Powerchairs aren’t just for elderly people

pippa in powerchair looking to right and laughing

If you’re new to my blog, hello and a warm welcome! I’m Pippa, I’m 23, and I have a rather inconvenient chronic illness: you can find out more about me here.

I’ve used a transit wheelchair for the last three years as my mobility has decreased, and I recently made the transition to becoming a powerchair user. I have to say, I’m loving the powerchair life so far (and I’ve shared a little about my own experiences over on my Instagram page), but today I wanted to talk about one of the biggest barriers that held me back from making this decision for so long: self-confidence.

wheelchair cover packaging featuring elderly couple on label

It was 18 months ago that I first started considering the possibility of a powerchair, but it was whilst doing my initial research that doubt began to set in. It soon became clear that every design, every bit of equipment, every organisation, every little thing I looked at, inherently made the association between powerchairs and… elderly people.

Through brochures and websites, I saw countless older people in these powerchairs, and try as I might, I just couldn’t imagine my young-adult self in their place. You could call it a vanity issue on my part, but I couldn’t help but feel insecure about the fact that I would soon be using something so apparently marketed at older people: I just didn’t want to be perceived in this way. Even though my need for one was becoming clearer by the day, seeing mobility aids presented like this made me even more reluctant to move forwards.

In the end, it was social media that was my saving grace. Many friends of mine, of similar ages, have started using powered mobility aids in recent months, and doing it in style. It’s been so uplifting to see the #disabledandcute and #babewithamobilityaid movement happening online lately, and it was hearing people’s stories and seeing their photos that finally encouraged me to take the leap. My friends’ posts made me see that I wasn’t on my own: they were displaying their aids with confidence, looking fabulous, and most importantly, enjoying the degree of independence that I’ve been missing so badly. And although I’m still not quite there myself yet, I very much aspire to do the same.

screenshot from eden mobility website of an elderly woman modelling powerchair

Image credits: Eden Mobility website

It’s certainly not just elderly people who need disability equipment. People can become disabled or chronically ill at any time in their lives: this isn’t breaking news. So where are the young adults in the marketing of mobility aids? I’ve discussed my own experiences of using mobility aids when you have an invisible illness in the past, but never before has it rung more true.

So, what can we do to encourage change? As a very small drop in the ocean, I decided to enlist the help of some of my wonderful friends whose own experiences had a significant impact on the decision I made. We’ve created a little ‘lookbook’ of our powerchairs and scooters below, and I hope it gives just a small insight into the numerous options available, and how they’ve changed people’s lives. Allow me to introduce…

Natasha

Rascal P321 from CareCo

natasha stood next to powerchair, wearing pink flowery dress and laughing “It took a really long time for me to become comfortable with the idea of using a wheelchair. When I was younger, my physio used to tell me that I was ‘too stubborn to end up’ using one, and I saw any decline in my health as a personal failure.
When I first sat down in my Rascal, I knew it was the chair for me. It just…suits me…I guess! It’s incredibly comfortable, and doesn’t feel overly ‘medical’, which was really important to me. But most importantly, it has given me a level of freedom I hadn’t anticipated. The fact that I can get within a few seconds of my front door without wanting to cry, is huge. I can go out for a little bit and not have to spend days recovering. I can go to work and feel more like myself, I can go to the supermarket with my boyfriend (something I literally have never been able to do) and go out and not be terrified that someone is gonna injure me. I’m a very fast driver (hehe) and people are now scared of me. Suck it, world!
Of course, living in London (which isn’t exactly the most accessible place in the world) still brings many challenges, but I feel so much freer. It feels amazing to fully accept that using a chair isn’t a weakness. It’s an amazing tool that has given me more options and opportunity. And most importantly, hasn’t made me feel like I’m bloody dying whenever I leave my bed”.

Shona

Quantum Q6 Edge 2.0 from Manchester Mobility

shona in powerchair wearing green top and jeans, taking selfie with lady dressed in poo emoji costume“I’ve been a powerchair user for 2 years now, having had 2 different chairs in that time. I received my newest powerchair in February and in the 5 months that I’ve had it my life has become unrecognisable compared to just 6 months ago. I have independence, I can be out of the house all day, I don’t need to worry about finding somewhere to lay down to control my pain, it’s like a whole new world has opened up to me. In just 5 months I’ve already experienced so much, including going to the theatre, doing more charity work and even recently spending 2 days in Oxford visiting the company who make my powerchair, all things that were impossible last year. I feel like I’ve got my life back now and I’m making the decisions now, not my body. There’s no doubt that it’s a scary step to take, but contrary to some people’s beliefs, my powerchair doesn’t hold me back, it lets me join in with life again”.

Charlotte

Kymco Mini LS from Mobility Giant

charlotte wearing a green jacket and sunglasses, on a mobility scooter in front of a large historic building

“Having a scooter has made such a positive impact on my life as it has meant I am finally able to have some independence on the occasions I am well enough to leave the house. Before my scooter, I had to be pushed around in a wheelchair which was tiring for my husband and also made it hard for us to have a proper conversation. Now I can zip alongside him, or even scoot off by myself for a bit without having to rely on someone else to push me there. It has been so liberating and I wouldn’t be without it now.
It can be tricky to know which scooter to go for so I asked my chronic friends for recommendations. I went for a Kymco Mini LS in the end because it is fairly robust, and also breaks into four separate parts so it can easily be stashed in a car boot. The downside is the parts are pretty heavy but as I can’t leave the house without a carer anyway, it’s never really been an issue because there is always someone on hand to do the heavy lifting. I bought a reconditioned scooter as it was much cheaper than buying new. The website offered free delivery and a six month warrantee in case anything goes wrong. I’ve had to have my scooter fixed once since I bought it – my brakes seized up over the winter months when I left it outside for too long without using it so my advice is to make sure you either use it regularly or store it in a garage or shed during times you might not be able to do so”.

Sunrise Medical Quickie Salsa R from NHS Wheelchair Services

emma in powerchair wearing mustard knitted jumper, jeans and boots, in front of brick wall background

“I have a progressive muscle-wasting condition called Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy. From around the age of 10 years old, I have been using a wheelchair. After years of using a manual wheelchair, I then began using a powerchair full-time at 18 years old when I was starting college. The decision to use a powerchair gave me the freedom and independence that I needed due to my decreasing ability to self-propel and complex seating needs. I’ve had my current powerchair, the Quickie Salsa R, for 7 years and I love it. It’s extremely compact and great for travelling. The tilt in space function is another feature that I find very beneficial and allows me to change my position and redistribute pressure. It also has over 2 million seating combinations, which is great when I have any changes in my condition and require adjustments to be made to my seating”.

Kate

Salsa M2 with adaptations from Altonaids Mobility Ltd

kate dressed formally in powerchair onstage, looking ay mad holding microphone who is presenting her with an award“My wheels have gave me my independence back. I took my first trip down the road by myself to the shop in over half a decade and cried the whole way because I felt so free. Now, it’s helped me achieve so many things, including getting my own assistance dog, and, manage in situations I wouldn’t have managed due to the extreme discomfort when sat for longer periods of time in my manual chair. I got my powerchair made to measure (I am 6’1 and mainly legs!). I have blood pressure problems so needed an automatic tilt feature and I have manually reclining leg rests. I also have a sculpted high backrest for extra support and a memory foam extra thick cushion to help with my leg pain.”

I’d recommend to anyone to jazz your new wheels up to make you feel a bit less self conscious (battery powered lights are my favourite) and always make sure you have insurance because if it breaks down, it can be super expensive!”

Sakara

Shoprider Altea 4 Compact Scooter from Smart Scooters

sakara on scooter with blanket over knees and head turned away from camera, looking out over a blue lake“I would never have considered a mobility scooter. We thought about investing (thousands of pounds!) in a more manageable wheelchair than my giant NHS model but when I thought of scooters I thought of older people and the impossibility of throwing one into our car boot. That all changed when someone my mum works with offered her a “Shoprider” scooter for me that she no longer needed.
I’ve only had it a few months and -although my parents’ backs wouldn’t agree -it’s a manageable size to take out with us and gives me an amazing sense of responsibility and freedom. I can’t control it on bad M.E. or ‘brain fog’ days but when I do use it the ability to actually loose my parents in a shop or say “See you later!” and zoom off ahead is invaluable and I would definitely recommend hiring one if you get the chance, to see if having one of your own could work for you!”

Hannah

hannah wearing a summery yellow dress, sunglasses and sandals, sat in her powerchair, with buildings and pavement in background

PW-999UL (Lightest Power Wheelchair) from Foldawheel

“This chair has been the best thing ever. My freedom. I didn’t even knew would exist compared to my manual wheelchair. Suddenly I felt like my world has opened up. It feels more independent, I couldn’t have imagined before.
To wheel walk beside my family and friends is immense. To whizz to something in a shop, as simple as that is a wonderful thing. To not need to rely on someone to push you. I still have the pain the issues but this has changed it all, for that I am truly grateful”.

Gem

gem has blonde har and glasses, and is sat in powerchair smiling and looking to the right, wearing a levi's t-shirt. street roads and houses in background

Permobil C500 from Permobil

“I absolutely love my chair and have done since I first used one at the age of 2 years old, it’s part of me and something I feel super confident in. People are shocked to hear that but it’s true.

If there is a fault with my chair and means I have to be out of it even for a couple of hours, not only is my physical independence gone but confidence and mental health is majorly decreased too”.

Rosie

rosie has short hair and wears glasses. she's sat in her powerchair outside in the garden, wearing a yellow dress and red trainersQuickie Tango (with adaptations) from NHS Wheelchair Services

“Beforehand, I used a manual wheelchair but was too weak to push myself. So, I needed my family and carers to push me around the house.

But, with the electric wheelchair I have so much more independence. And now, I can even think about (part-time) studying my A Levels at college. Simply, it has opened up so many new opportunities”.

 

So, if there’s anybody out there in a similar position to myself or feeling a similar way, I really hope this goes some way in helping: mobility aids are for everybody, and it’s nothing to be self-conscious about. There may not be a great deal of young adult representation in the marketing of powerchairs, but we’re here, and we’re valid: I really hope we see this change in years to come. And in the meantime, you’ll find me whizzing off to the Tesco free-from aisle like some kind of speed-demon at my nifty 4mph, and living my very best life. Biscuits, anybody?

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8 Comments

  1. July 2, 2018 / 12:04 pm

    Great post. Too bad I didn’t see it before I bought mine. I don’t see how to subscribe. I’m on Chronic Illness Bloggers, too as Health Hats

    • Pippa
      Author
      July 5, 2018 / 12:57 pm

      Thanks for reading, Danny! Still working on a subscribe function but you can find my socials linked on my homepage and on my contact page if you’d like to keep up to date. Have a great day!

  2. July 6, 2018 / 5:03 am

    I’m so glad I saw this post! Really enjoyed reading about everyone and getting to see young chronically ill women being so fabulous as a newly diagnosed fibro warrior 🙂

    • Pippa
      Author
      July 10, 2018 / 3:06 pm

      So glad you enjoyed it Robin, thank you so much for reading!

  3. Belinda
    July 7, 2018 / 12:39 pm

    I asked my doctor about a chair and he told me that they where not mention to ride outside, I have cronic pain and I would like to get out more and without a chair and it’s messing up my quality of life, blessings needed thank you. Your story touched me and now I’m fina get me one if I have to buy it myself

    • Pippa
      Author
      July 10, 2018 / 3:09 pm

      Thanks for sharing this Belinda- if you feel like you need one and have the means to get one for yourself, I can’t recommend it enough. Mine is one of the basic, more affordable models which I got from here: https://www.eden-mobility.co.uk/eden-comet, but there are plenty of others out there too. Good luck and wishing you all the best xx

  4. Spoon fancier
    July 29, 2018 / 12:52 pm

    This gave me the courage to finally take the leap and get a powerchair of my own. Thank you. It’s really hard being a young looking woman and being chronically ill or needing physical assistance of any kind. I think I judge myself just as much, if not more than onlookers. I know I hurt myself all the time because I’ve got too much pride to ask for help. Back when I could get about, I used to spend an awful lot of tube journeys sitting on the floor…

    • Pippa
      Author
      July 29, 2018 / 3:40 pm

      Oh this means the world to me, I’m so glad I could help even just a little bit. I can completely relate too- for me it was always huddling on the ground in the connecting parts of trains because I was too nervous to ask for the priority seats! I hope today’s as kind as possible to you, and thank you for making me smile xx

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