Wheelchair Skills Training - Going Through Doors

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

Top Contributors - Naomi O'Reilly and Amrita Patro  

Gets Through Hinged Door

Description and Rationale

The learner opens, passes through and closes a hinged door that opens away from the learner, then repeats the task in the opposite direction (with the door opening toward the learner). Although there are a variety of door types, this is considered a representative skill.

General Training Tips

  • Although the footrests can be useful to help push doors open or closed, this method should not be used on glass doors that might break. 
  • The feet often extend beyond the footplates, so care needs to be taken to avoid injury. 
  • If using the footrests to apply a force to a door, it is best to approach the door at a slight angle toward the side that will open. This ensures that it is the outer corner of the footrest that contacts the door and not the feet.
  • For a door that opens away from the wheelchair, the wheelchair user can begin the skill by positioning the wheelchair directly in front of the door. To open a door that opens away from the wheelchair more easily, the wheelchair user can turn sideways in front of it. This allows the wheelchair user to get closer to the door and to resist the tendency of the wheelchair to roll backward when the door is pushed. Alternatively, the wheelchair user can hold onto the door-frame with one hand, as the door is pushed with the other. This is more likely to be necessary if the door resists opening.
  • For a door that opens toward the wheelchair, the wheelchair user should position the wheelchair to the side of the door to allow room for it to be swung open without striking the wheelchair or a body part. To open a door that opens toward the wheelchair, the wheelchair user should push on the door-frame with the hand farthest from the hinge to open the door more easily with the other hand. Turning the wheelchair sideways will also prevent the wheelchair being pulled forward as the wheelchair user pulls on the door.
  • Once a self-closing door has been opened enough to allow the wheelchair to proceed through it, the widest part of the wheelchair can be used to prevent the door from closing. To avoid scraping the door, the wheelchair user can use his/her hand or elbow to push the door open briefly to allow progress.
  • While moving past the door, the wheelchair user should be careful to avoid catching any clothing or body parts on the door handle or the surface of the door if it is rough.
  • The door-frame can be used to help propel the wheelchair user through the door (the “slingshot” method). To do so, the wheelchair user reaches forward and places one hand on the door frame and the other on the door or the door frame on the other side. Then, by pulling with both hands, the wheelchair is moved through the opening. This has the advantage of keeping the hands from being injured by bumping or scraping them between the door frame and the wheelchair.
  • To close a door that opens toward the wheelchair, after passing through it, there are several options (if the door does not close by itself):
  • The wheelchair user may gently swing the door closed behind him/her, moving the wheelchair quickly through the door and out of the way.
  • The wheelchair user may turn around once through the doorway, reach forward and pull the door toward him/her while backing away.
  • The wheelchair user may go through the door backward, pulling the door with him/her. 
  • The wheelchair user should not put his/her fingers between the door and door-frame for any longer than necessary (preferably not at all) because they may get pinched when the door closes.
  • Reaching over the back of the wheelchair to close the door is effective, but there is risk of a rear tip.
  • To close a door that opens away from the wheelchair after passing through it, there are several options (if the door does not close by itself):
  • The wheelchair user can swing the door closed.
  • The wheelchair user can turn the wheelchair around and push the door closed with the footrests.
  • The wheelchair user can back up to close the door using the rear wheel or other wheelchair part to push on the door.

Progression:

  • Judging the width of doorways relative to wheelchair dimensions can require practice. To avoiddamage to the hands, wheelchair or door frame, it can be useful to attempt getting through progressively more narrow openings using objects that are not firmly fixed (e.g. pylons). Bubble wrap can be used to provide audible feedback.
  • The learner should start with a door that does not close on its own and progress to one that does. The trainer can reduce or add resistance to door opening by applying forces with his/her hand.
  • The space available to the side of the door can be varied.

Variations: 

  • The learner can experiment with negotiating the door in the forward or backward directions.
  • If there is a threshold or level change in the door opening, after popping the casters over the threshold or up not the higher level, it may be helpful to use the door frame to help provide the forces needed to proceed.
  • For a door that opens away from the wheelchair and that is latched with a bar mechanism that will open when a force is applied to it, the wheelchair user can approach the door without slowing down. At the last moment, the wheelchair user can lean and reach forward with one or both hands and use momentum to open the door. The feet should not strike the door. This should initially be practiced at slow speeds.

References