Ramps are not always available, so people in wheelchairs must develop a technique to be able to get up and down stairs in order to maintain freedom of movement and access to all locations. There are general tips that can be used to maneuver stairs in a wheelchair, some easier than others.
With Helpers is Better
Ask two people to help. While requiring assistance is not the ideal situation for a person seeking independence, utilizing the help of two strong people to get down the stairs is the safest mode of travel.
Point the front of the chair toward the stairs and position one person in front and one in back. Lean the chair back slightly toward the person in the rear who can hold onto the handles of the back of the chair. The assistant in the front of the chair should grab on to a stable piece of the chair, such as the rods to the footrests.
Move down the stairs one at a time, when both people are in place. The wheels should do most of the work. The person in the chair can help to ease the movement of the wheels by sliding his hands on the large side wheels and holding on to make sure the chair doesn't move too quickly and throw the helpers off balance.
Independently If You Must
Take the chair down stairs independently only if you are strong enough to hold on to the wheels and keep them in place while leaning backwards, without falling backwards. Ideally, you should try going down stairs alone only when there are sturdy rails, one on each side.
Grab the rails with gloved hands and tip the chair backwards slightly. Allow the wheels to move down each step as you reposition your hands to hold yourself upright. Wheelchair users typically have strong arms and should be able to handle a couple of steps in this manner.
Ride close to one sturdy rail if the stairs are too wide to hold onto both sides. Hold the outside wheel with one hand, while using the rail with the other arm. Twist your body slightly to the rail if your single arm is not strong enough to hold you on each step. Move down the stairs by moving your hands one over the other and using your body weight to lean slightly back in the chair.