We asked three wheelchair users familiar with cold climate conditions to provide some general safety tips for people living with paralysis this winter season.
She is the Executive Director of Turning Point Tahoe, which creates outdoor recreation and environmental education for people with disabilities in the Truckee/Tahoe area. Candace says, “I’m enjoying my 22nd winter in a wheelchair staying safe and warm.” Read Candace’s blog, Heart & Nerve in our Reeve Foundation Paralysis Community.
He is living with a T-10 spinal cord injury, a former cold weather specialist in the United States Marine Corps and developer of Back to Sports, a company that helps people with SCI get “back to life” by participating in sporting activities. Read more about Tom in Sporting Back to Life.
He is living with a spinal cord injury and president and co-founder of Access Anything, a leader in adaptive sports and adventure travel for people living with disabilities.
– Invest in good quality outer wear. Stick to name brands like The North Face, Patagonia, Hot Chillys, and Obermeyer.
– Dress in layers. Wear loose, lightweight, warm clothing in several layers. Trapped air between the layers acts as an insulator and layers can be removed to avoid perspiration and subsequent chill. (Remember, layers can always be taken off.)
– Avoid cotton, when it gets wet, it stays wet. Search and rescue teams stress that cotton once wet stays wet allowing hyperthermia to set in quickly. Instead, try clothing made from moisture-wicking fabric like Under Armour, polypropylene or any man- made fibers. Better yet, wool will still keep the body temperature up, even when wet.
Keeping your hands warm
– Mittens for hands if opening fingers is challenging.
– Carry two pairs of gloves with you at all times in the likelihood that one pair gets wet. Make sure the gloves are lined for the best protection.
– Wet, cold hands cause a chill to set in quicker. If hands become cold put them under arms in arm pit or crotch area to warm rapidly. These areas are the warmest parts of body.
Stay frostbite free
– Head, feet and hands lose heat the quickest. Always wear a hat or cap on your head since half of your body heat could be lost through an uncovered head.
– If participating in outdoor sports, wear a full head mask, helmet, and neck warmer.
– It’s very 1980s, yes, but both men and women can keep calves warm with leggings.
– Use something like Grabber warmers that can be put in pockets and gloves to keep hands warm. These are not good for feet because you can’t regulate the heat.
– Boot warmers can be very helpful keeping feet warm and dry. Remember to check skin when first using boot warmers. Hotronic is a good product.
Skin protection especially when it’s cold
– Wear sunscreen! Even in the winter, sunburn is possible. When the sun reflects off the snow, severe sunburn can occur, especially under your nose and the bottom of your ears.
– Apply Vaseline to the areas of your face that are not going to be covered. It acts as a moisture insulator and helps prevent your face from getting dry or chapped in the cold air.
– Frostbitten skin feels cold to the touch and skin may feel numb. If skin turns white or grayish-yellow, frostbite can be suspected. Move to a warm area and cover the affected area with something warm and dry. Never rub it!
– Consistently check for any exposed skin. Shirts and jackets have a tendency to roll up on the back of wheelchairs.
Snow tires for your wheelchair?
– You should invest in snow tires for both your wheelchair and car. Tires made from a soft rubber work best for gripping snow and ice.
– For your wheelchair, mountain bike tires can be used as they have more traction.
– For your car, snow tires are important because they have tread patterns that are designed to grab onto snow and ice. They also help to prevent from getting stuck.
– Never use cruise control while driving in the winter. The time it takes to remove the cruise control is enough to send a vehicle spinning out of control.
Dealing with dehydration
– Hydration is critical in winter weather. When the body gets dehydrated cold sets in more easily. Skin becomes dried out from heating and cold temps more so then in summer.
– You can become dehydrated much more quickly in dry climates and high altitudes. Keep your body oxygenated by drinking lots of water.
What should be in your survival kit?
– When traveling in winter weather, have a survival kit in your vehicle or backpack. The kit should include water, matches, food, shovel, flashlight, blankets, sleeping bag, and flares. Storms roll in quickly and getting stranded in a snow storm can be cold and dangerous. (Of course, make sure your cell phone is charged and you have a full tank of gas.)
– Batteries lose 60% of their charge when the temperature reaches 0 degrees. Keep batteries warm with covers.
She used a boiled wool slipper from Norway. “I had it made from a child’s slipper I saw in a store,” explains Candace. “I contacted the person that made it and asked them to make some for me.” Boiled wool slippers can also be found online.
“The hard, flat, white piece is plastic. The tall cover is made of a water proof material that I again had made to cover the slipper.”
To assemble all the pieces together, Candace says, “First the tall outer cover, then the plastic, and then the slipper, and of course my foot goes in the slipper. The idea is if it doesn’t exist create it!”