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.
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.
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…
Rascal P321 from CareCo
“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”.
Sunrise Medical Quickie Salsa R from NHS Wheelchair Services
“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”.
Salsa M2 with adaptations from Altonaids Mobility Ltd
“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!”
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”.
Quickie 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?