However, if a person cannot ambulate without a wheelchair, then surely it should be considered an extension of his body, similar to a cane, walker, or crutches. Thus, if a person has a clear disability, the prohibition of “uvdin d’chol” does not apply.
Another prohibition that might apply is “metaken kli shir – repairing a musical instrument” (Mechaber, infra 339:3) in the event that a wheel or other integral part of the wheelchair’s mechanism falls into disrepair. One would normally be prohibited to use such an item due to the fear that it will break and one will perform a repair on Shabbat. In the case of a disabled person, however, we waive this concern.
Rabbi Neuwirth notes that if a wheelchair is motorized, one must take care not to use the motor on Shabbat. Further, he notes that even if there is no eruv, a disabled person may wheel himself or be wheeled by a gentile for the purposes of a mitzvah (such as going to shul or perhaps attending a brit milah or going to learn Torah) because the prohibited activity in this case is only a shevut d’shevut.
It goes without saying that where there is no eruv, a disabled person is prohibited from carrying any items on his person (his lap or his pockets or on the wheelchair itself – i.e., on the handles – save for the cushion upon which he sits).
What emerges clearly from all this is that motorized means of transport are forbidden on Shabbat. The wheelchair itself may be used; however, its motor may not. Therefore, it would seem that riding on a vehicle which moves about only by means of its motor should be forbidden.
(To be continued)