It’s tough for a quad to manage a day at home solo and still get all our needs met. We have to figure out eating, drinking, turning on the TV, grabbing our laptops, grabbing caffeine, maybe throwing on a sweater and packing a backpack — all with limited dexterity and arm movement, and while sitting well under 5 feet tall. So how do we make that all come together?
My planning starts before my attendant leaves at the end of my morning routine. The first step is to ask myself: what do I need for the day, and what might I need for the day? The next step is to find it, grab it, and put it somewhere easily within reach. The next is to figure out as many “quad tricks” as possible to be OK solo — whether it’s using a toaster oven instead of a toaster, or teabags and a hot water kettle for caffeine (instead of trying unsuccessfully to brew my own coffee or spending $3 at the Starbucks downstairs). Finally, I just have to keep experimenting, learning how to do as much as possible, and building on those lessons to set up a quad-friendly home.
Here are a few of the things that I’ve found work for me, a guy with a C5-6 SCI who has poor dexterity in my right arm and none in my left. Some of them might work great for you as well, depending on your level of disability. So give them a try — and always keep tweaking to maximize your independence.
1. Arrange your space intentionally
No matter what, it’s vital to make sure the layout of your place lets you move around smoothly.
For example, I tend to stay caffeinated by drinking black tea in the living room, parked in front of my TV/monitor set up while I work. I keep a cordless electric kettle and my mug with a teabag in it already set up on the coffee table, rather than in the kitchen where I can’t bring them over to my workspace. I also move the chairs away from the dining room table, so I can easily slide up to get my laptop off of my lap (and back on later). Plenty of other things are arranged so they all flow together for a smooth-running home.
2. Prep lunch ahead of time
When there’s an 8- or 10-hour gap between when one attendant leaves and the other shows up, you’ve got to have a bite to eat at some point. I’ve found a few different ways to get my lunch prepped ahead of time, and it’s always nice to mix them up so things don’t get too monotonous.
For example, sometimes I’ll pop an English muffin with some vegan butter in my toaster oven and leave a plate nearby, with a small cup of nutritional yeast sitting right next. When I get hungry, I’ll hit the toaster button and when everything is done, I open the door, slide the muffin onto the glass, right onto the plate, and sprinkle the topping on with a spoon. And of course, it’s always easy enough to just find food that won’t spoil and doesn’t need heating, and then put it on a plate within reach (maybe on the table without the chairs, and maybe with a fork on the plate).
Just be careful: chips and candy are some of those don’t-spoil no-heating food, but real lunch actually means real lunch.
3. Little mods make a big difference
I’ve found a bunch of little mods and makeshift tools around the apartment that help me do things solo that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to (or at least make things a whole lot easier). That kettle I was talking about earlier? It’s a wireless electric kettle with a huge handle that I can wrap my fingers around, even with no dexterity and just tenodesis. And I always ask my attendant to fill it up in the morning.
Other tricks? Well, the floor lamp in my bedroom has a power button I can’t press, so instead I plugged it into a power strip, taped that to my desk, and flip the switch on the power strip to turn on and off the light. Otherwise it’s all about practicing positioning and whatever types of arm movement you can.
4. Lots of practice
It took a whole bunch of practice to turn the toaster oven’s power dial, but I finally got it down. And maneuvering my wheelchair, grabbing the 12-foot HDMI cable off the TV, plugging that into my laptop on my lap, and backing my wheelchair up next to the coffee table — all using mainly my one good arm with the janky left one barely helping — took a whole bunch of experimenting and practice. But it goes to show that enough practice can make tough jobs possible — so just keep trying.
5. Pack a “ready to go” bag
You may have to leave sometime during the day or there might be some unanticipated issue that pulls you out of the house. It’s important, then, to at least have a bag with things you might need packed up and ready to go, either within reach or hanging right on your chair.
I personally keep my backpack on at all times with the basics: a spare cell phone charger, my folded-up sweatshirt and rain poncho, a few Allen wrenches, and a couple of snacks in case I get hungry when I’m out, plus a five-hour energy bottle. There are even emergency supplies buried way down in the back: some gloves, bathroom supplies, and spare medications. Because who knows what might happen when you’re solo and need to run out.
These tricks and more can make those solo days go that much smoother. It’s always a good call to ask your wheelin’ friends for their tricks getting around the house and getting things done, as well. Trying different tricks can always lead to better things, whether that’s listening for advice or tweaking your own ideas. And no matter what, always remember: practice makes perfect.