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Choosing a mobility aid that meets your needs isn’t quite like choosing a snazzy new handbag. The right aids can open up a whole new world and completely transform a person’s quality of life, but it’s incredibly important we make these choices wisely.
If you’re new here, welcome! All you need to know about me is that I have a chronic illness called M.E., which causes a really wonderful range of debilitating symptoms. I began using a transit wheelchair back in 2015, and in 2018 I finally decided to purchase a power-chair (an electric wheelchair) who I fondly named Janice. Janice is one of a few mobility aids that have really made a positive difference in my condition management and allowed me to live a more independent life.
Today, we’re going right back to the beginning and thinking about the process of choosing mobility aids in the first place. With such a huge range of options on the market with varying price tags, I know the process can seem a little overwhelming. However, I hope these five tips and tricks (based on my own experiences) will get you thinking about which mobility aids could be a gamechanger for you…
Think About Your Specific Wants And Needs
People’s lived experiences of disability are so unique. We all have different lifestyles and requirements, and our wants and needs, even between people with the same health condition, can vary massively. Think about what you’re personally hoping to gain from using a particular mobility aid – are there specific symptoms you hope to better manage? Will it enable you to do a particular activity that’s currently unrealistic? Why are you considering this type of aid over any others?
It’s also worth considering how important looks and aesthetics are to you. I know as well as you do that the appearance of a mobility aid is by no means the most important thing; there’s no point opting for a beautiful model if it isn’t the right fit. However, I’ve always been open about the fact that one of the reasons I chose my own power-chair was because it looked smaller and daintier than others on the market, and that fact made me feel a lot more confident when I first started to use. Consider how important the appearance of your mobility aid is to you – it’s not going to factor as heavily into your decision as the functioning of it will, but it’s worth bearing in mind all the same.
Do Your Research Thoroughly
Having the internet at our fingertips means it’s never been easier to access information and resources online, and shopping for mobility aids is no exception. Being able to find out more about the models and brands you’re interested in from the comfort of your sofa is a huge win, but it’s important to think critically about what you’re reading and find information from as wide a variety of sources as possible.
A good deal of information can obviously be found on product listings on brand websites, but there are various other online sources that cover useful topics in this area. My Mobility Guide is a newly launched platform designed aiming to become a go-to guide for everything disability, featuring informative content relevant for the disability community. Particular blog posts of theirs that might be useful in this research stage of your process include this concise guide to wheelchairs, mobility scooters, and walking aids, and this piece on disability equipment in the home.
It can also be helpful to read reviews and feedback from disabled people who’ve used or are using the particular mobility aid you’re interested in. Access Your Life allows disabled people to submit reviews on the mobility aids they use and search through real-life feedback from others, and many disabled bloggers and influencers share their own experiences with the aids they use online. You can read some of my thoughts on my own power-chair in this blog post from 2019!
Be Proactive With The Admin
One of the lesser recognised parts of acquiring new mobility aids is that there can be a lot of admin and behind-the-scenes maintenance that comes with it. It may seem daunting, but it’s important to be mindful of these things when choosing new equipment. Whether you’re comfortable with the digital world or prefer seeing and holding documents in your own hands, make sure you have a folder of some kind on stand-by to keep all your mobility aid-related documents in one place. Trust me, your future self will thank you for it.
Consider the insurance policies and warranty offered by the brands you’re interested in, and whether these elements will work for you. Prices and cover can really vary, so take some time to shop around and find a policy that works for you and your needs. If you’re not sure where to start this one, talk to others: Scope’s online community is full of knowledgeable staff and disabled people who might be able to give you some pointers. It’s also worth bearing in mind that if you’re disabled or have a long-term condition, you’re entitled to VAT-exemption on ‘products designed or adapted for your own personal or domestic use’ – the gov.uk website has further info on VAT-exemption and other financial help for disabled people.
Consider How Mobility Aids Will Fit Into Your Life
As I’m sure you’ll know if you’re reading this post, many people who use mobility aids are ambulatory users – they use their aids when they need them, as opposed to 24/7. If you’re completely new to mobility aids, it’s important to think about how they’ll fit into your way of life and how you’ll best be able to manage them.
A big thing for me, as somebody who uses a power-chair when out and about rather than in my home, was storage. I live in an inaccessible building, and after trial and error and an assessment with the mobility brand, we found that the best solution was for Janice the power-chair to live in the communal shed outside. If you’re in a similar position, think about all the elements of storing and moving about your mobility aids safely – extra equipment could be beneficial here. I use a weather-resistant sheet to protect my power-chair and a small trolley to help me move the heavy battery when it needs charging, and there are also dozens of different ramp designs you might find helpful if your mobility aid will be moving in and out of the place you live.
Before you commit to buying your mobility aid, think about every step of the process of using it when going about your life. Think about storage, maintenance, battery charging or protection, as well as the more obvious factors involved when it’s actually in use. Share your thoughts with family and friends to ensure there are no issues you might have missed, and together you can try and troubleshoot any barriers you might face.
Try Before You Buy
So you’ve gone through alllll the steps above and you think you’ve found The One. The mobility aid you’ve been dreaming of. Your hard work has paid off and you’re ready and waiting to welcome that bad boy into your life.
I cannot emphasise this final point enough. Even if you think you’ve found the perfect mobility aid, it’s so important to give it a test run before you commit to buying it. The more you can try it out the better, but even the quickest trial is better than none at all. Given the current global situation it isn’t quite as simple as it once was to just pop into a local mobility branch and have a play around, but it isn’t impossible. See if you can book an appointment with an advisor at a store which stocks the model you’re interested in – these people are trained in assessing your needs and ensuring you have the skills to manage your aid of choice independently.
I can still remember trying my model of power-chair for the first time and the absolute relief of finding it was actually a bit easier to manoeuvre than I was expecting. It’s such a shame it isn’t possible to take models out of the shop floor to test them, but there might be a workaround for this issue too: hiring the aids before you purchase them. My local Shopmobility branch had my exact chosen model of power-chair in their range, so I rented it out for the day (for a minimal donation to their company) and test ran it around the rather cobbly city centre of York where I live. If you don’t have a branch local to you, there may be other methods of trying before you buy – you can find some top tips for hiring mobility equipment in this post by My Mobility Guide. The more thoroughly you can test these aids out, the more certain you can feel in your decision to purchase.
Above all else, the most important thing to remember is that you know better than anybody else which mobility aids will be most beneficial to you. If you plan and research thoroughly, take responsibility for the admin, troubleshoot potential issues, and try out models of interest for yourself, you’ll be on track to find the mobility aid out there for you… and I truly hope it enhances your life as my mobility aids have enhanced mine.
[AD] Head to My Mobility Guide to find out more about their work! Do you have any tips and tricks for choosing mobility aids? Do feel free to share them in the comments: they might be helpful for other readers too!