It was International Wheelchair Day on 1st March, so I wanted to write something appropriate.
One of the early decisions many disabled people face when they find walking too painful or difficult is whether to buy a scooter or a wheelchair. This blog post is not going to be about which make or model to buy. But will help you think about which of the two options is best for you.
Over 12 years ago I started off with a small scooter. I was able with help, to take it apart and put it in the boot of my car. It also had a removable battery that I could take inside my flat to charge. It was very useful when I was going off to museums and galleries, places where the floor was even. But it was very uncomfortable on rough ground and definitely didn’t like steep inclines.
But it was the reactions of other people that shocked me. I was told on many occasions that I was too young to need a scooter! This usually happened when I asked people to move so I could get past them. Other comments that hurt even more were; “You can’t really be disabled, otherwise you would have a wheelchair”. And “You just choose to use a scooter cos you’re too lazy to walk”.
My scooter really helped to give my a greater level of independence. But as my spinal arthritis began to deteriorate, I found the seating on the scooter was getting too uncomfortable. I decided to ask for a referral for an NHS wheelchair. I was delighted to be told that I was eligible for one of medical grounds. However, because the property I was living in was not wheelchair accessible I was ineligible on accommodation grounds as they only supplied wheelchairs for indoor use!
Sadly this rejection is all to common. Often when people are referred to Wheelchair Services – WCS they are not getting a suitable chair. For those people who can-self propel, it’s obviously easier to push in a lightweight chair. In the wheelchair groups I belong to on Facebook there are frequent posts from people who’ve only been offered a heavy chair, not the lighter one they need. Often they are told; “Your partner can push you.” That can increase a dependency that is often already fraught. Some WCS are now just giving people a voucher, which doesn’t cover the cost of the right wheelchair. So many of us are forced to apply to charities or set up a Go Fund Me.
It’s disgraceful that so many disabled people cannot get the right wheelchair. Surely it should be a basic right for our independence?
WCS are another part of the NHS which is now privatised. Hence the lack of funds and inappropriate equipment being offered.
I was fortunate to be able to apply to a nursing charity for funds to buy my first electric wheelchair. The difference it made to my ability to get out and about was wonderful. I was able to go out for longer periods. The chair is much more compact and easier to manoeuvre in small spaces. I also have a deep memory foam cushion, which means I can sit for longer periods without pain.
But the greatest change for me was the attitude of other people. Once I began using my chair nobody ever queried my disability. Nor did anyone make inappropriate remarks about my need to use it. It even helped me to get a higher rate of DLA (this was the benefit before PIP). I had been on the lower rate for mobility for some years but my mobility has worsened. My first application for review was turned down. I appealed and went in front of a tribunal. I used my scooter at the interview and was promptly refused again. When I managed to speak about this with other disabled people I was told I should have borrowed a wheelchair and taken a carer with me! I wish I’d known that previously.
On my next DLA review I wrote about my wheelchair use and provided confirmation. I was awarded both components of DLA at the higher rate on a indefinite basis. I was so relieved.
So for me a wheelchair is the best choice. I have friends who prefer to use one of the larger scooters and pay for it from their PIP. Whilst these scooters are very comfortable, they are very bulky. Having to leave them outside a shop increases the chance of them getting stolen too, especially in London.
My one caution if you opt for a scooter – never buy a three wheeler. Why? They are inherently more unstable, and I have seen some appalling injuries when people have been tipped off them. There are lots of four wheeled scooters and even a five wheeled one available.
I hope whatever you choose brings you lots of freedom.