Manual Wheelchair Set-Up

Greetings people! For my first post I am going to supplement a video that was just done on my manual wheelchair set-up for music.

Thanks to my wife, Mehrezia Khazri (plantoshine.com) for making this video!

I am a paraplegic, so my “natural” type of wheelchair is a manual chair. However, after a long stint on bed rest (over a year) in 2010-2011, a sweet and caring home care nurse advocated for me to get a power wheelchair so that my post-bed rest recovery would be a little bit easier. It didn’t take long for me to realize how much easier it was to move gear around with the power chair. I began by taking an acoustic guitar to the beach, but over time, I started to add gear. Now I have a mountain of it! I have never looked back in using a power chair for my guitar set up, especially for busking and markets, as it is so much easier than slogging around town just under my own power.

However, recently, my power chair failed, and the repairs took almost three weeks. With COVID-19 damaging my income due to the cancellation of farmers markets gigs (but markets themselves are open), I needed to get out and busk more than ever. Plus, the cabin fever naturally gets to us all. So with a new modification to the chair, and a few other old ideas, I have had a successful trial in using this set-up. I hope that someone out there with a disability can take some of these ideas and use them for whatever activities they like.

I am really big into the idea of redundancy. That is, the idea of making sure that you have multiple ways to do something so that if something fails, you can continue. I do this because I really need to play music and I absolutely love to perform for others. It’s such an essential part of who I am now that I simply don’t feel right if I am not doing it often. It is rare that you find a job where you can’t wait to get to work! So a lot of these modifications are simply to enable me to say that The Show Must Go On!

Now I will cover off the major components of my set up. Then I will detail some of the specific items I carry.

Major Components

  • 60 litre denier duffle bag that attaches to the push handles on the back of the chair. This holds non-precious cargo like signage, food, water, etc.
  • A wheelchair “catch all” undercarriage net.
  • A guitar accessory bag that fits in the net that carries valuable gear like pedals, cables, etc.
  • The Mobility Mount. I am using an older version. This holds the amplifier and doubles as a music/mic stand. I also had a mod done to the chair, a receiver (details below), for better long term use.
  • A guitar case, which straps vertically to my feet.
  • A heavy duty tilting telescopic mic stand.

The individuality in people with disabilities modifications and designs boggles my mind to this day. The ingenuity and creativity is something that is all around me, all the time. I draw from my peers as well. No one has a duplicate set-up. I also can’t say for certain in a long term trial that this is best, as I don’t normally haul gear and play music from a manual chair, but I can say that it does work.

Duffel Bag

Let’s start with the duffel bag. I use a sixty litre bag because it fits perfectly standing up and down on my push handles. I make sure that the zipper ends at the ground, that way no one can easily open the bag and stuff their hands inside. I probably should have a safety measure for the bag not being stolen off my back, but I don’t bother as I have only cheap things in the bag. However, I do have a lasso lock, a bag protector, and an adjustable cable lock that I can use if I feel the need. I also have more than just that for security!

I find that this particular bag is very resilient to dragging and the elements. I like it a lot. It’s cheap, simple, durable. It is definitely Busker Approved Gear. However, I am careful not to overload it because I don’t want to stress out the folding mechanism on the backrest. I have had them break in the past. Ideally I would have the folding backrest welded into one piece, especially for long distance traveling.

Contents of the duffel bag:

  1. Signage. It’s really important to have signage with a web address, email, etc. Somewhere where people can find you. I also get people to take a picture of the sign instead of taking a business card. Mine is made of a plastic material that is the shape of cardboard. It’s very durable. I trim the edges so it is rounded. That way when I put it in my power chair set up bag, the sharp edges don’t destroy the inside of that bag (more on that in a future video).
  2. Foldable stool. This is a very useful item. In the manual chair, it replaces a stand for my amp. I also have just enough real estate to put a coffee cup on it. On top of the amp goes the tick bag.
  3. Reacher. I find these critical as well. I use a short one called a PikStick. Don’t waste your money on the dollar store junk. I have stressed this out many times for several years and it still has not broken. It’s also known as Bill Collector.
  4. The kitchen. A food thermos, can opener, spoon, salt. Busking isn’t a job that gets you rich. Try not to blow your little wad on waddle food like McPukes, etc. It’s hard, sometimes I fail and demolish a donair, but I do often eat something from my wife’s exceptionally fine home kitchen, sealed up in a vaccum thermos.
  5. Extra clothing. A rain jacket, extra shirt, sweater, etc.
  6. Extra bungee chords.
  7. A music book.
  8. A foldable box as a tip jar. We found our at Miniso. This was a great discovery. Guitar cases aren’t very good at doing their job in that they do not stop wind from blowing bills away. A foldable box is perfect. For a disability, it’s even better, as you don’t have to handle an awkward guitar case and can just use the reacher to grab the box. I just finished mishandling a guitar case and my beloved Strat slipped out and went face down on concrete!

Tick Bag

The tick bag is a bit of overkill. It’s something like 130 CDN after tax. I use it because I got it with a Mono bag that I used to use often. The zipper failed on the first one I had, but it was still under warranty, so I got this one. When it eventually fails, I’ll get something cheaper. The zipper failing does not mean that this is a poorly desgined product. My gear gets a lot of use.

Both buskers and paraplegics are really hard on stuff. I’m both. Buskers are hard on stuff because they tear down equipment 3-5 times a day. They are outside in the elements. With paraplegia, sometimes it’s easier to drag than to pick up properly. You have clumsy moments normally, but double them with a disability. So yeah, the tick bag is probably “military grade” like they say, but we are talking about The Dirt Brigade, not the regular military.

Before we get to the tick bag, I want to say something quickly about the mesh nets and “catch alls” that are designed to be under your chair. Really check yours out. They are often not designed with the total safety in mind of your whatever you put in it. I have lost stuff before out of them. Mine required that I attach two zap straps to my camber bar.

Double check your mesh net under your chair. I had to put two zap straps on the camber bar to ensure I did not continue to “drop stuff”.

Contents of the tick bag:

  1. Tool kit with allen keys, a multi-tool, duct tape, razors, etc. Essential stuff over the long term.
  2. A selection of rechargeable batteries.: AAAs, AAs, 9Vs. Very useful in the long run.
  3. A bag of rarely used, but glad to have stuff: a USB cable, a USB wall adapter, power adapter for a pedal, daisy chain cable, etc. Having a bag of rarely used stuff seperately helps to clean up the bag a bit so it’s not full of junk. Also, be sure to include an extra mic clip if you sing! They will definitely eventually fail!
  4. A guitar string kit. I found an old neoprene running pouch and snipped off the handles and put my strings in it, rubber banded together by size. It also contains a winder/snipper, and a thick gauge string that I snipped to use to poke out broken strings. Critical stuff. I don’t change whole sets of strings anymore. That happens only when the Steve fixes my guitars. I just change them as they break (or before a big gig, of course).
  5. A vocal mic. Mine is a Shure Beta 58A.
  6. One pedal to rule them all! A ZOOM MS-50G. I honestly love ZOOM products. They cram so much stuff into a single device by turning knobs into buttons, lights into buttons, etc., and very clever interfaces. Some ZOOM products are ideal for musicians that don’t want to haul a lot of stuff…like disabled musicians that use manual chairs! This, and the acoustic guitar preamp/effects processor I have, are also battery powered, so it follows the critical concept of redundancy.
  7. The RockBoard Power LT XL lithium ion battery pack. It powers the ZOOM (and can charge a USB device). A fully charged one that is even older can run the ZOOM for 6 hours of playing. I use two for a full sized pedal board for the day.
  8. Pedal holder. I just had some aluminum bent and put velcro on it.
  9. Guitar strap
  10. Wind clips. Just cheap dollar store plastic clamps to hold the sheets down.

Mobility Mount & Mod

Without a doubt, the single most useful item I have had for my manual chair is Gerry Price’s Mobility Mount. I use it all the time for so many tasks, chores, and routines. For busking, it is a mic stand base, a music stand, an amp carrier, a pedal mount, and a dinner table! Ed Bell, who works at Advanced Mobility, built this fine receiver. Ed has done a lot of things for a lot of people, including traveling to multiple countries to donate wheelchairs. The Mobility Mount normally slides between your cushion and seat upholstery. I find that because of the amount of times I remove and engage the device, that over time it has worn out my seat cushion cover. So this special mount, fixed to a solid seat pan, does the trick.

I hope you find some use in what I have shared with you. I have tried many, many different set-up’s, and I modify mine all the time. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggetions. Thanks a lot and keep on digging!

2 Comments

  1. Solid video Danny…I’m still interested in paying you for a footswitch mount for my stuff…although no rush…….

    1. Hi Simon, thanks for commenting! Dhouha did a great job on the video. We got her a fancy new iMac so she is raring to go.

      I have some ideas to improve on the last device, which, honestly, I was glad got stolen (in some ways!). It was not robust enough. Let’s start it with a call soon, eh? I don’t want any money for it. There is no way I could take any money from a musician friend at this time, in good conscience.

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