Wheelchair Accessible Tips and Tricks I Learned as a First-Time Parent
Having a baby is nerve-wracking for any first-time parent. Add on the fact that one of the parents is in a wheelchair (me), and there is a whole new level of stress. While the year hasn’t been exactly easy, it has been absolutely amazing. The following are some of the tips and tricks I have learned throughout the first year with my son.
Crib, Playtime and Getting Around
Modifying the crib. There aren’t a lot of options for parents with wheelchairs. Drop-side cribs were banned in the United States for fears of babies being able to fall out. And very few companies make cribs with walls that open in a “French door” style, which makes the price astronomical. My husband and I modified our own crib, and it has been perfect.
We installed hinges on the left side of one of the long walls and several barrel bolts at varying heights on the right side (we varied the heights both to secure the wall and to ensure safety from curious hands trying to reach them from inside the crib). We found a solid wood, electronic crib, which has buttons that move the mattress up and down. This allows you to set the mattress at whatever height works for you. When at the uppermost height, I am able to slide right in under the bed frame while seated in my wheelchair. My knees clear the bottom perfectly.
A few examples of cribs that may work for you are Pedialift, which was designed by a wheelchair-using mom; Gertie Cribs, which are designed to be adaptable for people with disabilities as well as people who are shorter or taller than average and the Dream On Me Electronic Wonder Crib II, which can lower and raise with the touch of a button.
Playtime. For the first several months, babies are easy. Sure they cry and eat a lot. But they also sleep. A lot. They don’t move around too much. Then they start getting more active and curious. And they want to play. A lot. My son loves to play with all the bright dangly toys on his play mat. I’ve come up with a system for getting him to and from the floor. He has a baby stander that I keep next to the sofa so I can put him into it. I then lower myself to the ground. Next, using the sofa to give an extra level of support for my back and core, I lift him out of his stander. I then put him on my lap and scoot the couple of feet to the play mat. To get him back up to the sofa, I just reverse the order.
Sometimes we have playtime in his crib because it’s a little easier for me. I will bring the play mat to his room and place it on his crib. Or we play with other toys. The crib is also a great place for reading time. I place him on his crib and sit him at an angle in front of me, so we can both see the book and he can play with it while we are reading. This is another benefit of having modified our crib for easy wheelchair access.
Crawling. When my son was learning to crawl, it was difficult for me to give him the help he needed in learning to keep his body upright. The angles of being on the floor and helping him made it difficult. I tried putting him on my own bed, the height of which made it easier for me to support him and help him with his form. And he loved the soft landing when he inevitably toppled over.
Learning to crawl was another time that the modified crib was handy to have. I was able to put him into his crib and really help him with learning the form and ability. The downside to a crib is limited space. Once he got the movements down, the floor was clearly the best choice for all of his crawling. To get him to the floor I use the sofa-stander-floor transfer described earlier.
Wraps and carriers. Carrying the baby around the house is difficult in a manual wheelchair. It’s hard to hold a precious little bundle and wheel yourself. The use of wraps and carriers allows me to do this and keep him safe. I personally liked the Moby wrap, which is basically one gigantic piece of fabric. Some people do not like it because it is so long, but I preferred it because I could fit it to myself and make sure my son was snug.
I used the Baby K’Tan, which was nice. But the large size was too big and the medium always felt a little too tight for him. Now that he is a big guy, we use the Baby Ergo 360 as it allows me to carry him in a frontward seated position on my lap. I find it pretty easy to get him in and out of the carrier, and he loves being able to watch where we are going. He also loves being in the carrier and zooming around stores or the park.
Now that he is able to sit on my lap, I don’t use the carrier around the house as much. The carrier is now used for getting him outside to my car and in public. My son is so used to riding on my lap that he’s learned to sit still while we are rolling. We are working on him not trying to put his hand on the wheels while we are rolling. Around the house, I will put him on my lap and hold him with one arm while using the other to push. Every few feet I will switch the arm holding him and the arm pushing.
Inexpensive Home Modifications and Outside Time
Bathtime. Bathroom mods can be spendy, but not so much with babies. I was able to install a wheelchair accessible sink in my kitchen where I can bathe my son. My house is an open floor plan, so instead of tearing out the original cabinets and sinks, we simply added another sink and counter at an ADA height. The cabinet doors under the sink swing open so I can roll right under. We also put in six very deep drawers where I store all of his bath supplies. We set the sink back about 10 inches so there is a lip for me to rest my elbows and to use as support while giving him a bath.
An inexpensive option is to use a large plastic tub on a table that is wheelchair accessible. An option for a person with no wheelchair accessible sink or tub would be to use an ice chest with the lid off (also known as a “cooler”) in a shower. The benefits of using the ice chest is there is a plug on the bottom for easy draining.
Outside time. My son loves swinging. Most parks are composed of grass, sand and bark, substances not so easily traversed in a wheelchair. My FreeWheel has saved me in this area of motherhood. I am able to go off-roading and be nearby when he’s playing. I use my FreeWheel so often that I can’t recommend it fast enough to anyone and everyone. It is definitely worth the investment. And as my son gets older and more active, I know that it will be used more and more often, not only in parks but on hikes and dirt roads when we go on awesome adventures together.
Support system. This one is huge. I am a very independent person. Stubbornly independent at times. I was worried that if I asked for help, people would think I was an unfit parent. But just the opposite is true: Asking for help is never a bad idea. Another fear was that my son would be so used to being carried by his nanny (I am a working attorney) that he wouldn’t be OK being around me in my wheelchair. If anything, I think the opposite is true. He loves sitting on my lap while I roll him around the house.
Getting stronger. Since my baby was born, I’ve really focused on getting back to the gym and working on my upper body strength. It was quickly apparent to me that I would need to be in the best physical shape myself so I could hold him, carry him, play with him, chase him, etc. He was the motivation I needed to start strength training with a trainer at my amazing local gym. Those sofa-stander-floor transfers are easier now that I am getting stronger. The benefit of working out on a consistent five to six day a week basis has also helped with my energy levels.
Finding solutions to things I think I can’t do. I refuse to accept that there are certain things that I won’t be able to do with my son. For example, living in Southern California, my family often hangs out by the beach because my parents live right on the beach. My husband has taken the baby on the beach several times, and I wasn’t able to go along with them. It made me sad that I couldn’t be a part of an experience that had shaped a major part of my life. So I did some research and found out that the local lifeguard station has a beach chair to use free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. There are also businesses which rent beach wheelchairs.
The first time my son went in the pool was a similar experience. We were at my aunt’s house and there was no lift. While I’m sure I could have easily gotten in, I would have been more of a distraction in the pool, and I wanted to make sure that all eyes were on my son for his first pool time. This was very hard to accept. But trying to be a positive sort, I was happy to be there, and now we have 100 pictures of him being in the pool because I am the Picture Taker in Chief in my household. However, there is a public pool near my house that has a pool lift, so I can experience being in the pool with him. Sometimes you just need to channel the things you can’t do and find ways to make them happen.
By Stephanie Arrache|December 1st, 2016