In the words of Thomas Carlyle “Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.”
And so I was encourged to see a blog post on BBC Ouch today highlighting the difficulties faced by wheelchair users trying to get ‘chairs that meets their needs in a timely fashion. As mentioned in the article, whilst the wrong wheelchair can cause health problems associated with posture and pressure sores, an incorrect ‘chair can also limit someone’s independence for example if it is too heavy or not set up correctly.
Regardless of whether a wheelchair user has the necessary skills, if they are expected to use a ‘chair that they do not have the physical strength to ‘pop’ a wheelie in, or to lift into a car, then their independence is inevitably limited, often leaving them reliant on assistance to compensate. I have often thought that this is a false economy for the NHS/government and I am grateful that I live in an area where my local wheelchair services have recognised that ‘needs’ do not just mean clinical needs but also, to a certain extent, social needs.
Yesterday I fell out of my chair in pretty spectacular style. I don’t fall out of my chair often but when I do, I tend to do it ‘properly’ and this happens roughly once a year. I was tired, I’m on antibiotics (which probably come with a warning about not operating machinery) and I was on my way back to my car after an exhausting day of rehearsals for Sing for Water North.
I was in the Northern Quarter in Manchester (which has some very narrow pavements at the best of times) and I was approaching a corner where there was a signpost in the centre of the pavement. Normally there would be sufficient space to pass on the left of the post but there was scaffolding blocking this option. My critical mistake was that rather than waiting for a break in the traffic, bumping down the kerb and then getting back on to the pavement where there was a dropped kerb (just a few feet away) I decided that I would be lazy and have a go at passing to the right of the post on the very edge of the pavement.
I took it slowly, judging the available width, and decided that there was probably enough space to keep half of my right tyre on the pavement if I shifted my weight onto my left wheel. I was wrong. I half dropped off the pavement into the road, fell backwards smacking the back of my head on the kerbstone and ended up with a bloody knuckle. I was lucky, lucky that I have fallen many times over the years so was able to break my fall with my torso rather than taking the full force on the back of my head and lucky that I was with friends who cared for me and ensured I was OK; nonetheless it hurt and has done nothing for my quest to have delicate feminine hands that are not covered with grazes and scars!
Independent wheelchair skills are a wonderful thing to develop however, you must always use the appropriate skills for the situation. The moral of this story is that you should always recognise your limits (taking into account variable factors such as tiredness and medication changes) otherwise you end up hurting yourself, feeling like a twit and scaring members of the public!
Today is International Wheelchair Day 2015, this is the 8th year of what has become an annual celebration “when wheelchair users celebrate the positive impact a wheelchair has on their lives”.
The day was started by Steve Wilkinson and his website explains that “the aims of International Wheelchair Day are:
- To enable wheelchair users to celebrate the positive impact a wheelchair has in their lives.
- To celebrate the great work of the many millions of people who provide wheelchairs, who provide support and care for wheelchair users and who make the World a better and more accessible place for people with mobility issues.
- To acknowledge and react constructively to the fact there are many tens of millions of people in the World who need a wheelchair, but are unable to acquire one.”
Yesterday I spent the day volunteering with Go Kids Go who provide wheelchair skills training to young wheelchair users. The difference that not only a wheelchair, but also the skills to use it, make to a disabled person’s life simply cannot be underestimated. Two words offerred by young people yesterday which have stuck in my mind are ‘independence’ but perhaps more importantly (especially for young people) ‘fun’!
There was also a child there yesterday who was recently able to start school only because Go Kids Go were able to loan them a suitable wheelchair. No wheelchair = no school. Although there are many people in other countries struggling due to a lack of wheelchairs, this is also a problem impacting people on our own doorstep in the UK and, for this child in particular, there is now another very important word, ‘education’.
Happy International Wheelchair Day!