Travelling in a wheelchair
If your wheelchair is no bigger than the one shown at the beginning of this report you should be able to use all compliant and accessible public transport vehicles.
If your wheelchair is bigger than this, get in touch with the transport operator. Although they are not legally obliged to take you, many will make every effort to help. Generally
- if the chair is higher, this should not be a problem, except in taxis - you may have to duck when getting in and out. On some trains tables may be at the wrong height for you
- if your chair is wider you may need to be able to steer very accurately to get into the wheelchair space
- if the chair is longer (because you travel with the backrest reclined or footrests extended, say) manoeuvring into the space will be more difficult.
Safety in buses, coaches and trains
- buses and trains have an upright pad or partition fixed at one end of the wheelchair area. Place the back of your chair against it - the wheelchair's backrest should be in the upright position so that it fits securely against this pad or partition
- put on your brakes once in the travelling position
- only powered chairs with sealed or gel-type batteries can be carried. Turn off the power when in place
- do not travel facing sideways.
A transport operator can refuse to carry you if they have reasonable grounds for thinking that your wheelchair may be a safety risk to other passengers. Avoiding this is just a matter of following common sense rules. Make sure that:
- you keep the wheelchair maintained
- tyres are at the right pressure
- the back of the chair is not loaded with bags which could cause it to tip
- batteries are secure
- kerb climbers are adjusted so that they do not catch on ramps.
Stability on ramps
Most wheelchair users have few problems negotiating slopes. But wheelchairs can tip on slopes that are too steep. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency have investigated this problem and the information below is based on their report, DB2004(02) Guidance on the Stability of Wheelchairs. There's a full copy on the website www.mhra.gov.uk. Although most tips are backwards, it is possible to tip forwards or sideways. Things that can affect stability include:
- the shape and size of cushions and seats
- your weight and shape, the way you sit, and the movements you make
- attachments such as trays, legrests; shopping and other things you carry
- sudden changes of speed or direction when the wheelchair is near its tipping point
- steep ramps - particularly when going down
- surface features such as thresholds, gaps, ledges and other obstructions
To minimize risk, make sure you know the limits of your wheelchair, and how to control it safely - see manufacturer's instructions. Be aware of how stable you are on different ramps and slopes. This should have been taken into account, and been discussed as part of your assessment. You may also have been given information on stability with your wheelchair or with any accessory added to it. Be aware of changes to your health or circumstances which could affect stability.
Things you can do
- do not carry things on the front, rear or side of the wheelchair
- adjust the chair for optimum stability - on some the castors or rear wheel can be moved. However some people adjust their wheelchairs to get better manoeuvrability at the expense of stability. If you are in doubt about this compromise, consult your wheelchair centre, a manufacturer or a mobility centre.
- fit an anti-tipping device
- be careful how you sit in situations where there might be a danger of tipping. Avoid moving or stretching in ways that might increase the risk
- if you make involuntary movements, attachments such as posture support, calf straps or heel loops may help. Get advice on what might be appropriate
- make sure electronic controls - particularly accelerator brake and settings - are programmed to minimise risk. Check you can work them safely
Many wheelchair users are familiar enough with their chair to know how stable it is. If you are in any doubt, and if you have a NHS wheelchair, your local wheelchair centre should be able to assess your stability. If you bought your chair privately, ask the manufacturer if they can make this assessment.
If you travel with an assistant or you get help when getting into public transport always make sure that they know what to do, how to do it safely and are strong enough to help. They should never attempt to lift you and your wheelchair.
next page: Trains and trams