Tips for getting out and about

17.05.22 12:14 PM By Dan

Hear advice from a range of experts on how to bring recreation back into your life after the limitations of Covid lockdowns.

Para dance group Dance and Roll in action. "It’s about following your curiosity, thinking about what you’d like to try, and then how you can try it locally," says Recreational Therapist Sal Dema.

After two years stuck at home, getting out and about again can feel challenging.  So, we brought some experts together for a webinar to see what advice they could offer us. (Watch in full here.)

Below are some of the key tips that came out of the conversation, covering subjects like equipment checks and maintenance, flexible and realistic planning, and understanding your activity goals. We hope you get something out of it.

Wheelchair technician Brian Fitzpatrick reminds us to give our sports chair a once-over before we start using it again.


Sal Dema, Austin Health Recreational Therapist

You can think about getting out and about as a graded thing - instead of going to Europe first thing, you can start by meeting with some friends at the local park, or local pub. Think about the people and places near you, to make it a nice easy transition into the community. 

Think about neighbourhood houses and community centres near you that offer a range of activities. For those that aren’t into sport, there’s lots of learning opportunities, art and craft activities. Think about groups that get you mobile, like Dance and Roll, or even, dare I say it, a walking group. It’s about following your curiosity, thinking about what you’d like to try, and then how you can try it locally. Talking to friends is a great way of generating those ideas. 

Emma O’Brien, AQA Community Engagement 

I've noticed activity endurance being an issue with a number of the people I work with. Because we’ve had two years watching Netflix, people are fatiguing easily, not tolerating noise, and a bit more anxious. And that’s spanning people who’ve been in a chair for a couple of years up to 35 years. 

So, what’s been useful is grading those things - starting off small and working your way up. Programs like AQA’s Wheelchair Skills training days have been good too, for building confidence for more unpredictable environments, and being able to exercise verbal independence: telling people what you need, and how you want it delivered.

Another thing to remember is that our bodies have changed over the last two years, which will affect how your wheelchair works with your body. So, if you’re not feeling comfortable out in the community, you might need to check in with your OT, to see if everything is where it needs to be, based on where your body is now. 

AQA's Community Networks have been moving back to face-to-face social events and activities. Above, the Geelong network meets for lunch at a yacht club.


Dave Jacka, adventurer and author living with C5/6 quadriplegia

When you’ve got a disability, your life revolves around having to plan things. Have a backup plan and don’t be too rigid - things don’t always work out, but if you’re flexible, you can still have fun. Recently, I couldn’t go to the You Yangs for a handcycling trip because my support worker got Covid, so instead I went handcycling locally. 

Ryan Smith, wheelchair user and travel blogger 

Keeping up good exercise and eating habits will mean you're match fit, so when you do go out, you can stay out for longer. Also, if you’re getting on a plane, make sure you’ve got some of your equipment (catheters etc) in your carry-on, in case you get stuck in the airport. 

Recreation Therapist Sal Dema encourages us to think holistically about 'the experience' - the planning and anticipation is part of it, and can be fun. (Above: AQA Peer Mentor Lachie O'Brien handcycling near Mt. Bogong.)

Brian Fitzpatrick, Mobility Plus Wheelchairs 

Stay on top of your wheelchair maintenance - give your sports chair a once-over before you start using it again. Check the tires, tire pressure, clean the removable wheel axle from dust build-up, check for fibres wrapping around the front casters, check the upholstery and cushion. And charge the battery of a power assist chair around once a month, in periods where you’re not using it.


Dave Jacka, adventurer and author living with C5/6 quadriplegia 

Find a Support Worker who wants to do a particular activity with you. Don’t expect to find a SW who does your personal care and is also up for supporting you in all your activities. And ask around for volunteers. Think outside the box - you’d be surprised who’s willing to give you a hand.

Shelley Earl, community-based Recreation Specialist 

I work with people seeking a pathway in sport from entry level all the way up to the Paralympic level. As we know, what’s lacking with using a wheelchair and getting into sport is pathways. One minute you’re introduced to a sport, and next minute you’re expected to represent your country. So, if my client knows what they want to do, I help them find the pathway to it, and for clients who don’t know what they’d like to try, I work with them to draw that out. 

Adventurer Dave Jacka (above) reinforces the importance of being flexible and having a backup plan.


Shelley Earl, community-based Recreation Specialist 

It doesn’t matter a brass razoo what the activity is called, all that matters is what’s in it: what does it give you? What do you want to get out of it? That’s the bottom line. And that’s where a backup plan comes in. Because if the actual activity doesn’t go very well, but you’ve focused on other types of outcomes, then you’re more likely to experience success when something goes wrong.  

If you’re in something because you want to connect, it doesn't matter if it’s basketball, if it’s a bunch of bastards in the basketball team, that ain’t the activity for you. But, if you’re just interested in winning games, then go for it. 

Sal Dema, Austin Health Recreational Therapist

Sometimes we can poo poo planning - because we can’t be spontaneous - but I think planning is actually a really great aspect of the leisure experience. You shouldn’t just think about the experience as what you do. 

Think about it - there’s the planning, there’s the anticipation, you can be talking to people about what you’re going to be doing, then there’s the actual doing it, and then there’s the recollection of it, and the sharing of that recollection - that’s all part of the recreation experience. Make the plan part of the experience - have fun with that. 

Think of the fisherpeople in our community - they always catch a much bigger fish in the story than they did in reality. 

This panel discussion was part of our What’s Out There (WOT) series. A WOT day is an interactive event that centres lived experience to showcase the possibilities of life with a spinal cord injury or similar condition. You can watch the full video here. Find details about upcoming WOT days on our events page. 

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