How I Chose (And Funded) My New Power-Chair

I’m so excited to share that my new powerchair has now arrived! Keep on reading to find out why I needed to make a change, the model I chose, how I managed to secure some funding for it, and more…

Pink and blue graphic, featuring image of Pippa smiling outdoors in her new Whill C2 power-chair. Text reads 'how I chose (and funded) my new power-chair'

If we haven’t been acquainted before, hello! My name is Pippa, I have a chronic illness, and I’ve been using a powerchair (previously the Eden Comet) since 2018. If you want to find out more about my background and how I use mobility aids as somebody with a chronic illness, this YouTube video from last year may serve as a useful starting point. This blog post you’re reading now, the text version of my latest video update, picks up the story from there, but to summarise…

Why I Needed A New Power-Chair

I first started using mobility aids around 2015/2016. I had a transit wheelchair for a few years, and in 2018 I got my first power-chair. It’s safe to say that doing so has completely changed my life for the better. Before, I was often too unwell to leave the house very frequently at all, and it would take me days to recover from even the smallest trip. Now, I use a power-chair much more often than I did back then… but in my case, this represents a massive improvement. The fact I’m using mobility aids more doesn’t mean I’ve regressed – it means I’m well enough to leave the house and enjoy time outdoors much more often than I used to.

Pippa in her old power-chair, the Eden Comet, with her back to the camera as she explores a small market in a coastal town.
My old power-chair, the Eden Comet

If we’re connected on Instagram or you’ve watched any of my vlogs over the years, I’m sure you’ll be able to see the change in my pace of life with your own eyes. I still struggle massively, especially with standing and walking for more than a few minutes at a time, but my quality of life is so much better than it used to be. Not only am I able to leave the house more often and spend time doing my favourite things, but (with adjustments) I’ve begun to plan accessible travel adventures and even start spending more time in nature again too.

However, as my own health trajectory has improved, the health of my former power-chair has sadly declined. Janice, my Eden Comet, wasn’t built for the kind of adventuring and exploring I’m sometimes lucky enough to get to enjoy now. We’ve muddled on as best as we can, but over the past few years and the last twelve months in particular, poor Janice’s functioning has declined so much that it’s been borderline unsafe to use her. She was struggling to get up and down slight ramps or slopes, she would short-circuit and switch off multiple times every trip out of her house, and scariest of all, her brakes were failing. Not ideal when the bus you’re on is going around a corner or you need to come to a stop before crossing a main road, let me tell you.

Back when I was choosing Janice, I had no real lived experience to help me decide what kind of power-chair was most suitable for me. Now, though, I was about to begin searching for a new model with six years of experience under my belt. So, here’s how I got on, and the tips and tricks that some of you might find helpful too…

Choosing My New Chair

As somebody with an energy limiting condition, here were my three non-negotiables for my new power-chair…

  • The battery must be lighter to pick up than the one I had before. I live in an inaccessible building meaning my power-chair doesn’t live under the same roof as I do. Therefore, the battery must be light enough for me to carry towards the plug socket in my flat when it needs charging.
  • The model needs to be durable enough for me to use outdoors when I’m travelling or enjoying time out of the house, but still needs to be portable enough to fit into a non-adapted car. For example, there are some incredible off-road mobility aids you can have nowadays, but you would need an accessible car or other transportable means to move them around. My previous power-chair could be separated into three pieces that could be lifted into a standard car boot individually, and I would need something similar to this again.
  • Similarly, I wanted a power-chair with larger wheels. My previous chair struggled with ramps and kerbs, even dropped ones, especially towards the end. Chunkier wheels would give me more safety and bandwidth not only for adventures, but for day-to-day life in an inaccessible world too.

At this point, I began researching options that might be suitable. I asked for opinions and experiences from my lovely Instagram audience, and I also contacted a brilliant organisation called Access Your Life.

As part of their work, Access Your Life offer an equipment request service. Here, individuals can submit details of their needs and what they are looking for in a mobility aid, and a team member will provide tailored advice and support… not only on the models that may suit them, but also potential funding routes and discounts too. After filling in the form and receiving a response, the team came back to me with three suggestions and detailed the strengths and drawbacks of each. You can hear more about each of the options I tried and my personal thoughts and experiences of them in this video. As you’ll hear, some of them really took me by surprise!

The Powerchair I Chose – The Whill C2

Pippa outdoors in her new Whill C2 power-chair. She's wearing denim dungarees and a pink top and smiling.
The Whill C2 Power-Chair

After trying out various options and aids on my demo day, I knew that the Whill C2 power-chair was the one for me. I plan to write/film some more detailed content about this specific model in the near future, but here are the key factors that affirmed it was the best option for my requirements:

  • The battery is much lighter and more ergonomic to pick up. I still wouldn’t describe it as light, but it was so much easier for me to carry and charge independently, without eliciting any worsening of symptoms or post-exertional malaise as a result. Yay!
  • The frame feels much stronger and sturdier, yet can still fit into a non-adapted car. The Whill C2 is slightly bigger than my previous chair, but separates into four pieces that can be lifted and arranged into a standard car boot. I’m currently exploring options that might make this process easier and possibly avoid having to take it into pieces each time, but it’s definitely manageable as it is.
  • The Whill C2 has big, beautiful, chonky omni-wheels… not just at the back but at the front too. This provides much better suspension and, get this, can climb over ridges and obstacles up to 5cm in height. No more kerb-based catastrophes for me!

There were (and are) some drawbacks I was concerned about with this chair which I’ll talk more about in the future, and have also covered in my most recent YouTube video. It was and is strange to be using a power-chair so different to the one I’ve grown used to over the last six years, but I felt comfortable, secure, and empowered. I could envision the kind of adventures we might have together, and even the thought of them made my heart squeeze with excitement.

But now that I’d found The One, how on Earth was I going to fund the flipping thing?

How I Found Funding

The Whill C2 retails at about £4700 in the UK. With the accessories I’d chosen (essentials like a bottle holder and pannier bags for storage), this brought the total cost of mine to around the £5000 mark. This is an eye-watering amount of money for anybody, but in the context of mobility aids (some of which can cost up to £30,000), I knew it could be much, much worse.

The cost was important, because I knew there was a very real chance I would have to fund this chair myself. I don’t qualify for the Motability scheme or any mobility allowance, or anything of the sort. I didn’t want to crowdfund or launch a fundraising page, because there are other people who need mobility aids much more than I do. I need them to thrive, they need them to survive – I would much rather people donate what they can to their fundraisers instead. And to be completely transparent, there were early conversations about brand partnerships and gifting. However, the proposal that was offered to me didn’t quite sit right, so I listened to my gut and decided not to pursue this.

I didn’t know what other options there were, other than to continue working and saving, and hope that I could make it happen within the next couple of years. However, after I began speaking about the process so far on social media, around five different people messaged me to make me aware of a funding pathway I hadn’t even really considered…

Funding A Power-Chair Through Access To Work

It turns out that if you require mobility aids to do your job, or elements of your job, you may be able to claim funding through Access To Work. If you don’t know, Access To Work is a government scheme providing grants for disabled people in work, to help them cover the adjustments they need to do their job. Because there are now parts of my work that I cannot do from home (including my speaking, consulting, and occasional work with brands), I could apply for this source of funding. Heaven knows it’s not a perfect system and the waiting periods for new applicants are horrific, but I have to give credit where it’s due – without the portion of funding I eventually managed to secure through Access To Work, I probably wouldn’t have my new power-chair today.

I already had an Access To Work award, but put in a change in circumstances request to explain my need for a new power-chair. I speak at length about this process in this YouTube video, but here are the key things you should know if you’re thinking of doing the same:

  • The application process can be lengthy, taking months and months for somebody to even look at your application. I wish I had started earlier, and not waited until my previous power-chair had reached crisis point before taking action. I used an advocate to support me, and when months had passed and I hadn’t even had a reply to my request for a progress update, the advocate made an official complaint about the lack of communication from AtW, despite my situation fast-becoming dangerous and a genuine threat to my safety. A couple of hours later, my application was finally looked at. Who would’ve thought it?
  • Collect as much evidence as you can before you speak with an advisor. I provided a quote for the new power-chair from TGA (the mobility providers who supply the Whill C2 in the UK), plus two back-up quotes that Access Your Life (the disability organisation, not to be confused with Access To Work!) helpfully sorted out for me. I also provided a copy of the paper assessment that the TGA team member had provided on my demo day, which showed why this specific chair was the right fit for my needs, and it turned out this was the final piece of the puzzle that Access To Work needed in order to progress my application.
  • If you’re going down the Access To Work route, I’ve been told it’s important to demonstrate that you can’t secure the funding you’re trying for elsewhere. I obtained a letter from my GP that explained how and why I used a power-chair, and that I didn’t qualify for an NHS personal wheelchair budget – this is, to my knowledge, because I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user and don’t use a wheelchair indoors, and also because I live in an inaccessible building. You should also be prepared to explain why mobility aids are the only solution to the barriers you’re facing in work. In other words, be prepared to spell out exactly why you need it and why it needs to come from Access To Work.

Paying The Social And Domestic Contribution For A Power-Chair

So, we reach a point where things are finally progressing and the end goal is within sight. There was only one source of contention remaining. Access To Work funds equipment to help people do their job. The assessor emailed me after we had spoken and asked ‘if you’re only going to be using this power-chair for work, how will you be getting around the rest of the time?’. Essentially, they wanted to know how much of the time the power-chair would be used for work purposes, and how much it might be used for broader life and/or leisure purposes.

The reason they ask this is to work out whether or not somebody might be asked to pay a social and domestic contribution towards the equipment being granted. The social and domestic contribution is defined by The Motability Foundation as follows:

“The Government’s Access to Work programme provides support to disabled people who are in work or have the offer of work. Support offered through this programme includes grants towards the cost of equipment required for individuals to gain or retain employment.

If a grant is offered through the Access to Work programme, it will require a personal contribution from the applicant if the equipment can also provide benefit outside of work. This is known as the “Social and Domestic Contribution” and has been a long standing feature of the Government’s Access to Work programme. The Access to Work programme offers funding that is calculated pro rata to the number of days worked. So, if you work three days a week, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) can offer a grant of 3/7 of the equipment cost. You are then responsible for the remainder of the cost, which is the Social and Domestic Contribution.”

The Motability Foundation (cited 2024)

Now, I’ll be honest. Everybody I spoke to, from all walks of life, told me I should just say that I would only use the power-chair for work so I could obtain the full amount of funding. I completely understand why somebody would do this and why it might be the only option available for some people. However, doing this felt too uncomfortable for me – especially because I share my experiences on my online platforms where I regularly speak about how much using a wheelchair has improved my life and enabled me to have adventures. A lot of my job as a disabled writer and blogger falls into a bit of a grey area and technically speaking, the content creation I do online almost always comes under the umbrella of work, but I couldn’t bear the idea of somebody looking at my social media platforms and thinking I’d somehow been dishonest. Even the idea of that made me feel self-conscious and fearful.

So, I replied to the email and offered to pay a social and domestic contribution for my power-chair. And, for the first time in my life, my problematic work-life balance really worked to my advantage here – I work six days a week (due to having to do reduced hours per day due to my chronic illness), and so Access To Work would agree to fund 6/7ths of the cost of the Whill C2. I would pay the remaining 1/7th myself, which came to a grand total of £713.57. Still a lot of money to pay, but fortunately doable for me, and worth it for the peace of mind that came with it.

I have since found out that The Motability Foundation offers grants to reimburse people who’ve paid the social and domestic contribution for mobility aids (even if you don’t qualify for the broader Motability Scheme), and have applied for this via the instructions on this page. Fingers crossed!

On Monday 18th March 2024, I received an email confirming my new Access To Work award and that my change in circumstances had been granted. I felt all of the emotions on reading those words – especially since I’d tested positive for C*vid for the first time exactly one minute before that email arrived, but that’s a story for another time…

From there, I expected to be in for another lengthy wait before my power-chair would be on order and on the way. Imagine my surprise then, when I spoke to TGA and found out my new chair would be with me in a matter of weeks. I was almost on the floor with excitement, because I knew this would mark a whole new beginning for me. The gratitude I felt was overwhelming.

Where Are We Now?

At the time of writing, I’ve had my Whill C2 power-chair for just over a month. Adapting to a new mobility aid has been a big change, as expected, but I can safely say that it was the right choice for me. I’ll take you through more of the specifics of the chair in the future, but having the ability to more easily lift the battery, climb kerbs and handle uneven surfaces, and simply not fear for my life any time I use public transport, has been game-changing.

I’m immensely grateful to my Instagram community for sharing their insights, the team at Access Your Life for their subject expertise, TGA for their excellent customer service so far and, somewhat begrudgingly, I’m grateful for Access To Work too. The system is flawed and urgently needs improvements to cut down the hideous wait times, but I’m glad the funding exists for those of us trying to navigate a career alongside the challenges of chronic illness.

And y’know what? I’m kind of grateful for my past self too, for finding the gumption to go after a power-chair that better suits her needs while still contending with so much internalised ableism. In spite of my disability I am privileged in so many ways, and often convince myself that I deserve less than other people and worry that honouring my access needs might mean somebody else cannot honour theirs. I know this is categorically not the case, especially for Access To Work where each individual has their own allocated budget, but it’s something that has been on my mind the entire way through this process. If you can in any way relate, I hope you find it within you to chase the things that will enable you to thrive too.

My Top Three Tips For You

If you are beginning your search for new mobility aids or midway through that journey, here are my top three tips…

  • Start early. The process of obtaining a power-chair may take longer than you think, and if your current mobility aids are already declining, please don’t wait until crisis point before you act.
  • Research thoroughly, and book as many demo days as you need. Make sure you’re certain about the mobility aid you’ve chosen before you confirm, and ensure you consider the cons as equally as the pros so you can problem-solve as needed.
  • Utilise organisations like Access Your Life – the support and knowledge they provide for free is absolutely brilliant. If you are applying for social support or funding, consider using an advocate who knows how to play the game and help you navigate that process.

This is a long blog post, so don’t forget you can listen to this information in audio format (complete with additional info and stories) via this video on my YouTube channel:

More coming soon but for now, let me leave you with the most important nugget of information of all. My new power-chair? Her name is Wilma. Wilma the Whill C2. And I cannot wait to see what adventures we might have together…

Thanks for reading!

Where To Next?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *