Wheelchairs and air travel

bhadras-staff-provides-special-assistance-to-passengers-at-chennai-airport-terminalI recently took my mother-in-law to Mumbai for a family wedding. While she can walk a bit, she finds standing for extended periods and walking long distances very painful, so I ordered wheelchair support for her at the time of check-in.

The Indigo airlines people (MAA-BOM) were very kind and helpful. They came and found us even before we reached the check-in counter and got her comfortably seated in a wheelchair. They then took her through security and and ensured that she reached the gate well before flight time. They then came back at the time of boarding and made sure she got on to the plane before anyone else and was seated comfortably before the rest boarded.

Similarly at the Mumbai airport, after everyone had disembarked, they brought a wheelchair through the aerobridge and remained with us till we got into a pre-paid taxi. The person manning the wheelchair even took her to a disabled toilet before we got into the cab. He remained patient, courteous and kind through out.

Our return was by Jet airways. The embarking process went smoothly with the wheelchair available to my mother-in-law from the airport entrance itself all the way to the aircraft. I was extremely happy with the service and it made my mother-in-law’s travel much less of an ordeal than it could have been without the wheelchair support provided by the two airlines.

At the Chennai airport, after the flight landed, we waited for everyone to disembark and then started to move forward towards the aerobridge when a flight attendant announced that wheelchair users should use the rear exit. We turned around and went there only to find a flight of steps down (no aero bridge). When we protested, they said please get down the steps and we will get you a wheelchair. So we helped her get down the steep stairs which she managed with a lot of difficulty. At the bottom, they said, please get into the bus and we will get you a wheelchair at the terminal. It was just another 20 meters and she was game, so we did not think too much about it. However, getting into the bus was something else! The first step of the bus is a good foot above the ground and she really found it difficult to climb in. Finally, my wife and I literally lifted her on to the bus while the ground crew stood around watching.

Not surprisingly, at the terminal end, there was no wheelchair waiting for us. We got her down from the bus and started making our way towards the baggage carousel. Just as we were almost at the carousel, the wheelchair finally arrived. As a saving grace, the attender stayed with us all the way to the pickup location a good 200 meters from the arrival hall.

When it comes to accessibility services, we are almost there, but not quite yet. The strength of a chain is that of the weakest link. Similarly, the final quality of the service depends not so much on the parts that you do well, but on the places where you drop the ball. In this case, the disembarkation process at the Chennai airport was a disaster in terms of service. Jet airways needs to take note and improve on their service.

I will be writing to them about this so they can really consistently do their job well. If you have a similar experience, please make sure you write to the concerned authorities so that they can improve upon their services. If we don’t tell them, how will they know they need to improve?

Choosing the right wheelchair

Heart-Health-Wheelchair-Stock-Photo-wheelchair-cartoonChoosing the right wheelchair for an elderly relative is a non-trivial activity. Wheelchairs come in many shapes and sizes, in many different materials, and designed for different uses.

Here are 15 questions for which you need to know answers in order to decide on the right wheelchair.

Is it for indoor use or outdoor use?
If it is for outdoor use, ensure that the back wheels are big. This will ensure that the wheelchair can take the ups and downs of Indian roads and platforms.

Is it foldable?
Most wheelchairs are foldable. Since wheelchairs are stored away for much of the day and through out the night (in the case of seniors), a foldable wheelchair will occupy less space when not in use.

Will it fit into my car boot?
Sometimes, you may want to take the wheelchair with you. In such cases, it is important that the wheelchair folds into a compact size so that it can be easily stowed away in the boot or back seat of the car.

Are the armrests removable?
Removable armrests help in sliding from bed to the wheelchair and back. This can help if the user of the wheelchair is capable of moving sideways, and the bed and wheelchair are at almost the same height.

Are the footrests removable?
Removable footrests ensure that the wheelchair folds into a smaller place as well as help in making the wheelchairs less unwieldy while transporting.

How heavy is the wheelchair?
Sometimes, the person helping the user of the wheelchair may also be a senior citizen. In such cases, it is very important that the helper is able to lift and maneuver the chair. where possible, buy a lighter wheelchair.

How much weight can the wheelchair bear?
A typical wheelchair is certified for about 100 kilos. In the case that the user is much heavier, go for a bariatric range wheelchair.

What are the dimensions of the wheelchair?
In many homes, the doorways and passages can be very narrow. The bathroom doors, in particular, are usually only 2 – 2.5 feet wide in many Indian homes. Before purchasing the wheelchair, ensure that the wheelchair is able to go to all the places you plan to take it to.

Self-propelled or attendant chair?
A self-propelled manual wheelchair will have large wheels while an attendant wheelchair may have smaller wheels and brakes for the attendant to use. Choose depending on usage. If the person using the wheelchair does not have enough strength to propel themselves, go for a wheelchair designed for attendant use.

Is it for transit purposes?
If you are planning to use the wheelchair only during travel (at airports and railway stations, etc), then go for one of the very light-weight, compact aluminium transit wheelchair models.

Is reclining an option?
Some wheelchairs allow for reclining. These usually are larger and take up much more space. If a person is going to be sitting in a wheelchair for long periods, the reclining option may be useful.

Will it rust?
Wheelchairs come in different materials from mild steel to high-grade aluminium and other alloys. If you are planning to take the wheelchair into bathrooms and toilets or expect it to come in contact with the elements, go for an aluminium one. Chrome plated wheelchairs tend to rust after a while.

Motorized or manual?
Unless you are living in a high-end gated community with smooth roads and pavements, there is usually very little value in going for a motorized wheelchair in India as most places are not conducive for motorized wheelchair use. Needless to say, Indian roads are not safe for motorized wheelchairs.

Is a commode attached?
A few models of wheelchairs come with commodes attached, so they act as portable commodes as well as wheelchairs. Under most circumstances, it is preferable to keep the wheelchair and the commode separate for various reasons. However, if you need them together, know that such models are available.

What is the cost?
Wheelchairs, like most other things, come in different price brackets. Choose one that fits your budget.

If you have more doubts, write to us at info@oldisgoldstore.com

Sue Austin: Deep sea diving … in a wheelchair

When Sue Austin got a power chair 16 years ago, she felt a tremendous sense of freedom — yet others looked at her as though she had lost something. In her art, she aims to convey the spirit of wonder she feels wheeling through the world. Includes thrilling footage of an underwater wheelchair that lets her explore ocean beds, drifting through schools of fish, floating free in 360 degrees. (Filmed at TEDxWomen.)

In repurposing her wheelchair to create fantastical art, Sue Austin reshapes how we think about disability.

IIT-M students working on advanced wheelchair

Two students of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) have developed a wheelchair prototype that allows users to sit, stand and recline too.

The wheelchair, which allows users to manually operate it, has controls for the sitting, standing and reclining functions. It has been designed to allow users to operate it easily. To ensure the user does not fall down when she attempts to lean forward, the device has a provision to strap in the user across the trunk and legs.

You can read more about it here.

Senior friendly railway stations

At Old is Gold Store, wherever we go, we make it a habit to look at all public places such as railway stations, resorts, hotels and restaurants through the eyes of a senior citizen so that we can highlight all the senior friendly places to our customers.  Given our record in India, we can safely state that it is easier to document and list all senior/disabled friendly places (a very short list) than enumerate all the places which are not senior friendly (a very long list indeed).

Recently, on a trip to Varkala in Kerala, we were pleasantly surprised to find the railway station had ramps for entry to the station, ramps for entry to the canteen, free stretcher and wheelchair service and an easily accessible and readily available wheelchair at the station.

I could not spot the toilet though in the short time that we were there, so I cannot state whether the toilets were senior safe.  Also we did not find an elevator to help people cross over to the other track (we had to climb a flight of stairs to get on to the over-bridge and climb down on the other side).  Nevertheless, we appreciate the builders of Varkala station and hope that more public places take the cue from Varkala.

If you have noticed places that have taken special care to make all areas accessible, please write to us at involve@oldisgoldstore.com with photos.

Free wheelchair service during kutcheri season

FreeWheelchairservicebanner1December is the season of music and dance in Chennai and the music season has started in full earnest.  Every year, a large percentage of rasikas are older people and this year is no exception.  In order not to miss the performances of their favourite artists,  many of them even surmount their mobility issues to reach the Sabhas.

A quick glance at the facilities at the Sabhas quickly shows that most auditoriums are devoid of even the basis infrastructure necessary for the comfort of senior citizens. The aisles are narrow, the steps steep and the toilets – the less we say, the better.

In order to create an awareness about the special needs of senior citizens, Old is Gold Store is providing free wheelchair service at selected Sabhas during this music season. While this not only provides an immediate solution to one of the problems, it also highlights the poor support that public places in India provide for the senior citizens and the disabled.

We reached out to all the major Sabhas and two of them responded immediately and have welcomed us to provide this facility at their Sabha hall.  One of them is Chennai Cultural where this facility started yesterday and the other is Hamsadhwani where the facility will be available from the 16th of December.

Old is Gold Store is highly appreciative of these two Sabhas for being so sensitive to the needs of the patrons and for being so proactive and forth-coming.  We hope that soon more Sabhas join this elite group.

 

International Day of people with disability – 3rd December

ribbon-135x110 (1)International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) is a United Nations sanctioned day that aims to promote an understanding of people with disability and encourage support for their dignity, rights and well-being.

Searching the net for information regarding IDPwD and India provides very few search results.  As a nation of 1.2 Billion, how can we be completely blind to the needs of the disabled?

Recently, in view of the kutcheri season coming up in Chennai , we wrote to several sabhas suggesting that we would provide free wheelchair service (from car to their seats and back) to the elderly attending these concerts.  After all, senior citizens with mobility issues can also be considered disabled.  Very few Sabhas have actually taken up the offer.  In fact, one of the Sabhas actually said, “There will be only a few people needing the service each day and hence I do not think it is necessary to provide such a service to so few people”!

I believe that India as a country and Indians as a whole are disabled – Blind to the needs of our own, be it the disabled, the elderly or those less fortunate in other ways, deaf to their requests for even basic support, and dumbly watching people as they suffer!

Will we ever change?

Limited Mobility and flying

If you are flying domestic or international, and have mobility issues, it is important that you understand what facilities your selected airline carrier provides. Different Indian airlines seem to provide different levels of service and some charge for the services while others provide this for free. Also different airlines have different rules regarding powered wheelchairs and the kind of batteries they use.

Here are the links to the relevant pages for the different airlines in India for your ready reference.

1. Air India.
2. Jet Airways.
3. Spice Jet.
4. Indigo.
5. Kingfisher.
6. Go Air.

Have a safe flight.

The Karma Fighter C Wheelchair

This Karma fighter series wheel chair and is a very basic, no-frills, inexpensive wheel chair.  It has leather-like polyester fiber material for the bottom and back and a chrome plated metal frame and is ideally suited for indoor use.  It is an extremely comfortable chair and the patient will be able to sit in the chair for hours at a time without any discomfort.

The overall width of the wheel chair is 25 inches, so before you buy this wheel chair, you should check the doors and passages in your house to ensure that they are over 25 inches wide. The seat width comes in two sizes – 16″ and 18″ and can take  up to 100 Kgs in weight.

The armrests are fixed while the foot rests can be folded when required.  However, the footrests are not detachable.  The front wheels are 8″ solid caster and the rear wheels are 24″.

Karma Fighter C

Karma Fighter C

1.  Is the footrest.  Make sure that the patient has their feet placed firmly on the footrests when they are being wheeled around.  When stationary and when the patient wants to get up, the footrests may be folded and moved out of the way.

2.  In the picture, 2 points to the brakes.  They are present on both the wheels.  These are simple brakes that you should keep applied at all times except when you are wheeling the chair around.  Make sure these brakes are on, especially when the patient is being seated or is getting up from the wheel chair as this is when it is mostly likely to slide away from the patient.

3. At the back of the wheel chair, you will find two projections about 4 inches above the ground. When one wants to get the front wheels over a short obstacle such as a threshold, the person pushing the wheel chair can step on these projections and apply some weight to easily lift the front wheels off the ground and above the obstruction.

4.  The 4 in the figure above points to the handle grips to be used by the person pushing the wheelchair.  Contours for the fingers are provided to ensure that the care taker has a firm grip on the wheelchair. You can buy this wheelchair online by clicking here.

Wheel Chair – Safety Precautions

Here are some simple things you need to check and do to ensure that the person sitting in the wheel chair is safe.

1.  When you are wheeling the patient within the house, the passages and door ways may be narrow and hence care should be taken that the patient’s elbows are not jutting out.

2.  Similarly, for patients with weak neck muscles, the head may fall sideways suddenly and care should be taken to ensure that they do not end up banging their heads on the walls and doorways.

3.  When pushing the wheel chair down a slope, it is always best to roll the wheel chair backwards so that there is no chance of the patient falling off the wheel chair.

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4.  When footrests are available, always make sure that the patients legs are placed firmly on the footrests.  This will prevent the feet from scraping the floor and getting scratched or twisted.