Snow Survival for Power Wheelchair Users

Izzie in her Edge 3 Motorized Wheelchair

When you are a power wheelchair user and live somewhere where winter always includes snow, it’s inevitable that your chair gets stuck, no matter how good your power wheelchair is. Sometimes, getting unstuck is easy and just takes a few quick movements. Other times, you need assistance from others to break free.

While in college, I got stuck on a sheet of ice in negative temperatures in an abandoned part of campus at 9 p.m. at night. I did not see the ice under what I assumed was a light layer of snow. This was a part of campus that rarely received snow removal. I was living my worst nightmare. I could not break myself free from the ice, there was no one in sight, and my hands were so cold that my touch screen phone did not register my touch when I tried to call the police. Fortunately, somebody heard my screams and came to my rescue.

Here some things I wish I had known before traveling across a college campus in the winter as a power wheelchair user.

Take the Busiest Route (even if it’s the longest)

The pathways that see the most traffic are the ones to receive priority snow removal to prevent injuries. I know it can be frustrating to navigate around crowds of people, but these areas are going to be free from snow and get the most salt. And if you do get stuck, there is likely people around to help you.

When I got stuck, I was cold and exhausted from the longest night class ever, so I took the shortest route to the student center because I thought it would be faster. I would not have to fight against the crowd of students. It turns out that taking the path of least resistance did not work out in my favor.

Enable Hands-Free Voice Control on Your Cell Phone

Nowadays, there is an option to control your phone simply with your voice. This allows you to call for help without needing to touch your phone or physically hold it. Nowadays, most phones are touch screen and only work when they recognize the heat of our fingertips. Of course, when I got stuck, Michigan was experiencing a polar vortex and my hands were so cold that my phone did not recognize my touch. Unfortunately, at this point, to activate voice control you had to wake your phone with your physical touch.

Run Your Chair at Max Speed

When you are navigating trickier terrain such as snow, it is best to have your motorized wheelchair on the highest speed setting. The faster you are moving over difficult terrain, the easier your chair glides over it. When your chair is set to a lower speed setting, it takes more power to go over a surface that is not wheelchair user friendly.

Most importantly, look ahead and if you are not completely sure if a pathway is completely safe for your motorized wheelchair, definitely take another path if possible or call campus safety for help navigating campus.

About Isabella Bullock: Isabella, or Izzie for short, is an employment specialist for the Center of Independent Living. She uses an Edge 3 Motorized Wheelchair for Mobility. Izzie is an iced coffee enthusiast who enjoys getting lost in a good book. Click here to learn more about Izzie.