Stay Safe While Staying Seated

By Amy Saffell

According to studies conducted by the Bureau of Justice, people with disabilities are as much as three times more likely to be a victim of a crime than those without disabilities. While the statistic is alarming, it shouldn’t be a reason for people with disabilities to shelter themselves from living a full, productive, and active life. It should, however, be a catalyst for people with disabilities to learn and practice safety. Traveling in packs in well-lit areas with your phone close by are practical safety tips for anyone, but there are other precautions that wheelchair users can take specifically.  Alena Chesser, a wheelchair user who is a self-defense instructor in Kentucky and a former deputy sheriff, and Rick Mirandette, martial arts instructor with experience in instructing people with disabilities, offer this advice:

  • Every wheelchair user has been in a situation where they need to seek the help of someone else in public, but don’t be too trusting of people who haven’t earned that trust.  Some criminals target and groom potential victims by waiting for the right opportunity to take advantage
  • Wheelchair users have a knack for setting up their environment and routines to make life easier, but don’t invite crimes of opportunity by leaving doors unlocked or purses on car seats, visiting ATM’s late at night alone or liquor stores late in the evening, or traveling deserted streets and alleyways where seedy people lurk.
  • If you drive, keep your keys in your hands when on your way to your car so that you don't have to take the time to look for them and become distracted from your surroundings. Your keys can also be used as a weapon, if needed.
  • Have a whistle or emergency noise alert with you. Even your keys to sound the car alarm work. Also, use your voice! If someone starts to follow you or catches you in a place where you don't feel safe, it is a true disruption of actions, if you can make enough noise to alert other people. Crime typically happens because of opportunity, so the key is to break the opportunity with noise or action. Practice what you would do or yell in an emergency so that you’ll be ready if the time ever comes to use your skills, in a real emergency.
  • Use your wheelchair to protect yourself. If it has a quick release arm rest or other detachable pieces large enough to use for self-defense, practice getting those pieces off of your chair quickly so that you’ll be familiar with the process in an emergency. Power chair users, in particular, can use their chairs to pin the attacker.
  • Because wheelchair users are lower to the ground in a crowd and often have a harder time turning around quickly compared to non-wheelchair users, it’s even more important to stay alert and be aware of who is around you. Lose the ear buds, and don’t be afraid to ask for security to escort you somewhere.
  • Avoid conflict when possible. We live in a world where people are easily enraged; don’t fuel their fire. If a person is trying to argue with you about something and the tone is turning unsafe, even though you may completely disagree with them, the trick is to make them think that they are right or that you are on their side. Speak softly so they will really have to listen to hear what you are saying, as this brings down the tension of an argument.
  • In terms of self-defense, there is a lot that a wheelchair user can do for protection. Inherently, sitting causes a lower center of gravity, which actually helps in a self-defense situation. Being lower allows you to strike a person in sensitive areas like the throat, chest, groin, or knees. Many people will be unaware that being lower assists in protection, meaning that you will be able to catch them off guard. The element of surprise is a great way to protect yourself.
  • The most powerful muscle in your body pound for pound is your jaw muscle.  Look for opportunities to BITE ANYTHING! This causes extreme pain, trauma, and often shock. 
  • Pepper spray is another great option to defend away attackers. The canisters can shoot 20 feet!
  • If someone gets too aggressive, ploys can be effective depending on the level of threat perceived.  Some sexual assaults have been avoided by the woman suggesting they meet the next day when she would be more willing to participate. Believe it or not (remembering that you are dealing with the male ego here!) the perp comes back the next day when, of course, police are waiting.
  • Lastly, most wheelchair users keep their belongings in a bag on the back of their chair. This is an easy target and could be taken without you even knowing. Look into finding a small bag that attaches to the inside of your arm rest, goes under your chair or is part of your cushion cover where you can keep important and valuable items like ID's, cash and credit cards.


    International Self Defense Association

   About the Author: 

  Columnist Amy Saffell lives in Nashville, TN and works in the music industry. She enjoys spending time with friends, concerts, and volunteering for a local youth wheelchair sports and independence group. 

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