Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Electric Wheelchairs

Difficult to know where to start a blog. I think I will go with something which links both one of my most cherished possessions and a huge hidden problem recently highlighted by the plight of Broken of Britain disability campaigner Kaliya Franklin.

Two of my favourite possessions are my electric wheelchairs. One is called Roadrunner and is a wonderful outdoor/indoor wheelchair with full suspension, capable of a turn of speed of 6mph which means I can get places quickly which is vital given that a huge extra problem for me is fatigue and pain. However, while he is ideal for outdoors, going around indoors gives my doorposts and furniture reason to cringe in panic and so when my condition deteriorated to the point I needed a wheelchair indoors as well, I bought an indoor/outdoor wheelchair I call Rascal. This one can cope with going outdoors but is terribly bumpy and a tad slow. But indoors he comes into his own. Far smaller than his counterpart, he can pretty much turn on the spot and my furniture and paintwork were able to heave sighs of relief!

Now let's look at some boring but necessary facts. I can only walk about 10 yards and it hurts at that. I cannot push a manual wheelchair because, let's face it, my arms are just as rubbish as my legs! This means that even on a so called "good" day (read for this not stuck in bed) I can't get up my own garden path even with a manual wheelchair. It means that on a "bad" day (read for this might be able to slither from bed to wheelchair and from wheelchair to toilet if I really really must) I can't get from one room to another without an electric wheelchair.

Everyone always assumes that these wheelchairs are provided by the NHS. They are not. Despite the problems I've outlined above, I do not qualify for an electric wheelchair because I can "walk". The fact that I am housebound as a result for lack of a wheelchair does not seem to matter. Yet the government is banging on about disabled people going out to work and in their wisdom proposing that people should only be allowed to claim out of work disability benefit (ESA) for a year. I would like to know how one is to find work when they cannot leave the house for lack of a wheelchair?

Kaliya whom I mentioned in my opening paragraph is a prime example. Unable to push a manual wheelchair but needing a wheelchair outdoors she is turned down because she is only allowed one if she uses it full time. Add to that the fact that her accommodation is not accessible for an electric wheelchair (so she is turned down anyway for health and safety reasons) and there is no provision to move her to wheelchair accommodation and you start to see the scale of the issue.

And so the hapless disabled person is left to fund an electric wheelchair themselves privately at a cost of at least £1500 and going up to £5000 or more. I was "lucky" in that my condition is progressive. I knew approximately 2 years in advance that I would need an electric wheelchair. I was able to start putting money aside for it out of the mobility part of my DLA. But most people can't do that. A lot become disabled overnight. Others might be using the mobility part for motability. Others simply might not be able to afford to (I lived 2 minutes away from where I worked so had few transport costs).

There are two main things to take away from this:

1) Disabled people all over the country are prisoners in their homes. Freedom is a right. Being housebound due to your medical condition is one thing. Being housebound because you are being refused the right equipment is quite another. The only other people we confine to their homes are criminals.

2) If the government is going to insist that disabled people have a responsibility to go to work within a year, then they in turn have a responsibility to provide all the equipment they require well within that year.

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