Saturday 2 March 2024

‘I love your wheels’ - International Wheelchair Day

When I go out I aways smile when I hear ‘I love your wheels’. 

In the UK there are 1.2 million wheelchair users and around 1 in 3 of them like me are ambulatory wheelchair users. Being an ambulatory wheelchair user means that I can walk/stand without the use of a wheelchair; in place of my chair I use crutches, but I still need the aid of a wheelchair in certain situations such as when I leave the house as my walking ability is limited; as well my mobility ability can fluctuate. Alongside this I’m much safer in my wheelchair and sitting in my chair it reduces my pain and fatigue levels and allows me to do more than what I can manage to do on two legs.

I feel proud to be a wheelchair user; what has helped me accept my wheelchair over the years is accessorising it so my chair represents ‘me’ hence why I love it when people comment on how I’ve accessorised my wheelchair as I feel that in that comment they see me and not my chair. Some accessories are purely decorative like my Izzy Wheels spoke covers others are ‘pretty and practical’ like my push rim covers, my FFORA bags and cup holder and other bags I have on my chair plus my Bundle Bean wheelchair cosy and also my new Flexzi phone holder. (Yes there’s a lot that I’ve added to my chair I know!) Here is a video on how I’ve accessorised my wheelchair.

Advice I’d give

To those who haven’t yet started to use a wheelchair 

If you’re struggling with your mobility and you think a wheelchair might help you speak with your GP, consultant, Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist. This is what I did, I asked my neurologist if he thought a wheelchair would be helpful to me and he thought one would so he referred me to Wheelchair Services and I was provided with a manual self-propelled wheelchair. 

I’m grateful that I have a wheelchair on the NHS; it does the job though I would someday like to get an ‘active’ wheelchair that is more lightweight with the customisations that would better meet my needs as well as having an electric add-on for my chair but these can all come at a high cost which I can’t justify just yet and my current wheelchair is just about doing the job.

Getting a wheelchair

My advice is to try the NHS Wheelchair Services first; you may get a wheelchair through them. Alternative you may be eligible for a voucher to put towards purchasing your own wheelchair instead of having an NHS provided wheelchair.

If this option isn’t available to you think about your budget and whether you want a manual or electric wheelchair or even a mobility scooter. There are lots of options out there, read and watch different reviews on different chairs and look at different wheelchair users on social media to see what chair they use to narrow down your choices. Contact different mobility dealers and try out different chairs to see which one you like the best take them apart to get the feel of how easy they are to assemble and resemble and feel the weight of the chair too including the battery if it’s an electric wheelchair. If you’re thinking of a manual chair look at all the customisation options (including prices) and what custom options you might need like a high backed seat or height adjustable handles if you need someone to push you. Think about the weight of the chair; how are you going to transport it? such as how it comes apart to put it into the boot or will you get a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle? Think about how often you will be using the wheelchair, will you be just using it outdoors occasionally or all the time or indoors too? Think about how you will get on and off the chair. With a manual wheelchair think about what seat cushion you’ll need to get. Will you get an electric add-on for your manual wheelchair. Consider the battery life on electric wheelchairs and how far you can travel on it. These are just a few of many things to consider so do your research.

Adapting to first using a wheelchair 

Like I mentioned above accessorising and personalising my wheelchair has helped me make my wheelchair more ‘me’. I didn’t immediately do this overnight the adaptations have just come over time but it is something I’d recommend doing if you’d like to and your wheelchair allows you to personalise it.

There are definitely some helpful things to have. I’d say my FFORA bags and cup holder are really handy to have, plus my push rim covers (I learnt to pop my first wheelie the other day because of them!) and also my Bundle Bean.

It can be daunting when you first start to use a wheelchair especially out in public, there’s lots of things to get used to such as wheelchair accessibility and navigating around in your chair as well as maybe the public’s attention on a wheelchair user. Thankfully I’ve never had any negative experiences especially as an ambulatory wheelchair user.

If you’re self-propelling your chair one thing to get right is the rhythm of pushing your chair so you don’t tire your arms out. This is a fab video from Gem at WheelsNoHeels on her YouTube channel showing how to correctly propel and push yourself in a wheelchair as well as how to pop a little wheelie. Gem has lots of helpful videos like this on her channel so I’d definitely recommend checking her out.

My advice is when you first start to go out in your wheelchair I’d take someone along with, just for support or to take over pushing your chair if you get tired, to help you get it in/out the car or to negotiate public transport, or for those ‘just in case emergencies’ like your electric wheelchair battery running out of juice.

Another thing to consider is parking. If you’re eligible it will be worth applying for a disabled parking badge. This will make going out in your wheelchair much easier as you’ll be closer to where you need to be and you’ll have the additional space to get you’re wheelchair out the car and also to get in/out your wheelchair.

Some of my recommended accessories

  • FFORA - an attachment system for manual wheelchairs which you can attach a FFORA bag or cup holder onto, there are a variety of bags to choose from the attachment system comes in different colours as does the cup holder. Here is a blog post review on my FFORA products I also have this review video and this video showing you this interior of each of FFORA’s bag designs. The bags also come with cross body straps so great if your cup holder is in use or you just want to wear your bag as an ordinary cross body bag
  • Izzy Wheels - spoke covers for manual self-propelled wheelchairs 
  • Bundle Bean - Wheelchair range - wheelchair cosies, organisers, spoke covers, ponchos etc. in a wide variety of designs 
  • Push rim covers - these are the ones I have and would recommend and they come in different colours 
  • MERU Flexzi phone mount - this is just a gadget I use when needed, it comes in different colour options, depending on your needs it might be something that is helpful to you
  • Pickepacke bags - I like my Pickepacke bag as it’s behind my legs so the contents are easy to reach plus they’re more secure than having them on the back of my chair 
  • Mobility clips - these can convert your handbag to allow you to hang it on the back of your chair