A Manual Wheelchair User’s Guide to Independent Living

Published: Apr 23, 2019

One of the most important milestones of any wheelchair user is the ability to live independently. Granted, not all of us can safely reach this goal, but for those who can, it’s definitely something to strive for.

Think about your current living situation: if your parents, siblings, or roommate had to be away for a couple of weeks, could you survive on your own? Do you have the skills/resources needed to pick up a prescription, get groceries, or even do something as simple as maintain your health and hygiene? Or are friends and family still calling in your refills, picking up your groceries, and reminding you to bathe? Can you cook a decent meal on your own?

If there’s gaps in your independence, don’t panic: it’s not hard to fix. Here are a few things you can do to improve your independence.

Know Your (Basic) Medical Info

Do you know how tall you are? How much you weigh? Can you list your allergies and the medications you take? Knowing your medical information not only improves your independence, but can also help to keep you safe in an emergency. Here’s what you should be able to recall off of the top of your head:

  • Your Height
  • Your Weight
  • The name of your primary care provider or general practitioner and what hospital they belong to.
  • Any foods or medications you are allergic to
  • Any medications you are currently taking
  • Any medical conditions you have (e.g., diabetes)
  • Your blood type

Not only will this help you during doctor visits and trips to the pharmacy, it could save your life in a medical emergency.

Keep a Routine

Keeping a routine is an important part of being independent. Now, when I say routine, I don’t just mean get up at the same time, eat a balanced breakfast, and exercise. I also mean decide that Landry Day is on Thursday, always take the trash out before bed, and spend at the last 30 minutes before you go to bed not staring at your phone.

Know How to Schedule Appointments

Do you know who to call to schedule a doctor, dentist, or eye appointment? Do you know who your insurer is? Do you know how to figure out if a provider is in or out of network or accepts medicare/medicaid?

If not, this is definitely stuff you should know by now. Put the numbers of all your medical/health providers into your phone. Add notes about what to say or who to ask for, if that helps.

Keep a Calendar and Schedule Things in Advance

Before you leave the dentist, schedule your next cleaning. When you leave the doctor after a routine examination, make sure you get penciled in for next year. Do not let these things lapse. The same thing goes for medications. If you know you’re going to need a refill in 90 days, put a reminder in your calendar to call the pharmacy at least a week ahead of time.

Maintain the Hygiene of Yourself and Your Space

Hygiene of both your body and the spaces it occupies is critical to indpendent living. You should be bathing at least every couple of days and keeping your living space clear of trash and leftover items like cups, plates, and silverware.

Keeping your space clean will be a lot easier if you take care of it in small increments in stead of waiting until it’s really bad and trying to fix everything all at once. For example, take the trash out every night instead of waiting for it to be overflowing. Or putting your dirty laundry in the hamper immediately after changing instead of trying to pile it all in before laundry day.

These small things will not only help you keep your environment clean, but will also help you maintain a sense of order and control.

Learn Some Basic Cooking Skills

You should know how to do more than operate a microwave, boil water, and make something out of a box. Basic cooking skills are an essential skill to have when living independently. Youtube is a great place to learn basic cooking skills and I’ve already put together guides on meal planning and grocery shopping to help you get started.

Know That the Goals and Journey are Unique

Everyone’s abilities and situation is different. The level of independence you are able to achieve is going to depend on your environment and the kind of disability you have. This guide isn’t meant to shame anyone or make them feel guilty for what they can or cannot do independently. It’s merely mean to act as a starting point for folks who are looking to improve their independence any way they possibly can.