Most people would be shocked to hear that I learned to drive at the youthful age of three…now it isn’t what you think, my first set of wheels had a joystick and not a steering wheel!
Powered mobility gives the user the freedom to explore the world in which they live with a new level of independence. Some drivers choose powered mobility as an alternative to manual wheelchairs, crutches, and other mobility-assistance devices because it prevents fatigue and allows them to accomplish and experience more things in life. While other drivers, such as myself, find powered mobility to be a necessity in everyday life because our disability impacts strength, balance and coordination to such a degree that it is not physically possible to operate a manual wheelchair independently or other utilize supportive mobility devices. The motorized wheelchair has become an important part of life for millions around the world, according to the most recent US census 2.7 million people currently use some form of mobility device (powered or manual).
I have almost always had access to powered mobility in my life, considering my first wheelchair came at the age of three. Without my wheels, I would be living in a world much different than the one that I do now. As a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, I have very limited use of my arms and almost no weight-bearing ability in my legs, this makes a manual wheelchair impossible to use with my own strength. Powered mobility opens many doors to being able to live a normal life (or something like that). After years of driving practice, I can now easily navigate through doorways in my home, most public spaces, and will soon drive up the aisle with my new bride (also in her powered wheelchair). I have been fortunate to have had a wonderful experience with a few local companies here in my home town. They have provided me with services regarding both my wheelchair and my customized modified ramp van. The van allows me to safely dock my wheelchair in a secure locking system without leaving the seat, which gives me the freedom to travel to visit family and friends without any lifting by my caregiver. My mobility team has helped to create a personalized chair that meets many of my unique everyday needs. Between custom mounts for my phone and work tools, they have come up with personalized solutions for every idea no matter how wild they may be. My wheelchair serves as a tool for my freedom, and without it, things would most definitely be more difficult. These are only a few of the many positive effects from having powered mobility, and listing them all would be quite difficult, as it affects every aspect of my day. The chairs however, come with a few surprises.
As with everything that makes life easier, it comes with a few user warnings as well. Very similar to a car or van or truck, the wheelchair is not a tool to mess around with. Driving a wheelchair takes full attention and focus, otherwise you can cause damage and even injure yourself or others. Growing up while learning to drive, I have had my fair share of mishaps, such as holes in walls, and torn out thresholds. I even drove my wheelchair down a small flight of steps because I misjudged where the ramp and steps were separated. This landed me in the hospital with a concussion, all because I wanted to be a part of a game of tag with my friends. Luckily, there was no long-term damage, and I was home in no time at all, but let’s just say: In this fight - the steps won! These were all avoidable and sometimes costly events, but with years of practice they have become much less frequent of an occurrence. Another unavoidable problem with powered mobility involves other people and public spaces. In crowded spaces, such as sporting events or trips to Disney, I choose to let my caregiver drive me to mitigate any possible collisions with the many people around us. It is a common thing to see young kids jump in front of the chair with no warning and in order to keep them safe, it is best I give the responsibility to someone else. I do not necessarily like having to do this, but it is important to have people who know how to operate my chair as well as or better than I can. Do not let these stories deter you from the facts. Increasing my mobility with a powered option was in many ways the only option to lead a life in which I am happy.
If you don’t let the battery die or drive your chair feet first into a wall (I’ve done both), the powered wheelchair is an amazing way to advance your independence when you need assistance with your mobility. The positive effects of powered mobility are unmeasurable, and the negative side-effects are easily avoidable or ignored.
David’s Tips For Success with Powered Mobility:
1) Find a Mobility Team that you trust and who will work with you to customize the chair exactly how you want it to be.
2) Start young – learning to drive a power chair at the age of three helped me explore, keep up with my brother, learn, and play independently
3) Make sure you get an Attendant Control (for those crazy kids in public spaces)
4) Charge the battery every night
5) Don’t be afraid!
My wheelchair serves as a tool for my freedom, and without it, things would most definitely be more difficult.