Access and Functional Needs Information for First Responders

People with Mobility Impairments

Crutches, Canes or Other Mobility Devices

  • A person using a mobility device may be able to negotiate stairs independently. One hand is used to grasp the handrail while the other hand is used for the crutch or cane. Do not interfere with the person’s movement unless asked to do so, or the nature of the emergency is such that absolute speed is the primary concern. If this is the case, tell the person what you’ll need to do and why.
  • Ask if you can help by offering to carry the extra crutch.
  • If the stairs are crowded, act as a buffer and run interference for the person.

Evacuating Wheelchair Users

  • If the conversation will take more than a few minutes, sit or kneel to speak to the person at eye level.
  • Wheelchair users are trained in special techniques to transfer from one chair to another. Depending on their upper body strength, they may be able to do much of the work themselves.
  • Ask before you assume you need to help, or what that help should be.

Carrying Techniques for Non-Motorized Wheelchairs

  • The In-chair carry is the most desirable technique to use, if possible.
  • One-person assist
    • Grasp the pushing grips, if available.
    • Stand one step above and behind the wheelchair.
    • Tilt the wheelchair backward until a balance (fulcrum) is achieved.
    • Keep your center of gravity low.
    • Descend frontward.
    • Let the back wheels gradually lower to the next step.
  • Two-person assist
    • Position the second rescuer:
    • Stand in front of the wheelchair and face the wheelchair.
    • Stand one, two, or three steps down (depending on the height of the other rescuer).
    • Grasp the frame of the wheelchair.
    • Push into the wheelchair.
    • Descend the stairs backwards

Motorized Wheelchairs

  • Motorized wheelchairs may weigh over 100 pounds unoccupied, and may be longer than manual wheelchairs. Lifting a motorized wheelchair and user up or down stairs requires two to four people.
  • People in motorized wheelchairs probably know their equipment much better than you do! Before lifting, ask about heavy chair parts that can be temporarily detached, how you should position yourselves, where you should grab hold, and what, if any, angle to tip the chair backward.
  • Turn the wheelchair’s power off before lifting it.
  • Most people who use motorized wheelchairs have limited arm and hand motion. Ask if they have any special requirements for being transported down the stairs.
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