Imagine yourself sitting on a chair perched on a three-foot-high desk. Now imagine someone grabbing the back of the chair and pitching you forward off the desk. Can you feel your heart rising in your throat? The ground comes at you awfully fast — and hard — doesn't it? A child in a wheelchair faces that very situation every time he or she gets on or off a school bus. Moreover, the driver and/or attendant operating the wheelchair lift also faces physical risks. An electric wheelchair can do quite a bit of damage if it falls on top of someone. Injuries to students and staff during wheelchair lift use are probably less rare than you think. Although school bus operators have varying wheelchair lift procedures (for example, some districts allow the driver/aide to ride the lift with the child, while others forbid the same), there are some basic safety tips that can be shared with all drivers and aides.
Things to watch out for:
Drivers or attendants being distracted or talking while the student is on the lift. Even if the lift is working perfectly and the child is calm and settled, attention should be focused on the procedure. If the lift should malfunction or the child become agitated, a moment's inattention could lead to calamity. Don't take that chance.
Drivers not setting the parking brake before loading the wheelchair. This should be second nature for drivers, but it never hurts to remind them.
Attendants with dangling jewelry, clothing or hair near the lift mechanism. Moving parts can snag and drag, leading to painful, if not disfiguring, injuries.
Students in wheelchairs with hands near the lift mechanism. Children need to be reminded not to place their hands where they might get caught in the machinery.
Safety procedures should include:
Fastening the wheelchair lift door.
Placing cones in the lift zone.
Placing the wheelchair close to the bus, facing out.
Checking student's wheelchair belt before placing chair on lift.
Checking that "safety lip" of lift is up.
Assuring that wheelchair brakes are set
Assuring that driver or attendant's hand is securely on the wheelchair at all times while on the lift. Monitoring drivers and attendants as they load and unload wheelchair students should be done at least once a year. A good time to perform this monitoring is at school when the bus arrives in the morning or leaves in the afternoon. Use a standard form when reviewing their procedures and discuss your observations with them. The purpose of the monitoring is not punitive. Drivers and attendants should be commended when they do their jobs properly. Remember, there are no "small" errors when handling students in wheelchairs.