Everyone who uses a wheelchair knows that there are myriad designs and options available to suit people’s different lifestyles; in fact there are probably as many variations on styles of wheelchairs than there are for cars. You wouldn’t assume that your car remained safe to drive without regular maintenance, but do you check your wheelchair regularly? Those who are new to wheelchair use may not be aware of the need for a proper maintenance routine and others with more experience can become complacement.
Accidents to wheelchair users are not uncommon and in many cases, mechanical failure of the chair is to blame. Probably one of the most important components of your wheelchair are the brakes which help to maintain stability.
How do the brakes work?
The brakes on your wheelchair function by making contact with the chair’s tires and clamping onto them. This action prevents the wheels from rotating and causes the chair to stop.
Before the user sits down into the wheelchair or leans over to pick up objects, the safety brakes must be applied. This is to stop the wheelchair from rolling away which could cause a loss of balance and potentially a nasty fall.
The brake controls are usually located on the side of the chair or on the armrest if you use a power chair. Sometimes, they are located beneath the seat, depending on which model you have. If you can’t use hand controls, safety cut-off and braking controls are usually operated by mouth or voice control. New inventions are always coming onto the market, providing more safety to wheelchair users.
Regular checks and maintenance of the wheelchair brakes are particularly important for safety; a loose bolt could cause inadequate braking and the chair could roll away when you most need it to stay still. Because some wheelchair brakes act on the tires directly, you must make sure that your tires are replaced when they begin to show signs of wear. They should also be kept inflated correctly at the right pressure for optimum performance; puncture-proof tires are also a good investment.
· Always apply the brakes when you are getting into and out of your wheelchair.
· When transporting your chair and placing it into a car or wheelchair lift, apply the brakes to stop the wheels from spinning.
· If you're sitting in the wheelchair during transportation in a van or bus, always have the brakes on.
· Have regular maintenance checks carried out on your chair; wheel locks/brakes should be tightly secured to the frame and should be easily accessible when you wish to apply your braking mechanism.
· Keep your tires in top condition.
· Take the time to read through the owner’s manual and take note of any safety tips and maintenance recommendations.
It’s vitally important for your own safety and for that of pedestrians and road-users that you keep your wheelchair brakes in good working order. If you aren’t able to perform maintenance tasks yourself, ask a friend or relative or contact your local wheelchair dealer and arrange to have your chair serviced.
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