Advocacy,  Health

My Experience of using an Electric Wheelchair.

As some of you may be aware, I use a wheelchair part time because of M.E/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It helps me when I go out and about as it reduces the amount of exhaustion I could get when heading out compared to walking. I find the wheelchair a life saver, and without it, I don’t know where I’d be. There are so many pros to having a wheelchair, but I learnt some scary aspects of having a chair too.  In this blog, I thought I would share these with you.

Pro – Yes, the wheelchair can get me places, where without it, I don’t think I’d have the energy to leave my flat. It means that when I am feeling okay, I can still see family and friends without worrying about my energy levels. My wheelchair, the Invacare Esprit Action 4NG, was provided through Motability and the people in the shop I got it from (Snowdrop Independent Living) based in South Wales put in a large battery which meant I can go up to 18 miles on a signal charge! During the relaxer version of lockdown, my partner and I walked/rolled down to Cardiff Bay. I was able to enjoy myself which I know I wouldn’t have without it.

Con – When you are in a wheelchair, it can feel a bit intimidating to be down there compared to others who are walking around. I remember nearer Christmas; I spent some time with a friend. I knew it was going to be busy due to Christmas shoppers, but this felt like nothing I had experienced before. People were so close to my chair that I was often scared to move the chair in case it went over someone’s foot, or I accidentally hit into someone. People will try to push past you or ahead of you. And some will literally just stand there right in front of your chair as you are travelling making you stop suddenly, with what I would consider like an emergency break. Sometimes having to suddenly stop hurts.

On this same occasion, I remember being in Primark. I tried to move the chair to look at the jewellery when someone ran in front of me. My friend mentioned, “Hey my friend’s there,” but this other person didn’t seem to notice me and just addressed my friend in a way that made me feel invisible.

Pro – At a time when we were allowed to travel freely, I was able to go to Parc Penallta based in Caerphilly, and despite my concern about the steepness, the chair managed to do it! I was quite surprised as from what I understand steepness and wheelchairs don’t mix very well! But at this place, the chair acted smoothly, and I didn’t even run out of battery! So a good battery definitely helped.

Con – One time around town, my chair broke down. I was a bit anxious, but I knew I just had to phone the company I hired the chair from, and they would come out and repair it. However, where my wheelchair broke down there happened to be a loud-worded fight between two people who happened to move around my chair saying remarks like “Do you want a punch or something” to the other person. There was me in the middle as they pushed against my chair trying to get each other. I was terrified and certainly didn’t want to be part of this. But with my wheelchair not working, I was stuck. I ended up phoning my partner and asked for him to meet me to see if he could help fix it. If anything, just so I can speak to him to help calm my panic. Thankfully, my partner did come and fix my wheelchair, but it was a terrifying moment, and since then I’ve been reluctant to leave the flat on my own.

Pro – Despite my fear of going out and about on my own, I knew I had to try and fight it. This chair gave me independence. I remember one day in this last year I travelled to my volunteering office. If it wasn’t for my wheelchair, there would be no way of getting there. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be pushing myself to go out again on my own to meet up (socially distancing of course) with some people from Time to Change Wales.

Con – Roads and paths have never felt so bumpy, and some places still aren’t accessibility friendly. My partner and I tried to visit a local restaurant a good few months back, and realised we weren’t able to go because there was no ramp or access for me to get into the restaurant. We ended up having to travel further than we intended to, to a different restaurant that was accessible. Getting there however meant travelling on uneven pavement, some making your teeth chatter as you are jumping so much.

All being said and done, I don’t regret having my wheelchair; it’s helped me find me again when my chronic illness took that away. There are problems, some that may never happen again like the fight round my wheelchair. There are also problems that society need to be aware off – accessibility, come on its 2021! For those missing out on going to places due to accessibility issues, then I am sorry. It’s something I was aware of before, but it isn’t until you are in the chair that you truly realise, and I’m only a part time user.

But again, having a wheelchair changed me. I started to enjoy myself again and I hope that this continues. I’m grateful for Motability and Snowdrop Independent Living for recommending me the wheelchair (which I call Hedwig) and for helping me with all my criteria needs.

A picture of me, Laura Ann Moulding in my electric wheelchair

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