Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Beyond Barriers: DLA and powerchairs

This post is written as part of the #BeyondBarriers campaign, launched as part of the release of the Spartacus Report "Beyond Barriers".
This research into ESA, WCAs, the Work Programme and employment for sick and disabled people proposes an alternative system under the vital principle of "Work for those who can, Support for those who can't".
This post is an example of how proper support can change your life for the better. In my case, DLA.
Stories from other disabled people can be found here.


The letter from NHS Wheelchair Services lay on the table. It was short and to the point and completely and utterly devastating. “As you can stand on your own and walk more than two steps we cannot provide you with a powered wheelchair at this time”.
I looked at my trusty manual wheelchair. As my muscle condition had progressed it had become more and more useless. Now, unless someone else was there to push it, it was nothing more than an oversized paperweight.

I looked out the window at the world denied to me. I was in the middle of my PhD. It was going well. I loved it. I had made wonderful friends among my fellow students and office mates. Lately though I had stopped going. I couldn’t leave the house. My legs couldn’t take me further than half way up the garden path and unless someone was willing to push me not only to work but around the office, even just to get to the loo, I was imprisoned at home.  As for such things as posting a letter, picking up something from the local shop or socialising, these were becoming a thing of the past.

How could this be? How could someone unable to leave the house without an electric wheelchair not qualify for one under the NHS? How could someone become housebound, not through illness or their condition, but because they aren’t given the equipment they require? Was I supposed to give up my PhD? Give up on my dreams of a job?

Well, I was lucky. This all happened just over 10 years ago and I had been entitled to High Rate Mobility DLA (Disability Living Allowance) for a number of years. My muscle condition was progressive and I knew it was only a matter of time before I would require an electric wheelchair. I was wary of wheelchair services and so diligently started putting some of my mobility money aside. It wasn’t too long after that NHS letter that I finally managed to save just enough to buy an electric wheelchair thanks to the vital additional help of some disability related funds from my university.

I did so and it literally changed my life overnight.  Rain or shine I used to go outside for the pure pleasure of being outdoors on my own!  I carried on socialising, becoming a regular at the local pub and member of our PhD quiz team once more! I was independent, not requiring carers or friends to go out and do things for me.  Best of all, I continued and obtained my PhD and went on to get a job in that field.  It is not too much to say that DLA changed my life.

Which is why I am worried today for all the disabled people in similar situations to me. Under the replacement benefit for DLA, PIP, I would not have qualified for higher rate until much later on. I would not have been able to save up to buy my wheelchair. I would have remained housebound. No life, no PhD, no job.

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