When you have purchased a brand new wheelchair, you will take some time to get used to it. A self-propelled wheelchair takes significant upper body strength to drive forward using the outer wheel rims.
Depending on your disability, you may be comfortable using a self-propelled wheelchair or you may purchase a power wheelchair. Of course, you may still buy a manual wheelchair and hire a caregiver for driving you around.
But whether you are in a manual wheelchair or an electric-powered one, you will need to be able to carry things around. From as simple as grocery bags and shopping carts to as elaborate as backpacks and travel luggage, you would want to take your things with you, when you are in your mobility device.
What Would You Want to Carry in Your Wheelchair?
The longer your wheelchair ride gets, the larger your trip supplies start getting – things that you would want to carry on your wheelchair. You would need to start thinking about how to carry your supplies along.
Very soon you would want to carry a bottle of water along with you, some snacks, a phone battery charger, the day’s newspaper, a laptop, and probably an extra blanket or an umbrella for the unforeseen and unpredictable weather conditions.
You may also need to go shopping and carry back the groceries along with you. You should, however, keep in mind that the more weight you add to your wheelchair, the less mileage you will end up getting from your power wheelchair batteries (or the harder you will have to push your manual wheelchair).
Carrying Specialized Equipment
Often you may want to carry specialized items along with you, like:
- You may not be completely immobile and can move around with a walking cane or crutches. You can get a wheelchair accessory known as a crutch holder that you can securely clamp onto the side or back of your wheelchair and place the case or crutch onto the holder, while your wheelchair is in motion.
- Due to specific disabilities, many wheelchair users need to carry an oxygen cylinder. This can be carried on a strong bag strapped to the back of your wheelchair, due to the heavy weight of the cylinder.
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Options to Carry Stuff Around in Electric vs Manual Wheelchair
Carrying Things in an Electric Wheelchair
If you have chosen to buy a power wheelchair, not only will it be easier to get around, you will be able to carry more stuff as well, as compared to a manual wheelchair. With a power wheelchair, you can use a backpack carrier tied to the hand railing behind the wheelchair headrest.
You may decide to carry your belongings in a bag which can also be tied to the wheelchair armrest, in case the number of items is less. You can also carry your things in a bag and place it under your seat on the wheelchair.
If you have a seat cover on your electric wheelchair, it will most likely have a pouch at the back. Also, most electric wheelchairs would have a pouch under their seat. So all in all, a power wheelchair provides quite a few nooks and crannies where you can carry your things.
Carrying Things in a Manual Wheelchair
On a manual wheelchair, however, your carrying options are much more limited. Manual wheelchairs do not have a carrying pouch under the seat.
You will also not be able to tie a sufficiently large bag to the armrest of the wheelchair because it will fall over the wheels and interfere with your ability to manually propel the outer tire rims.
Therefore, in this type of wheelchair, it is only possible to carry your belongings in a backpack-type bag, tied to the hand railing behind your back. Some manual wheelchairs allow this back to be slung over the back of the wheelchair.
You may still carry some items in a small wheelchair bag strapped down from your armrest, however, it will mostly not be sufficient for all your needs.
You should also be cognizant of the fact, that if you are carrying your stuff in a bag that is strapped to the back of the wheelchair or placed under the seat, you would not be able to access the items while you are in the wheelchair.
If you have a caregiver, you will be able to access the items through her.
On the other hand, you will easily be able to access the items which may be placed in a bag strapped to your armrest.
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Buying a Bag vs Making One Yourself
Wheelchairs come in different shapes and sizes, and you may be in a spot if the bag that you bought does not go with your wheelchair.
For example, your armrest side bag can be too long and it may be dangling over the wheels of your manual wheelchair, not letting you comfortably propel the wheels in the process.
Therefore, it is often a good idea to make your own bag. If you have the resources, you should go ahead by all means and make a bag that is closely tailored to your wheelchair.
For example, say you have a power wheelchair and you operate right-handed. So, you would fix the joystick on the right armrest.
Now, if you want to carry your spectacles, a newspaper, and a mobile charger in a small bag tied to your armrest, you will most likely have to strap the bag on your left armrest, as otherwise, the bag may interfere with the joystick.
And this would not serve your purpose if your left hand is mobility challenged. In this case, instead of buying a standard bag, you may make yourself one that would be just the right size to fit alongside your joystick and let you comfortably access the items.
Alternatively, if you have a very specialized need like carrying your golf equipment or fishing equipment in your wheelchair, chances are, you will need a highly customized bag or carrier for the same.
Finding a ready-made item that fits the bill may be difficult and instead, you can make a customized bag to suit your purpose.
Here we have a Youtube video that shows how to make your DIY wheelchair pouch.
How to Choose a Bag for Your Wheelchair
Therefore, from the above, we can easily identify the considerations before buying a bag for carrying things around in the wheelchair:
- Things you generally carry along in your trip
- The amount of access that you would need to items in the bag while you are traveling on the wheelchair; For example, you should carry your bottle of water in a bag which is easily accessible; but you may also carry groceries back to your home, in which case you would only need access to them once you reach your destination
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Types of Bags or Carriers You May Look to Buy
Once you decide on the two factors above, it is time you decide on the types of bags that will be the most useful for you. The following are few types of bags available to carry items along in a wheelchair.
- Wheelchair backpack bag: If you are carrying a lot of items or few heavy items and do not need access to them before you reach your destination, you can buy a wheelchair backpack bag and strap it onto the back of your wheelchair on the handles behind your backrest.
- Armrest pouches: Armrest pouches, which often come with fleece for extra padding for your arms and elbows, can be wrapped around your armrests and secured with Velcro to provide convenient storage spaces.
- Armrest saddlebags: Armrest saddle bags generally have pockets on both sides of the bag and can be saddled on the armrest and secured with Velcro on the back of the bag. These generally have more storage than armrest pouches. You should ensure that it does not fall over your wheels and interfere with your manual propelling movements.
- Crutch holder: A crutch holder is generally clamped on to the side of the armrest in front of the tires or to the back of the wheelchair. Take care to ensure that the crutch does not interfere with your view of the road or your hand movements to propel the wheelchair
- Oxygen Cylinder holder: Oxygen cylinders are heavy and require sturdy bags to carry them on a wheelchair. Specialized cylinder carriers are available to strap on to the back of the wheelchair, such that you may be able to access the oxygen mask and apparatus while still on the wheelchair seat.
- Bottle or Cup holder: While your bag may have a bottle holder, you may also attach a bottle or cup holder separately to the armrest of your wheelchair. Remember to attach the cup holder securely with your wheelchair to prevent spilling during movement.
- Grocery sack: The best way to carry back groceries from the market is to securely fasten the grocery bag and place the bag on the pouch under the seat. If your grocery sack has straps, it can also be attached to the back of your seat, however, if it is reasonably heavy it may move the center of gravity of your wheelchair towards the back.
You should always ensure to have anti-tippers wheels to increase the stability of your wheelchair and prevent a situation of accidentally tipping over backward while carrying heavier weights.
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It is normal that you need a few of the above types of bags to suit your different needs and mostly you would be using more than one at the same time.
Being judicious with what to carry in your wheelchair is always helpful. More weight will either drain your battery faster or drain your energy faster, depending on whether you are on a manual or a power wheelchair.