The availability of accessories for wheelchair users has expanded tremendously over the past few years. You could never need or use all the accessories available on the market- if you did, your chair would be bristling with enough gadgets and gizmos to rival a one-man novelty band. The accessories you choose will reflect your personal abilities, activities, skill level, and plain old personal preference. An accessory you use all the time might be merely a hindrance to another person. You will grow out of some accessories you found indispensable when you first started using a wheelchair. You may grow into other accessories as you gain experience with your chair. Below is a list of accessories, including a description, other common terms for the accessory, and the positives and negatives of using it.
airplane wheels – When quick release rear tires are removed, the wheelchair can roll on these wheels down an airplane aisle (these are slightly larger wheels than the little rollers on the anti-tippers).
- allows you to pull yourself through a narrow door or down an airplane aisle
arm support panels – These plastic or metal guards attach to the arm supports, between the wheel and the rider.
- keeps tire dirt on the outside of arm supports and away from your clothes
- may reduce the effective width of your wheelchair seat; be sure to check the pressure on both sides of your hip bones
backpack – Bag designed to be worn on the back, it can also be attached to the back of a wheelchair by hooking the straps over the push handles or frame. Backpacks specifically designed for wheelchairs are also available.
- can carry an assortment of supplies
- additional weight on the back of the chair can increase likelihood of tipping over backward (if you plan to use a backpack often, practice skills with it on your chair)
bicycle lights – Lights designed to clip onto bicycles can increase your visibility to motorists. A white halogen lamp can act as a headlight. Blinking red lights can be clipped to the rear of your wheelchair to improve your visibility.
- helps you view upcoming terrain; increases your visibility to motorists when traveling in the street; removable
- require batteries; may not be as easy to mount on a wheelchair as to a bike
bike trailer – A wheeled cart that can be attached to the back of the wheelchair for added storage.
- adds storage space if you need to transport a lot of things
- limits maneuverability; requires more energy to propel wheelchair
caster wheel pins (caster wheel locks) – These pins lock the caster wheel in the forward or rearward trailing position.
- stabilizes wheelchair when doing transfers; helpful when in rehab or to those new to using a wheelchair
- usually unnecessary for more experienced wheelchair users
- can be used to contact help in an emergency
- must keep batteries charged; adds weight; additional expense to maintain; could create a distraction while maneuvering
chair guards (frame guards) – Chair guards are plastic or leather covers that fit over your wheelchair when you are not using it.
- protects paint from damage caused by impact
- You may need help to put it in place Unless you travel with it, it may not be where you need it
chest strap – A strap attached to the back of the wheelchair that crosses under your arms and over your chest. It can help prevent you from falling forward. Always use a lap belt if you are using a chest belt.
- can prevent injury that might occur when falling forward out of wheelchair during sudden stops; provides additional trunk stability
- locks you into your wheelchair, which may cause an injury if wheelchair falls over; can restrict mobility of trunk and/or buttocks
clothing guards (mud guards) – Plastic or nylon guards that stay between your wheels and clothes to keep you clean.
- keeps clothing from getting soiled by dirt kicked up from tires
- some people find clothing guards unsightly; may narrow the width of the seat
duct tape – Wide plastic tape embedded with fiber webbing for strength
- very strong and sticky; can be used for temporary repairs while on the road
- should not be used in place of proper wheelchair parts (e.g., not equivalent to a bolt); may leave a sticky residue after removal
running brakes – Used to slow a moving wheelchair. Rare, but available on some European-made wheelchairs, also as an aftermarket product, you can add to your wheels if needed.
- may be helpful when moving on downward slopes
- adds weight to the wheelchair; may interfere with usual propulsion and rear wheel removal
electrical tape – Thin, stretchy plastic tape that is used to bind electrical wires. Comes in many colors.
- can be used for on the road repairs until you can get home and fix the problem properly
- not as sticky or strong as duct tape
flags – A tall, flexible rod with a triangular flag (usually vinyl or plastic); usually comes in a fluorescent color. Mounts to the back of your wheelchair to improve your visibility.
- helps prevent accidents by making you more visible to motorists
- many dislike the way the flag looks, can get caught on low-hanging obstacles
flashlight - Useful when traveling along dark streets and to improve your visibility to others. For easy access, use a Velcro™ strap to attach it to the frame of your wheelchair.
- can be used to look for lost objects and to help perform emergency repairs
- people with limited hand function may have difficulty operating
fold-down briefcase rest (luggage carrier) – Small lever that attaches to each foot support side rails. When raised, can hold a briefcase or travel bag at your feet, where you can access it easily. Folds down and out of the way when not in use.
- keeps items conveniently located within easy reach; folds up when not in use
- heavy bag may tip wheelchair in the forward direction
foot straps – Straps that attach to the foot supports and loop over the top of each foot to keep them from sliding forward off the foot supports.
- prevent feet from falling forward off foot supports; limit the chance of injury or accident caused by feet hitting the ground in front of the foot supports; will prevent legs from falling onto face in a backward fall
- need to be released for transfers; if you fall from your wheelchair, your feet will stay attached to the foot supports and this can be dangerous
gloves – Gloves with grips such as plastic strips or dots on the palms.
- keep your hands clean; helps prevent blisters; helps prevent hands from sliding on the handrims; can protect hands from friction burns when braking down a steep grade
- can be hot to wear; wear out quickly
hand bike – bicycle that can be pedaled with the hands and arms.
handiwipes (wet naps,
baby-wipes) – Wet cloths used for cleaning hands and face. Available in plastic dispensers or in individual packets.
- can clean your hands when a sink is not nearby or accessible
- occupy limited carrying space
head rests – Mounts to the back of the wheelchair and used to support the head, as in car seats.
- reduce chance of whiplash if head is snapped back in an auto accident
- may limit sight when looking behind
hill climbers (grade aids) – Hill climbers attach to the wheelchair on or near the parking brake. When engaged, they allow the wheelchair to roll forward, but prevent it from rolling backward.
- reduces the likelihood of rolling backward on an incline
- may interfere with usual wheelchair propulsion
key clasps – Small clasps with key rings attached that can hook keys to the frame of your wheelchair.
- easy access to keys; keeps keys visible to limit theft from a backpack
- the clasp may be hard to open for persons with limited mobility in their hands
lap belt – A belt worn across the lap to prevent forward falls out of the wheelchair. A lap belt should always be used with a chest support. Belt clasps come in many different styles.
- can prevent injury that might occur when falling forward out of wheelchair, due to a sudden stop; provides stability to allow independent function
- locks you into your wheelchair, which may cause an injury if wheelchair tips completely forward; can restrict mobility of trunk and/or buttocks
leg straps – Straps that hold the legs to the wheelchair frame just above the foot supports.
- prevent feet from falling off foot supports, limiting chance of injury caused by feet getting stuck behind foot supports; useful on rough terrain; will prevent legs from flopping onto the face in a backward fall
- may interfere with swing-away foot supports
mirrors - Mirrors mounted onto the frame of your wheelchair can be used similarly to mirrors on a car.
- helps you see what’s behind you
- will not help you see motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists in your blind spot (the area just to the side and behind you that is not reflected in the mirror)
noise maker – A horn or bell attached to your wheelchair can be used to signal motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Can be purchased at bicycle shops.
- notifies motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists of your presence to reduce the possibility of collision
- some do not like the way horns look or sound; may be difficult to reach and activate
patch kit – A patch kit will help fix flat tires. You will still need a pump to fill the patched tire with air.
- permits you to repair tire punctures on the road
- adds weight to your supplies
pump – Can be used to inflate tires that need air.
- helps you avoid being stranded
- adds weight
reflective tape – Brightly colored plastic or vinyl tape that reflects light aimed at it; can be attached to your wheelchair and/or clothing.
- makes you more visible to motorists
- may appear unsightly to some wheelchair users
reflectors – Plastic disks or rectangles that reflect light aimed at them; can be attached to the spokes, frame, or back of a wheelchair to improve your visibility to motorists. Recommended if wheeling in the roadway where vehicular traffic is anticipated.
seat pouch – Cloth pouches specifically designed to be attached under wheelchair seats. A fanny pack (nylon or cloth pouches worn around the waist) can be modified to serve as a seat pouch.
- provides additional storage space; under-seat position provides better security than a backpack
- people with little or no upper-body strength may have difficulty reaching under-seat pouches
shoulder harness – Strap that fits over your shoulders and hooks around the back of a wheelchair to help keep you upright and bolster your forward stability.
- can prevent injury that might occur when falling forward out of wheelchair due to sudden stops
- locks you into your wheelchair which may cause an injury if it tips completely forward; may limit reach even more than a chest strap
spoke guards – Plastic disks that fit over your outer spokes; function as a hubcap for the rear wheels.
- protects spokes from being damaged, protects fingers from getting caught in spokes, useful in sporting events where wheelchairs tend to collide
- add weight; can degrade quickly
supports (postural support devices, trunk supports) – Padding that can be added to a wheelchair seat and/or back to improve the seating position of the rider. May include chest straps, lap belts, side-to-side supports, and hip guides.
- provides stability to allow independent function
- may restrict mobility of trunk and/or buttocks; may interfere with transfers
Swiss Army Knife (multi-purpose tool) – Can function as an all-in-one tool kit; depending on the model, it can include screwdrivers, scissors, knife blades, files, pliers, and tweezers.
- handy while out and about, saves time spent looking for tools
- requires good hand function to operate
tray (lap tray) – A flat removable surface (usually plastic) that mounts to the frame and extends over your lap. It can be used as a surface for eating, playing games, reading, writing, etc.
- can provide a good substitute for tables when available tables and counters are too low to wheel under
- adds weight; may feel and look awkward; limits ability to access other surfaces
web cradle – A square piece of mesh that attaches below the seat and is used for storage.
- additional storage for books, clothes, etc.
- stored items may get dirty