Wheelchair Skills Training - Folds & Unfolds Wheelchair

Original Editor - Lee Kirby as part of the Wheelchair Service Provision Content Development Project

Top Contributors - Naomi O'Reilly and Amrita Patro  

Folds and Unfolds Wheelchair

Description and Rationale

The learner folds or takes apart the unoccupied wheelchair to make it as small as possible, and then restores it to its original condition. For transport or storage, the size or weight of the wheelchair may need to be reduced. This can be done by folding the wheelchair.Removal of the rear wheels or other parts is a useful way to further diminish the size and weight of the wheelchair. 

General Training Tips

Fold Wheelchair:

  • The learner should pay attention to each item as he/she removes or alters it, to ensure that he/she will be able to reassemble the chair later.
  • The learner should remove anything that may prevent folding (such as the cushion, rigid seat, backrest or knapsack).  
  • To remove a rigid seat or backrest, the learner may need to release restraining devices. 
  • For rear wheels that can be removed without tools, there is usually a release mechanism at the center of the axle, a button or lever that needs to be depressed. If the wheel does not come off easily, the learner should check to be sure the wheel lock is not on and that the rear wheel is off the ground.
  • To fold a cross-braced wheelchair (one that becomes narrower from side to side when folded), the learner should first clear the footrests (e.g. by flipping them up, swinging them away or removing them). 
  • To fold a cross-braced wheelchair more easily, the learner should position the wheelchair so that he/she is on one side of it. The learner should then tip the chair slightly toward him/herself so that the wheels on the side away from him/her are off the ground. This eliminates the friction between the far-side rear wheel and the ground and allows gravity to assist in folding the wheelchair. The learner should then pull the seat or seat rails upwards, with one or both hands, to fold the chair. 
  • For a rigid-frame wheelchair with a fold-down back, although the frame cannot be folded, the learner can often make the chair easier to transport by folding down the back. The learner may need to release any restraining devices before he/she can do so. After folding the wheelchair, if the wheelchair does not have a latch mechanism to prevent the wheelchair from opening while it is being lifted, it may be helpful to use a strap.
  • When lifting a folded wheelchair for which the rear wheels cannot be removed, injury can occur if the unlocked rear wheels are grasped, because the frame will be free to rotate. 
  • It may be possible to reduce the weight and size of the wheelchair by removing the armrests and footrests. 
  • The push-handles of some wheelchairs can be folded to further reduce the wheelchair dimensions.

Unfold Wheelchair:

  • Generally, the learner should reverse the steps used to fold the wheelchair and in roughly reverse order (e.g. starting by putting the rear wheels back on and finishing with putting the cushion back in place).
  • To replace the rear wheels it may be necessary to push the quick-release plunger to allow the axle to get into the housing. To check that the axle is fully seated, the plunger should be out and it should not be possible to pull the rear wheel off. 
  • The learner should be careful not to tangle the seatbelt (if any) under the seat.
  • To get the process of opening a cross-braced wheelchair started, the learner should use the push-handles to lift the rear wheels off the ground  (thereby avoiding friction with the ground) and separate the push-handles.
  • The learner usually needs to push the seat rails back down into the starting position. The learner should keep the fingers on top of the rails to prevent them from being pinched.
  • For wheelchairs with backrests that fold forward, the backrest may lock in the folded position, necessitating a release of the locking mechanism to unfold the backrest.
  • The learner should put the cushion back on the seat properly before transferring back into the chair. 

Progression: 

Once the learner is able to fold and unfold the wheelchair, he/she can progress toward full use of this skill by putting the folded wheelchair up on the transfer bench and into his/her vehicle. 

Variations:

The advanced wheelchair user may be able to remove and replace rear wheels while seated in the wheelchair by leaning sideways (e.g. in a doorway) or forward (tipping the wheelchair onto the footrests). This can be useful if the wheelchair user wishes to change the wheels for ones more suitable for a new activity. Also, removing the rear wheels can be helpful in getting through narrow spaces if there are transport wheels or rear anti-tip devices that can be used for the purpose.

References