For the last three years or so, I have not used footrests on my wheelchair during regular daily use. I still put them on when I am playing tennis or traveling, but I have found that the ability to use my feet and legs to help open doors and assist with transfers has been a great benefit. It took some getting used to, and requires vigilance when rolling about, however once I rolled over my feet a couple times, I started paying better attention. Keep in mind, I don’t recommend this method to everyone, I just thought I’d share it because it works for me. If you try it you are going to hurt yourself at some point.
One reason I can get away with this is that my wheelchair has a power tilt so I usually tilt it up a few inches to lift high my feet high enough off the ground to be somewhat safe. I still have to be careful not to let my toes tip down and catch on something like a break in the sidewalk or the ramp on a curb cut. There is also risk of catching my foot on something if I approach too closely on the side as well as the risk of my heel getting caught up in a wheel. Fortunately I have only had two incidents resulting in what amounts to an ankle sprain over the last three years that I have been doing this.
When it comes to opening doors, I don’t find ramming a glass door with foot metal footplates to be particularly effective or safe. However when I have my legs free I can use my feet to gently push open the door, move forward, then use my arm to hold the door open as I guide myself out.
If it’s a pull door, I am able to open it slightly with my arms, then stick my foot in and use my leg to swing the door open, leveraging my power wheelchair as well. For me it’s much less challenging to do this, than it is to try to swing the door open with my arm and jam my wheelchair in through the temporary opening before the door closes too far.
When transferring to or from my wheelchair with the footrests attached, it’s cumbersome trying to get my legs over the footrest. It can also be difficult to get the chair close enough to transfer if the footrest is simply swung away. So I found myself removing and reattaching the footrest every time I would transfer. When I am out and about this doesn’t happen too often, but at home it could be easy to transfer several times a day just with having to use the bathroom, or sit on regular chairs. I soon found myself not even bothering to attach my footrests around the house and it made things a bit easier for me.
I mentioned before that I have run over my feet a couple times, and it is painful! It feels like a bad ankle sprain. Each time this has happened it’s not that the wheel ran my foot over, it’s that my whole foot turned under the frame of the chair. Essentially it’s as if you pointed your foot down and it kept bending until it’s pointing the other direction. The worst part is that then you have to back up your wheelchair to get your foot out — so it’s like running it over twice! This is why I don’t recommend doing this. It hurts! Don’t count me liable if you try this and get hurt! It’s a personal choice. For me, the benefits outweigh the risks at this point in time.