Wheelchair Skills Training - Picking Up Objects

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

Top Contributors - Naomi O'Reilly and Amrita Patro  

Picks Objects from Floor

Description and Rationale

  • The learner picks objects up from the floor and passes them to the tester. Objects that need to be picked up from the floor or ground vary from those as small and light as a coin or a piece of paper to those as bulky and heavy as a young child. This is also an opportunity for the trainer to work on other reaching tasks (e.g. horizontally across a table or overhead as when removing an object from a shelf). 
  • The learner may use a reaching aid, but should carry it with him/her.
  • To be safer if leaning or bending forward, the wheelchair user can move the footrests out of the way and place the feet on the floor. 
  • If standing up and crouching, the wheelchair user should first apply the wheel locks and clear the footrests out of the way. If the wheelchair user stands up on the footrests, a forward tip is likely unless the footrests are behind the front wheels. If standing and crouching, the wheelchair user should keep one hand on the wheelchair to keep from falling. 
  • If the wheelchair user chooses to lean forward to accomplish the task, he/she should make sure the casters are trailing forward to decrease the likelihood of tipping forward. As noted earlier, when the casters are trailing forward, they lie ahead of the portion of the wheelchair frame to which they are attached, as is the case when the wheelchair is rolled backward. 
  • The wheelchair user should use one hand on the wheelchair or thigh to help with balance and the other hand to pick up the object.
  • For a wheelchair user with weak trunk muscles, to reach the ground he/she should move the arms to the thighs one at a time, and then to the feet, placing the chest on the thighs.
  • Turning an object on its side may help to get a better grip. 
  • To make it easier to pick up an object, the wheelchair user may pull the object up against one of the wheels so that it does not move.
  • If a wheelchair user has weak pinch strength, increasing the friction between the fingers and the object (e.g. by wearing gloves or wetting the fingers with saliva) can help to prevent dropping the object.
  • Reaching and leaning reduce stability, putting the wheelchair user at risk of falling out of the wheelchair or, if in a manual wheelchair, tipping the wheelchair over. 
  • For a person with weak trunk muscles, to avoid falling in the direction that he/she is leaning, he/she may hook the non-reaching arm behind the push handle or hold onto the armrest or wheel.
  • To help right him/herself in the chair after reaching for the object, the wheelchair user can pull on the opposite armrest or wheel. 
  • If the armrest on the side to which the wheelchair user wishes to reach is moved out of the way, it allows the wheelchair user to bend further sideways. 
  • The wheelchair user needs to exercise caution when reaching across the body, especially when reaching for or picking up something (e.g. a heavy object on a high shelf, hot coffee, a knife) that could injure the user if it was spilled or dropped onto the lap. Also, bending and twisting at the same time can cause back injury.

Progression:

  • The object can be picked up using different approaches (e.g. front vs. side).
  • Objects of different sizes and weights can be used.

Variations:

  • If the wheelchair user is reaching for a light and unbreakable object from a high shelf, he/she can use an improvised reaching aid (e.g. a rolled up magazine or a cane) to help move the object off the shelf and catch it. In a store, when an object is out of reach, an object (e.g. a cereal box) on a lower shelf can be used to ease the desired object off the higher shelf so that it can be caught.
  • A moving pick-up can be accomplished if the wheelchair user holds the object against the bottom of the rear wheel with one hand as the wheelchair rolls forward, then both hands can be used to grasp the object when it rotates to the top of the wheel. 

References