The following information is from personal experience. YMMV. Please do not attempt this activity. I weigh 230 pounds and can bench press around 325 pounds. I am not your average wheelchair user and I am quite able bodied and strong. I jump off of curbs and stairs and do other stunts that should not be repeated. No insurance company in the world will pay for injuries from this type of activity. This account is here to simply give a picture of something that I do every day to deal with the environment in which I live. Please do not try this whether you are in a wheelchair or able bodied. No matter how strong you are this is not something you should try. It is very likely that you could hurt yourself and other people and if you are already in a wheelchair I seriously doubt more injuries would help matters. It is dangerous and stupid.

I have lived in the city for almost four years. In these four years I have learned to adapt to many of the challenges that are presented to a wheelchair bound individual. It turns out that most elevators in the city that are publicly accessible are used as toilets by homeless people. This has created a situation that encourages me to not use the elevators. In order to avoid the elevators I make use of a technique that I acquired while visiting London when I was in high school. It seems that London was void of elevators in many places but had escalators everywhere. This may or may not still be true. Either way, I quickly learned to use the escalators.

Conditions for success

Instructions for going up an escalator
  1. Judge whether the escalator is wide enough to accommodate the wheelchair. If not, abort.
  2. Position yourself so that your wheelchair is equidistant from the two handrails. Once you have become advanced you may be able to ride the escalator on one side thus only blocking half of it. However, it is safer to start by sitting in the middle of the escalator.
  3. Approach the escalator and pray to whatever gods you believe in.
  4. Wheel on to the escalator. While you are still on the part that is flat (before the stairs start to separate) you must align your chair so that the front wheels are on one step and the back wheels are on the step behind it. If you are not successful in this step you will have to bail due to a lack of balance.
  5. Grab both of the moving hand rails and lean forward.
  6. At this point if you have done everything right the chair will tilt back as the stairs separate and you will be riding the escalator.
  7. Exiting is the easy part. Simply let go when the stairs have flattened out again.

Instructions for going down an escalator

Instead of going through another list I will simply comment on going down an escalator. Don't. I can and do every day but it is very tricky because you must go backwards. If you went forwards and followed the instructions above you would tilt forward and make quite a mess at the bottom of the escalator. In order to go down you must back on to the escalator and position your wheels in the same manner as when going up. All of the instructions are the same except the degree of difficulty in exponentially higher.

Some notes on this activity
  • Don't put too much pressure on the railings. Some types of railings will start to slide and will cease to provide the support you need to get to the end of the escalator. You will fall and make an ass of yourself.
  • If you are told to stop by a security guard there are two options. You can choose to defy the law and not let the man keep you down, in which case you could be arrested and probably have a law suit filed against you. You could also just forget about it and deal with the elevator. Option 2 will help avoid making an ass of yourself.
  • If you do start to fall, proceed to do the following: twist and land sitting on the escalator while holding your chair in one hand to keep it from sliding down the escalator. If you manage this you are extremely lucky and you have once again made an ass of yourself.
  • If you get stuck on the escalator because it stops half way, you are screwed. There are very few options other than asking for help, at which point you have made an ass of yourself.

This is much easier done in an electric wheelchair, a bit safer too.

We motorized gimps have a much lower center of gravity to contend with. If your electric wheelchair has the ability to tilt and recline then you should use these to your advantage by shifting all the weight you can towards the heaviest end of your chair. Now, when approaching the escalator you want the heavy end to be the high end, so...

going up = heavy end first
going down = heavy end last

Techniques for riding down on an escalator are to varied by all the different types of powered chairs and their ground clearance. Try going up first and let your level of success and comfort determine if your ready to go down. If the chassis of your chair touches the steps when going up, don't go down. You're just not cut out for it. You'll slip off the steps and break your... whatever you didn't already break.

Scared? Don't worry yet; going up is almost kinda mostly easy. Just cram your leading wheels up against the step as it forms. When you're wedged up against the step good and tight release the controls and let your power brakes engage. Be ready to move fast when you reach the top. The escalator is not going to give you a smooth 4 point landing, it is going to fuck with you! You need to be sure your leading wheels are rolling when they reach the floor to match the speed of the escalator.

If you're not synchronized you will get jostled.
If you get jostled you will get crooked.
If you get crooked you will get stuck.
If you get stuck you will get sued.
If you get sued you will deserve it.

(Please don't make the rest of us look bad by whining about discrimination and your right to access. You did a stupid thing and the poor folks that had to pry your dumb crippled ass out of the escalator didn't get paid enough. If a store doesn't have an elevator they must not want your money. Move on.)

Now go enjoy your new found ability. But be careful, you're fucked up enough already.

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