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Wheelchair mobility is the ability to move around the environment and engage with the community by using a wheelchair. Many people use wheelchairs for mobility, including people with amputations, recent injuries, chronic fatigue, spinal cord injuries, and other medical issues. Some people are full-time wheelchair users, requiring a wheelchair for mobility at all times, while other people may walk some of the time, sometimes with the assistance of a cane or walker, and use a wheelchair at other times.
Using a wheelchair requires some practice and training. In the case of manual chairs, people need to develop upper body strength to control the chair, and they also develop techniques for navigating the environment, including methods for wheelchair mobility on rough surfaces and inclement conditions. People using powerchairs for wheelchair mobility require training sessions to learn to operate the controls. Powerchair controls can work in a number of different ways; some wheelchairs can be operated with a hand toggle, for example, while others are controlled with the user's breath, in the case of people who cannot control their hands.
When people are fitted with a wheelchair for mobility, they commonly work with a mobility therapist to learn how to use the chair and to ensure that the wheelchair is a comfortable and appropriate fit for their needs. The therapist can provide people with wheelchair mobility lessons in controlling and working with the chair and will also teach skills like how to transfer out of a chair and how to use a chair in crowded environments. Aides and assistants can also be taught about how to assist people in wheelchairs.
Using a wheelchair for mobility can improve quality of life for people with mobility issues. For part-time wheelchair users, the ability to turn to a chair when necessary can prevent fatigue and injuries, while full-time wheelchair users rely on their chairs to get around in the community. People who demonstrate a need for wheelchair mobility can usually get coverage for their chairs through insurance companies and government programs, although people who need spare chairs and specialized equipment like sports wheelchairs usually need to buy these on their own.
People who have not spent a lot of time around individuals who use wheelchairs for mobility may feel awkward around them or uncertain about how to interact with them. Generally speaking, wheelchair users do not like to be pushed unless they specifically request it, and pushing a wheelchair user can actually be quite dangerous in some settings. When talking to wheelchair users, pulling up a chair to sit at eye level, if possible, is recommended.
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