in an outdoor setting.

Wear Protective Gear

Outdoor terrain can always be unpredictable and you can never tell how things will end up. Wearing the proper gear, most especially headgear, will help a lot in keeping you safe in case of accidents.

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Find Your Center of Gravity

Move in different directions while seated on your chair and find the position that you are most comfortable with. This will help you establish balance while moving in your wheelchair.

Avoid leaning too forward or backward in order not to lose your balance during movement as well.

Choose Flat Surfaces

man navigating his wheelchair towards the building

Whenever possible, go for flat and even surfaces. Steep ramps or hills will definitely be challenging for you since you will have to rely mostly on your upper body.

Observe potholes so you can avoid them.

Remember, too, that uneven surfaces might cause your wheelchair to topple over since you will want to keep all four wheels in contact with the ground.

The Weather Matters

Snow and rain can make roads and sidewalks slippery. Take extra caution in case you need to go out in this kind of weather to minimize the risk of injury.

Try to avoid puddles too when going through wet streets since these may actually damage your wheels, creating future repercussions.

man pushing the wheelchair of his girlfriend in the snowy road

The best thing to do, though, is to ask for assistance if you can. This is still the safest option for you.


Life doesn’t have to stop when you are in a wheelchair and neither does it have to be limited. Don’t give in to the social pressure.

Jessie Chin, a motivational speaker, said this [2], “When you are in a wheelchair, you have to adjust to a new identity. Many people look at those in a wheelchair as fragile, but that’s not true.

A lot of getting comfortable with being paralyzed and in a wheelchair is being confident about who you are as a person and not falling [victim] to the stereotype of people being in a wheelchair.”

Always observe the precautions needed and take your time to feel your way around.

Before you know it, you will be able to move around and go about your everyday life just like everyone else.

lady in a wheelchair surrounded by pretty flowers

How do you navigate your life in a wheelchair? We’d love to hear your stories!


  • 1. Abrams A. 30 Years After a Landmark Disability Law, the Fight for Access and Equality Continues [Internet]. Time. 2020. Available from:
  • 2. Cassata C. What it’s Like Living in a Wheelchair [Internet]. Healthline. 2019 [cited 2022 Feb 9]. Available from:

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