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Adapting to a Life on Wheelchair

Resistance training exercise on wheelchair
Samyak Lalit
Samyak Lalit | November 19, 2022 (Last update: November 19, 2022)

Samyak Lalit is an author and disability rights activist. He is a polio survivor and the founder of projects like Kavita Kosh, Gadya Kosh, TechWelkin, WeCapable, Dashamlav and Viklangta Dot Com. Website:

Life on wheels is way different than the life without a wheelchair. Adapting to live a life in a wheelchair requires massive adjustment for people who have lived their life without a wheelchair. And this adjustment is more mental than physical.

We understand that this journey can be really challenging and draining at some point but it shouldn’t be that way. So, here we are with the tips to help you adjust to a new life in a wheelchair.

These tips will be helpful for anybody who is transitioning to be a full-time wheelchair user regardless of the cause behind their needing the wheelchair. A person might need a wheelchair permanently due to age-related mobility issues, some progressive diseases, or a severe accident. Different reasons may have different effects on the physical capabilities of the person but the mental and emotional journey to being a wheelchair user is almost the same for everybody.

Mental Adaptation

Adapting to a life in a wheelchair may seem like a physical task but it requires lots of mental adaptations too. This is how you adapt to the new situation mentally.

Accept Your Emotions

Are you feeling bad about yourself or your life? Are you feeling like crying your heart out? Feeling helpless and weak? It’s okay. In this age of toxic positivity where everywhere you are told to feel happy and grateful about your life, you might want to discard your feelings. But, that’s not right. We are human beings and we are blessed with the power of emotions. We are not meant to discard or suppress our emotions. In fact, psychology says that allowing yourself grieving time prepares you better to take on new challenges.

So, before you think about accepting your situation accept your feelings. It’s okay to feel sad about such a massive change in life. You are not a robot programmed only for positive emotions. Being sad doesn’t make you a weak person.

Let Go of the Past

Your past might be the golden phase but accept that it’s gone now. Think about what we do when we are hit by natural calamities like floods, landslides, earthquakes, etc. What did we do after huge losses during the COVID-19 global pandemic? We grieved our losses and then started building our lives again, right? This is what you need to do now. Accept whatever happened and start building your life with whatever is left.

You cannot grieve indefinitely and let yourself slip into depression. Accept whatever has happened without judging it as good or bad.

Focus on What You Can Rather than What You Can’t

After accepting your present condition you will need to start making it better. To turn your life to the sunnier side you need to focus on what you can. Do not sulk about the lost capabilities. Of course, you felt better with those physical capabilities but the truth is that they are gone. Someday medical field may do some magic but till then you have to live with your limited capabilities.

Start focusing on what you can do and do those tasks. You will feel more confident and happy doing small tasks that you never thought as something special. Have faith, you will enjoy it.

Proceed towards Awareness

Awareness is very important and rare as well. You need to be aware of your condition, the reason behind the condition, any future implications of the condition, etc. You need to have holistic knowledge about your condition.

If possible, you should also start spreading awareness among others. You can also choose to meet people in similar conditions. You will get to learn a lot from the experiences of others.

Don’t be Tough on Yourself

You might have lots of expectations from yourself. You might want to miraculously stand again on your feet or be an extremely active wheelchair user. And you might want to be completely self-dependent despite being in a wheelchair. While all these may be possible someday but you should not be too tough on yourself for fulfilling these expectations.

Your body needs some time to adapt to the new working style. Things should go slow and steady. Be consistent with your efforts but have patience. Celebrate each small step you take towards your goal and learn to pardon yourself when you fail.

Physical Adaptation

Transitioning to life in a wheelchair undoubtedly requires some physical adaptations without which nothing can be achieved.

Start Exercising as Soon as Possible

Though physical exercise is important for everybody it is a must for people in a wheelchair. Because you will now be sitting for long stretches you mandatorily need to include some physical exercise and activities in your daily routine to nullify the harmful effects of sitting.

It is not necessary to go to a gym or get involved in heavy exercises but it is really important to be as much physically active as possible with your physical capabilities.

Learn the Techniques of Wheelchair Propulsion

One of the new skills that you will now need to learn is the wheelchair propulsion technique. You can see this as the exercise of learning to walk by young children. Because you will be going around in your wheelchair, you need to learn the techniques of propulsion if you are using a manual chair.

You will need to learn and practice using a wheelchair joystick if you will be using a power wheelchair to go around. Start seeing your wheelchair as an extension of your body and have similar command over your wheelchair as you have over your body’s other voluntary movements.

Learn and Adopt Dynamic Sitting Habits

Being in a wheelchair you will need to sit for long stretches of time so it is important for you to learn dynamic sitting habits. Dynamic sitting habits, in the simplest term, is the sitting habit that includes a frequent change in sitting position and posture. This is important for decreasing stress on your intervertebral discs. Further, dynamic sitting is also the most effective prevention of pressure ulcers.

If you want to sit for longer stretches and live an active life in a wheelchair, adopting dynamic sitting habits is very important.

Learn to Do Tasks Differently

You might have been doing tasks a certain way whole your life but now you need to change the way you accomplish those tasks. You will be amazed to know that most wheelchair users are able to do all their tasks independently. It is just that their way of doing the task differs from persons who do not use a wheelchair.

You might be in the habit of cooking while standing. Now, you might need to teach yourself to cook while sitting. You may still be able to drive your favorite car by learning to do it the other way.

Technical Adaptations

One of the important sub-categories of adapting to life in a wheelchair is technical adaptations. This will make your entire transition journey smooth and seamless.

Get a Good Wheelchair

A person who needs a wheelchair for a longer period must have a good wheelchair customized according to their needs. The one-size-fits-all type of hospital wheelchairs will do no good. Selecting the right wheelchair is one of the most important things you can do to ease your transition to becoming a full-time wheelchair user.

The choice of a wheelchair can make or break your confidence and abilities as a wheelchair user. Wheelchair selection needs important considerations like your lifestyle, your physical strengths, wheelchair size and built, etc.

Adapt Your Home for Your Wheelchair

Your sweet home may not feel so sweet if you can’t do all your stuff by yourself. Most houses are not planned or designed keeping in view the needs of wheelchair users. This isn’t a problem until a wheelchair user needs to live in that house.

Living independently in your house gives a different sense of freedom and confidence. So, adapting your house to suit your needs is a really important task.

Get Some Adaptive Exercise Equipment

Your earlier exercise equipment might not be suitable for you anymore. But, exercising needs to be an integral part of your daily routine so get some adaptive exercise equipment for yourself. If the grip of your hands got affected due to some reason, your regular heavy dumbbells may not be appropriate for you. Now, you may need to buy weights with straps for those exercises.

Adaptation is now the key to your life. You do not need to drop anything out of your life, instead, you need to adapt to get it done some other way.

Use the citation below to add this article to your bibliography

"Adapting to a Life on Wheelchair." Web. April 23, 2024. <>, "Adapting to a Life on Wheelchair." Accessed April 23, 2024.

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