Cautionary Summer Heat for Paraplegics

Reading time: 2.5 minutes

In the summer, the sun is a scorcher and we all know that. If you don’t live somewhere where the heat gets cranked up, then this is just a little bit of knowledge for you. If you live anywhere that the sun cooks, this is important, especially if you haven’t experienced a summer in a wheelchair.

I was in Australia during their summer and right now I’m in the US and having almost equally hot days. I was laying out on my pool deck getting sun kissed and I had my chair over my face. I had my phone hanging up under my seat playing an audiobook and I was in relax mode.

I also had a towel on the deck under my legs as well as a patio chair cushion under my hips – the towel so that my feet wouldn’t be on the hot ground and the cushion so that I would be comfortable. In moving the chair from where it was to cover my face, the towel that I had on it fell off and I didn’t know. I had brought a white towel with me to set on my chair to keep it from getting too hot.

Likely, your chair, seat, and backrest are all black. Mine are. It keeps it from looking dirty, sure. Under the sun is no place for a chair that absorbs heat. Especially for someone who might not have feeling, getting burned by sitting on a hot seat or backrest, or burning your feet on a hot metal footplate is among the top three worst things you could have happen.

I have gotten burned before. It was my footplate, hot metal and the skin on my big toe clashed, and the heat won.

When I got up after listening to a few chapters of my audiobook, I realized the white towel that I had placed on the wheelchair had fallen off. I realized too late that the towel had fallen off and saw that my seat, which is both black and air inflated, was looking juiced up. I immediately open the airflow otherwise it would’ve popped. That has happened to me before as well, my chair popped a hole after the heat. Luckily I still have the seat under warranty and that was only like four or five months after rehab.

Even while I’m in the wheelchair, any part that isn’t covered by me will get hot and I then have to be careful not to touch it. When I go outside in the heat, even if my chair never saw the light of sun, the heat still inflates it.

This is my experience and the lessons are these, when your wheelchair is in the sun, cover it up or put something on it before you go to sit in it, otherwise a burn may ensue. Pay attention to the footplate and the heat of it, maybe even paint it white or silver (mine is black). When in the heat or going through any temperature change, understand that your air inflated seat will change pressure and you’ll need to be keen on observing the change and adjust accordingly.


Immediate actionable items: Check the heat of things with the back of your hand or inside of your wrist where the temperature sensitivity is rather acute and judge for yourself whether or not it’s safe to touch, sit, or anything else. Maybe even buy some lighter color items to lay over your wheelchair seat or backrest, etc.

Summary: Instead of you learning from experience that warm weather makes an air inflated seat pop or that it can make parts of a wheelchair so hot you burn yourself, you can learn that here and take the lessons with you all the same.

Overdeliver:  If you’re in a wheelchair and your backrest is a dark color and has any level of cushioning (mine has too much), then it can be both hot and cause you to sweat. Find or buy a white dry fit shirt or cloth to put over the backrest to mitigate the effects of heat.

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