Journal of IiME Volume 2 Issue 2 Wheelchair Use and Attitudes (continued) axles enables the user to do wheelies with ease; once trained in this technique, it is liberating. Even quite large obstacles, and uneven ground, and even gravel, can be negotiated by raising the front castors off the ground and moving on the two drive wheels only. When moving slowly on normal surfaces, one tends to use all four wheels, but at speed, or over uneven ground, the front castors need hardly touch the ground; this “cruise control” mode allows for less rolling resistance and greater efficiency on the part of the user, thus saving energy. Because of the design, and the lightness of the wheelchair, this does not require much upper body strength on the part of the user. All these features cause the wheelchair to become an extension of the user, and with practice and experience, movement can become easy and natural, and the environment can have a less disabling effect. The whole design, including the quick-release axles so that the wheels may be easily removed, makes it much easier for the disabled person to put the wheelchair in and out of the car, and to carry out other day to day activities independently. Quite apart from all these design and engineering features which improve the use of the wheelchair, turning it into a hi-tech form of locomotion, the appearance in itself is of great benefit to the user. It is modern-looking, cool and sporty, and does not make the user look like an invalid. The absence of push-handles conveys the message that the user is independent and perfectly capable of managing without interference, which in itself improves one’s sense of autonomy. The Importance of Choice It is not only the practical and functional aspect that is relevant, but the style element is also very important. People are out and about using their wheelchairs, and the appearance can have a profound effect on one’s image; we express ourselves by our outward appearance and choice of clothes and hairstyle, and the appearance of one’s mobility aids is of equal Invest in ME (Charity Nr. 1114035) importance. NHS grey, clunky, heavy and old fashioned equipment, whether it be a wheelchair, stick or crutches, do nothing for a person who is style-conscious. For most wheelchair users, it is not a matter of choice; they need a wheelchair in order to function. The able-bodied population (the “shoebound”) have a choice of design and style of the devices they use to interface with the ground, and would be justifiably outraged if some outside agency dictated from above what sort of shoes they should wear, regardless of their suitability or comfort. Why should wheelchairs, the devices many disabled people use to interface with the ground, be any different? Of course, the “does he take sugar” attitude prevails; the NHS remains largely paternalistic—“We know what is best for you”—because the poor little cripple cannot possibly think for himself, and if he expresses an opinion contrary to that of the professionals, he is deemed a “difficult patient.” The argument the NHS gives against prescribing these wheelchairs is cost. However, I have come across people who, in the days when they used NHS chairs, had to own more than one because they were always breaking, and they needed one in reserve to use while the other was being repaired. When used by full-time users, wheelchairs take a lot of punishment, particularly if the user enjoys an active lifestyle. The modern lightweights, however, are immensely strong, and their users generally have no problems with maintenance once they progress beyond the NHS standard. The NHS contract with wheelchair manufacturers must be enormous; if they were to start prescribing modern lightweights, the cost would come down, which would benefit everybody. It does seem wrong that in a society where the welfare state is supposed to provide wheelchairs for those who need them, people have to pay for wheelchairs that actually work for them. (continued on page 53) Page 52/74 www.investinme.org

53 Publizr Home

You need flash player to view this online publication