An electric wheelchair is a tricky thing to wash, but with a bit of on-the-spot training, about a dozen volunteers from New Trier Township High School pitched in at the annual wheelchair wash at Over the Rainbow Association. Direct spray from a hose can harm the battery, so buckets, sponges, rags and even toothbrushes were the order of the day.
A wheelchair is both a piece of furniture and a mode of transportation; mud and dust accrue from traveling City streets as well as the grounds at 2040 Brown Ave. Several of the 33 residents, each of whom has a challenge with mobility, motored to the south parking lot for the wash.
“One of the last things people have help with is cleaning up a wheelchair,” said Patrick Hughes, executive director of Inclusion Solutions, which sponsors the wheelchair wash.
Larry Maday, Mr. Hughes’ cousin, said he brought about 20 teens, including his four children, from Wilmette to work at the wheelchair wash. The new experience seemed to sit well with these volunteers as they scrubbed the chairs.
John Cammelot, a long-time resident of OTR, agreed, saying, “We use our chairs every day, [sometimes through] mud. We don’t have a lot of help getting them cleaned up.”
Most residents have battery-powered wheelchairs, said Mr. Cammelot. “The battery lasts about a day before it has to be recharged, so you can go about 12 miles. Evanston is a good City for that. It used to be you couldn’t do that [because] there were no curb cuts.”
Mr. Cammelot also said, “It’s hard to come up to a person with a wheelchair and introduce yourself.” Mr. Hughes said that barrier is one he hopes events like this can help dismantle. “When you’re taking someone out of their chair [so it can be washed], you have to make conversation,” he said.
Mr. Hughes said he was hoping for more than spark-ling clean wheelchairs from the afternoon. Making connections between the volunteers and the residents is very important. “The hope is that something will sustain.”