Skills on Wheels

This program at Riley Hospital for Children helps kids maneuver various life situations in their wheelchairs.

If you have a child in a manual wheelchair, you may have wondered how they will learn the skills needed to help them successfully maneuver through a variety of situations they may encounter.

For those of you located in Indianapolis and surrounding areas, we have some good news. Riley Hospital for Children offers an evidence-based training program delivered by trained occupational therapists called Skills on Wheels, which helps children to learn these very skills.

Skills on Wheels was launched in the spring of 2021 by the IU Department of Occupational Therapy and Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Adapted from a wheelchair skills training program for adults developed by R. Lee Kirby at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Skills on Wheels is the first wheelchair skills program offered for children in the United States — and only the second worldwide.

Tony Chase, developer of Skills on Wheels and assistant professor at IUPUI’s School of Health & Human Sciences, answered some of our questions about this enriching and supportive program.

Can you tell us a bit about Skills on Wheels and how it began?

Skills on Wheels involves teaching essential wheelchair skills to wheelchair-using children. The program runs five Saturdays each spring. Last year was our pilot run of it with four participants. This year, the program has expanded to 17 participants and has various collaborative implementations of it in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as well as Canada and Ireland.

What kinds of skills do you teach?

We teach basic skills, like rolling forward, backward or taking apart your chair. We then have some intermediate skills, like wheelies and navigating difficult terrain. Then there are higher-level skills, such as navigating street curbs or stairs. There are 33 skills in total.

Who would be a good fit for your program?

We serve children between 8 and 17 years of age who are manual wheelchair users regardless of diagnosis. Children go through an evaluation appointment at Riley Hospital to determine if the program is a good fit.

What else should we know about Skills on Wheels?

This program also involves experiences for occupational therapy and physical therapy students at IUPUI. In addition, there is a space called “caregivers corner” in which parents of participants can learn information from speakers and build rapport through discussion with each other. One of the Saturdays is a community day where we all go to the canal area of downtown and practice skills in a real-world environment.

Skills on Wheels helps children immensely by providing them with the skills they need to move around freely, with confidence in their ability to navigate different situations and terrains they may encounter. It also helps parents to know their children are being taught these important skills by trained professionals who care for their child’s independence, safety and wellbeing. Programs like this are life-changing for both the child and their caregiver, as they interact with others in similar life situations, gaining not only skills, but also support.

For more information about Skills on Wheels, visit shhs.iupui.edu/community/skills-on-wheels.

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