Whether you are a wheelchair user yourself or care for somebody who uses a wheelchair, you know how important it is to keep warm and dry during winter time.
There are a good number of different waterproofs available on the market so finding suitable wheelchair covers isn’t too difficult. The big dilemma is “Which covers are best for your needs?”
The first step is to find a wheelchair cover that is completely waterproof and not simply shower proof. What’s the difference? Well, most garments are made from waterproof material, but everywhere there is a seam there is, of course, a row of stitch holes. These let the water in. They must be seam sealed with special tape that seals the holes completely. A garment made from waterproof material that is not seam sealed is only showerproof. If seam sealed then it’s a waterproof garment – provided, of course, that the design is fit for purpose.
What you don’t want is a zip down the centre front of your lap, as rainwater will pool on the garment and run through the teeth of the zip or the stitching around it. Before long you’ll be sitting in a puddle inside the garment. This is why pull-on, snug leg covers, with no zips but warm linings that are detachable for washing, are a much better idea.
If you have a waterproof cape style garment you need to decide if you want it to be warmlined or not. Generally speaking, if it’s loose-fitting you are trapping a layer of cold air underneath between you and the garment. It’s much better to wear a warm, fleece jacket, cape or poncho, tucked in around you close to your body to keep you warm, and then wear the waterproof to keep you dry. This also means that there’s no danger of the lining picking up water round the edges and “wicking” it up the inside of the garment.
Next you have to decide which waterproof you need, depending on the type of wheelchair used. Wheelchairs generally fall into three main categories – self-propelled, attendant pushed or a powerchair. If self-propelled you will obviously need a garment with sleeves, but try to avoid one with knitted cuffs, as they become very wet and uncomfortable in rain. A Velcro-fastened tab to close the sleeve is much better; if attendant pushed or a powerchair you will manage with a cape style garment, and some provide cover for the control units on powerchairs, although it is possible to get hand and joystick covers to protect both the unit and your hand from foul weather.
If you have a moulded wheelchair then the upper garments selected – such as jackets and capes – can be made much easier to put on and off if they have a cut-out section at the back which means they don’t have to be pushed down between the wearer and the chair – they simply tuck in around the wearer, looking just like an ordinary garment from the front. But beware of this kind of adaptation unless there is a fly cape to go over the back of the chair to deflect rain or it will run down the back of the wearer. A further option is to have a jacket which is fully back-opening – and because it is front opening too it looks just like an ordinary jacket, but comes apart into two pieces which makes it very easy to put on someone who can’t manage sleeves, and then it simply fastens up back and front.
For anyone who wears wheelchair trousers and prefers not to wear a waterproof footmuff, warmlined waterproof chaps are available which simply slip on over footwear, and as they go on individually you don’t have to be a contortionist to get both legs in while seated. A small, packaway waterproof lap cover is available to put over the lap in heavy rain – or for sitting on the touchline on a typical British winter Saturday afternoon – which ensures the cushion and seat are kept completely dry.
An exciting new product is the warmlined and waterproof Cocoon™ – giving warmth and weather protection from upper back, over the shoulders and right down to the feet. It was designed to offer a quick and simple solution for people going by ambulance transport for outings to and from hospital appointments, day centres or school, but is equally suitable for family outings or trips to the shops. It goes on and off very quickly, which is essential for carers and staff, but keeps the wearer warm and dry all over – including the feet and legs.
Unlined waterproofs such as a poncho, cape or leg cover all pack down very small and are wonderful to carry with you in case of a sudden shower.
So that just leaves the hands and heads, and they’re covered too – quite literally! Useful accessories are thumb-less mitts for people who cannot wear gloves; the hand and joystick covers already mentioned; and now there are matching waterproof wheelchair covers to protect headrests.
Apparently The Queen once said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather – only unsuitable clothing.” Well, for wheelchair users there’s plenty of suitable clothing now – and not before time!
able2wear is the UK’s leading supplier of disability clothing for all ages