Keeping Wheelchair Users on the Move

If you use a wheelchair, you know how important it is to have your equipment in tiptop shape. That’s why ICS created the only comprehensive, community-based wheelchair evaluation, repair and maintenance program in New York City.

That program became On a Roll, a nonprofit featuring skilled technicians, dedicated repair shops in Brooklyn and the Bronx, a wheelchair “car wash,” and maintenance workshops for wheelchair users. On a Roll provides evaluations by expert occupational and physical therapists who make sure that ICS members get the best possible chair, customized to meet his or her needs.

What every wheelchair user needs to know

On a Roll Wheelchair Technician Ellsworth Mitchell says, “Every wheelchair user needs an understanding of the basics. Things to monitor are that your upholstery and arm pads are in the proper place and secure, that your tires are not worn, that your brakes work smoothly, that stationary leg rests are securely in place and that moving leg rests swing out fully.”

Ellsworth stresses the importance of routine observation. Pointing to a loose nut on the side of one member’s chair he said, “Something like this is very dangerous. It could lead to the drive-wheel falling off, so it’s important to notice any changes in the chair or when something is loose and attend to it without delay.”

Power chairs have their own potential problems, especially during a winter with a lot of snow and rain. Viannette Oquendo, On a Roll’s Manager for Wheelchair Repairs explains:

You don’t know when a power chair that is exposed to bad weather is going to conk out on you. Yes, the weather shouldn’t stop you from going about your life, but you need to protect yourself by protecting your chair. Take a plastic bag and put it over the vulnerable parts. They sell pretty rain covers for wheelchairs, but those are not necessary. Take a shopping bag from any drugstore or supermarket and cover the places on your chair where electronics can get wet and you’re good to go. Some people have the tilt systems in the back and they cover those. Of course, if there is a big downpour, and you’re going through giant puddles, everything – water, salt, dirt – it’s all splashing up. The battery casing is sealed, but the outlets and other electrical components are exposed, so it’s important to avoid big puddles; small puddles are okay.

In addition, black ice poses a special risk for wheelchair users. When a wheelchair hits black ice, it’s similar to a car hitting black ice – it can cause uncontrollable sliding and make it difficult or impossible to stop.

When and ICS member comes to On A Roll’s repair shop, they have the tools to examine and analyze the situation with their chair, so that the user knows what is wrong and what needs to be changed. At one wheelchair workshop, a member was having problems including unexplained jumping of his power chair, and battery strain while going uphill. Consulting with On a Roll’s staff revealed problems with the tires, battery and motor that needed attention.

Sometimes a chair comes into the workshop that needs something major, like a new battery, which can take a month or more for the manufacturer to provide. Of course, you can’t go without your chair for a month so when that happens, when we can, On A Roll offers members a loaner chair.

“Like Mercedes Benz, they give you a courtesy car if yours is in the shop,” one member said, to laughter.

2 replies
  1. Serge Campa
    Serge Campa says:

    Desperatley need to find someone that can do a “pressurè mapping, of my butt so that I can get the right cushion, and posibly modified wheel chair seat pan to help minimize decubitus ulcers. Been in and out of hospitals for 2.5 years due to sitting in my Invicare chair.
    Has anyone tried a “standing” chair to help prevent skin breakdown ?
    Does anyone know of a wheelchair technician that services Yonkers ny ?
    Any info greatly appreciated

  2. Annalisa
    Annalisa says:

    Yes – a pressure mapping should be very helpful – we consider it essential. Though we don’t serve Westchester County at this time, you may want to reach out to Westchester Disabled On the Move ( or Westchester Independent Living Center ( for possible places that may be able to help. You are also welcome to call us at 1.877.ICS.2525 to learn if there might be any additional resources our specialists can recommend generally as well.

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