Reacher-Grabbers Everywhere

Posted by Tim Gilmer in Life After Paralysis on September 16, 2022 # Lifestyle

As a para, I’m fortunate that off-the-shelf reacher-grabbers work for me, so I have a couple in my house — one next to my bed and another in a bathroom. But I have found over several decades of not being able to reach things — and continually dropping stuff — that many everyday household items can be placed strategically throughout the house, and they work almost as well, or sometimes better than, traditional store-bought reacher-grabbers. So, I rarely have to leave whatever room I’m in to lay hands on one. Sometimes leaving a room is not even an option.

For instance, you’re in bed for the night or sitting on the toilet. What do you do then? For a while, I was plagued with a dysfunctional toilet paper holder that would come loose upon being touched, drop to the floor and send a fresh roll of toilet paper rolling across the room. At the time, I was using a Stainless Sportster wheelchair, which had two sleek, tubular, detachable arms. If the toilet roll didn’t scamper too far, I could detach an arm and insert one end of the tube into the toilet paper roll and bring it home. If it went beyond arm’s reach, I turned to the towel rack on the nearby wall and used a bath towel as a kind of makeshift lariat to rein in the runaway toilet paper roll and drag it back.

What about objects that are too narrow or flat for a typical reacher-grabber to pick up from a hardwood or linoleum floor? In a second bathroom, I have two go-to picker-uppers or sliders I can use. One is a wooden back scratcher with a kind of curled hand with claws. I can pick up a small, flat alcohol wipe by guiding it to a wall with the back scratcher, then clawing it up the wall until it reaches chair height, where I can pick it off the wall with my free hand. Sometimes a simple straight bamboo stick that’s only a half-inch in diameter can do the same trick, plus I can insert it inside a fold (a hand towel or underwear), or anything circular, slide it to a wall and raise it slowly and carefully grab it with my other hand.

At other times I will drop something that is too heavy to pick up with a typical reacher. I have found that with practice, I can even use a plumber’s helper (preferably clean) to move the object and then lean it upright against the wall and grab it.

Barbecue tools can be helpful, too. I keep some in our food pantry, which happens to be a place where I frequently drop weird objects like nuts, cheerios, and who knows what else. Long barbecue tongs can work, again with practice, almost as well as a regular grabber. And a long-handled barbecue stainless steel spatula can slide under almost anything and get it moving to a wall or even pick it up while I’m patiently balancing it.

I have also used brooms of different types and sizes and other odd things. My wife has a hair styling tool that can work like a grasper for good-sized objects. I have even developed a technique for picking up some objects with long, dull scissors, so I don’t have to lean and reach too much.

In my minivan, I carry a long wooden cane with a traditional curled handle just behind the driver’s seat. Since my walking days are long gone, I made a special trip to a local Rite-Aid to purchase it. I can reach back in the minivan with it to corral a runaway water bottle, an empty coffee container or anything else that takes off toward the back if I’m going uphill or accelerating away from a stop light. Once, in a sloping parking lot, as I was unloading my wheelchair, it got away from me, turned and took off downhill. Luckily, I was able to grab the cane and snag my chair just before it picked up steam and escaped.

I have used long knives, books, shovels, rakes and all kinds of objects as reacher-grabbers over the years. It has become a challenge to see just how creative I can get. At times it can actually be fun to discover new, inanimate helpers. But the best reacher-grabber of all time is an animated one, my wife, who excels at picking up objects with her talented monkey toes.

Tim Gilmer graduated from UCLA in the late-1960’s, added an M.A. from the Southern Oregon University in 1977, taught writing classes in Portland for 12 years, then embarked on a writing career. After becoming an Oregon Literary Fellow, he went on to join New Mobility magazine in 2000 and edited the magazine for 18 years. He has published upwards of 100 articles, 200 columns, occasional movie reviews and essays. He and Sam, his wife and companion of 47 years, also own and operate an organic farm south of Portland, where they live with their daughter and son-in-law, four grandsons, and a resident barn owl. An excerpt from a memoir about my early post-SCI years, as part of a compendium of my writing over the past 30 years, can be read at my website — All You Need —.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.