Atlanta, GA,
09:30 AM

Wheelchair Users Can Learn and Practice Advanced Mobility Skills in Upcoming Class

Former Shepherd Center patients and community members invited to attend free training session on Oct. 24.

New – or not so new – users of manual wheelchairs have an opportunity to learn and practice advanced wheelchair mobility skills in an upcoming free event scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 24, 2015.

In response to needs identified by staff members in Shepherd Center’s Seating and Mobility Clinic, as well as several physical therapists in Shepherd’s inpatient Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Program, the hospital started an Advanced Wheelchair Skills Clinic in 2012. Staff members volunteer their time to train former patients and community members in a four-hour program held on a Saturday morning at Shepherd Center.

With inpatient stays typically shorter now than they were 10 years ago – largely because of changes in medical insurance coverage – therapists have less time to work with patients on maximizing their wheelchair mobility skills, says Shari McDowell, director of Shepherd Center’s SCI Rehabilitation Program.

“We found that patients hadn’t perfected their wheelchair skills by the time they discharged from the inpatient program,” McDowell explained. “Plus, they needed to have a different set of skills to maneuver the variety of terrain they typically find in the community.”

Participants in previous wheelchair clinic events have given the training session high marks.

“The class was definitely good for me,” said former patient Cameron Horner of Yanceyville, N.C., who sustained a C-6 to -7 SCI in 2011. “The intent is for people to get more active with more advanced skills with their wheelchair. We focused on many difficult things. We worked on wheelies and ways to use those to get around in certain terrains, such as sand, rocks, curbs and down hills. It was great because you can’t go over it so much in an hour-long class.”

He added that the course would also be good as a refresher class to people who’ve been in wheelchairs for years, but perhaps have never learned the most effective ways to use them.

Robin Skolsky, a physical therapist in Shepherd Center’s Seating and Mobility Clinic has volunteered as an instructor at previous wheelchair clinics. She said the class provides the advantage of allowing wheelchair users to learn from each other alongside training from skilled therapists. In her job, she sees firsthand the challenges facing people who use manual wheelchairs in the community.

“We want former patients and community members to attend the Advanced Wheelchair Skills Clinic so they can more efficiently use their mobility devices,” Skolsky said.

Skills covered in the clinic may include propulsion technique, wheelies, curbs, falling safely, uprighting the wheelchair, and negotiating terrain such as grass, stones, sand and stairs. All are part of the event location – the Mike Utley Terrain Training Course located in the Mavis Pruet Leslie Memorial Garden in front of the Irene and George Woodruff Family Residence Center on the Shepherd Center campus.

“Becoming as efficient as possible when learning how to use a wheelchair is kind of like becoming great at playing a sport,” McDowell said. “It takes many hours of practice and training.”

McDowell encourages former patients to register for the Oct. 24 clinic. There is no cost to attend. Participants will receive a free T-shirt. A caregiver or friend of the participant is encouraged to attend to work on spotting technique, but is not required for participation.

For more information and to register, contact physical therapist Jill Roecker at 404-603-4631 or

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.