More than 20% of working age adults in the UK live with some form of disability, including almost half of over 65s. That’s about 14 million people. Human beings are resilient creatures, and many surprise themselves with their adaptability.
For many, the bigger challenge is a psychological one. Whether aged 20 or 90, it can be frustrating to rely on others to carry out the daily activities you once took for granted.
Mobility aids have existed for centuries, but, in recent years, technological innovations have made it possible for those living with any degree of immobility to enjoy freedom and independence on their own terms. Such aids also take some of the pressure off family members, who can rest assured that their loved ones are able to live as they wish without worrying that they are putting themselves in danger or struggling to cope.
Incredibly, the first wheelchairs are believed to have been invented in around 600BC. Stone carvings originating in both China and Greece clearly show people conveyed on wheeled devices.
Wheelchairs have evolved with the times, but the biggest breakthrough in terms of boosting independence was the introduction of powered chairs in the late 20th century.
Powered wheelchairs evolved rapidly over the past couple of years. AXUS powerchairs provide a great example of the advanced mobility technology that is now available in 2022. These are a far cry from the chairs that were available even a decade ago in terms of comfort, practicality and performance.
AXUS has developed five models of powerchair, all of which use the latest battery technology and power-efficient motors to offer a range of more than 20 miles on a single charge.
There is something to suit everyone. For example, the ultra-compact AX3 is just 50cm wide with a mid-wheel configuration that allows it to turn on the spot! It means effortless mobility even in a small house or flat where space is at a premium.
The AX5, on the other hand, has a high-power motor and specially designed suspension that can handle uneven terrain. Ideal for outdoor adventurers who want to spend time in nature without the need for a friend or carer in attendance.
Each model can be further customised in various ways, such as colour, seat width and extra features. AXUS offer home consultations as standard to help customers make the right choice.
Traditional Manual Mobility Aids
Powerchairs are highly versatile, helping users remain independent around the house, at work, whilst shopping and enjoying leisure pursuits. However, powerchairs represent just one of a range of mobility aids that can give you the confidence you need to remain independent.
For those who can walk unaided but are a little less steady on their feet, fear of falling can be debilitating. In this case, manual aids from traditional sticks and canes to rollators provide that extra bit of support to boost confidence, as well as making walking easier and reducing the risk of falls.
At the other end of the spectrum, mobility scooters literally go the extra mile. They are predominantly for use outdoors or in accessible indoor environments like supermarkets. Sime offer incredible performance and features, especially those designed for both road and pavement use. With a maximum speed of 8mph and a range of more than 30 miles, the world really can be your oyster.
Other mobility scooters, known as travel scooters, have more modest performance credentials but can be easily separated in into four or five lightweight parts without the need for tools. They are designed for easy transportation by car, train or even plane.
Limited Mobility Doesn’t Mean Limited Freedom
Reduced mobility, whether through injury, illness or disability can add extra complications and frustrations to everyday life. However, one positive aspect is that modern technology has brought us a range of mobility aids we couldn’t have even imagined a generation ago.
Make no mistake, everyone needs a helping hand sometimes, whether disabled or not. It is wonderful to have family, friends and carers to lend support. But, it is equally important to have the freedom and independence to live life on our own terms.
Mobility aids like powerchairs, rollators and scooters make this possible for millions of people, eliminating the need to rely on the support and assistance of others.
My summer kicked off back in June with a holiday to sunny Cornwall, and I’m still longing for those soothing sea views.
Living in the landlocked midlands, as I do, situates us far from the coast. So, for me, a trip to the seaside is a real treat.
I stayed in the biggest accessible room I’ve ever seen at a Premier Inn, located in Camborne.
There was enough space to have a party, and the disabled facilities were well-considered. I would highly recommend this particular hotel for wheelchair-users who require multiple carers and mobility equipment, due to the expansive floor area.
Whilst in Cornwall, I spent my days being chauffeured around by a good friend who lives locally. What a lovely obliging boy he is!
In all seriousness, it was great to get away and spend time with one of the few people I can completely relax and be myself with.
The first three days were gloriously hot and sunny, which allowed us to explore Godrevy, Polly Joke poppy fields, Lands End and Penzance.
On the Friday night, we had a mate date in Falmouth where a lively sea shanty festival was taking place. I chucked pizza at myself (unintentionally) and stained my lovely lovely dress. Standard.
We briefly met up with a group of people, one of whom instantly recognised my midlands dialect, which amused me somewhat since I didn’t think I had an identifiable accent. Apparently I do!
She and I talked about how different the Cornish lifestyle is. And it’s true. People seem friendlier, happier and more patient. The pace of life is slower and calmer, and the area itself couldn’t be more of a contrast to what I’m familiar with. It’s a place you move to, not from. Idyllic!
On the weekend, the weather took a turn for the worse, along with my health. For no obvious reason, my chest played up on the Saturday, and so we chilled at Ross’s place all day – the most immaculate abode I ever did see. Ralphus (the dog) tried to cheer me up by licking my entire face rather enthusiastically. I have to say, it was the best snog I’ve had in a while!
By Sunday, I was feeling much better, so we drove to Newquay with the intention of visiting the aquarium. However, once parked up, we encountered a rather unfortunate wheelchair malfunction. After laughing inappropriately, I grabbed a somewhat confused passer-by for assistance, before making our way home, without saying hello to the aquarium fishies.
Next time, fishies. Next time!
Though sad to leave, it was a much-needed positive start to the summer after a tricky few months.
Cornwall, thanks for the memories. I’ll be seeing ya! ♥
The former doesn’t sound very exciting, and it isn’t, but as anyone with a disability or chronic illness knows, there are many ongoing battles to be fought.
I met with various doctors, occupational therapists, and mobility equipment reps. I even managed to recruit a new carer, not easy in the current climate, to drive me from place to place in my Motability WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle).
My powered wheelchair, partly held together with gaffer tape, continues to fall to pieces, and is now in need of new batteries.
Why do they suddenly decide to fail, without warning??
This is all the more challenging since it isn’t a NHS chair, and so I am responsible for sourcing and funding repairs.
Despite actively bidding online and pursuing a move for over a decade, I still live with my parents in their home – far from ideal for any 33 year-old!
Finally, after a consistent bombardment of calls and emails, community housing managers agreed to meet with me in person.
Though empathetic, they openly admitted it is very much a postcode lottery issue, (I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that excuse). Consequently, it could take years to rehouse me!
I will persevere and hope for the best, while maintaining realistic expectations.
On a happier note, May provided some space for myself, as my folks took a little staycation.
People often misunderstand my need for solitude. Then again, these people have their own homes and the freedom to do as they please, when they please. It’s about freedom of choice and being able to live life on my terms.
As tiresome and frustrating as it is, this is the reason I battle with medical professionals, OT’s, community housing, social services, and so on – for a better quality of life!
The show was magical and this theatre is, by far, the best and most accessible I’ve visited.
It’s been a while since I roamed around Birmingham at 11pm – Such a rebel!
Things I’ve been enjoying
It’s a Sin – Set in London during the 80s AIDs epidemic, this 5-part miniseries has a great cast, a brilliant soundtrack (in my opinion), and the final episode is heartbreaking.
This is Going to Hurt – Having read the book by dry-witted former doctor Adam Kay, I was keen to check out this TV adaptation, and I wasn’t disappointed. It is funny, brutal, tragic and eye-opening. I highly recommend this one!
Lord of the Rings – Now 20 years old, I decided to indulge in a solo movie marathon and revisit this epic trilogy.
Samwise has always been my favourite character. And why? His loyalty is unwavering and unconditional. We all need a Samwise in our lives!
Plus, the actor, Sean Astin, starred in The Goonies (1985), and remember, “Goonies never say die”!
~ BIG 80s fan here!!
Duolingo – At the grand old age of 33, I’m attempting to learn French, (super cool), after dropping the subject in year 9, in favour of German. And this time, I’m sticking with it.
Spring is now well on the way, and with that comes warmer, sunnier, happier days ahead.
Though I’m no longer able to drive, which is incredibly limiting and frustrating, I will endeavour to get out and about as much as physically possible.
June – I’m off to Cornwall to spend some time with a good friend, and, of course, to see the sea – a rarity for this landlocked Midlander.
August – I’m excited to return to the Birmingham Hippodrome to see Les Misérables (for the second time).
I love the theatre, having seen many shows over the years. It’s one of my favourite things to do.
Embraced fluffy socks to hide my corpse feet (even when leaving the house!)
Accidently drove my wheelchair into the bathroom sink, bashing my knee – ouch!
Redecorated my bedroom and deliberated for too long over duvet covers
Failed at knitting so took up crochet
Started learning French through Duolingo. In my opinion, so much easier than lessons at school! Although, to be fair, I did spend most of my time staring out of the window
Learned to play pool…online…sorta…
Went to my first ever supercar fest – Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb. I’ll be honest, I haven’t a clue about cars but it was a fun day and something different
A particular highlight was our accessible canal boat ride through the prehistoric Dudley tunnels, mined during the Industrial Revolution. We got soaked (from the rain; we didn’t fall in the canal), and I ended up looking like Alice Cooper with mascara running down my face. But it was memorable!
Despite restrictions, I’ve managed to get out and about a fair bit – Roaming around aimlessly in the car, wandering along accessible forest trails, casually entering a local arboretum without paying, and even attempting the Malvern Hills!
Taking on the great outdoors is definitely challenging in a powered wheelchair, and it’s been met with limited success. But, for me, it’s not what you do but who you do it with.
Grabbing a Tesco meal deal with someone you love ♥ is (to me) far more precious than partying with a room full of semi-drunk acquaintances.
This wasn’t a conscious decision at all. I simply don’t believe in churning out meaningless content purely for the sake of it, so felt it best to wait.
A lot has happened over the past 12 months, both good and bad…
Of course, we’ve endured lockdown and are continuing to feel the effects of Covid, with many disabled and chronically ill people still shielding.
To protect myself and others, I received the Astra Zeneca vaccine back in March – Woop!
While this offers a lot of relief and reassurance, it is important to remain considerate of the many thousands, like me, who are high risk.
Covid isn’t going away, but neither are we! Disabled people are very much a part of society and we should not be ignored or disregarded.
To further protect myself through the harsh winter months, I’ll be getting the Flu jab at the end of September – A thoroughly beneficial prick! I urge you all to do the same, if possible.
On a personal note, we sadly lost my Nan back in January. A tough old bird ‘til the end, she made it to 94, despite smoking forty-a-day, from the age of 12-70!
I will miss her endlessly engaging, witty stories.
We recently gathered as a family to scatter her ashes alongside Stourbridge canal. Despite the occasion, it was actually a really lovely day.
My 4 year-old nephew was an absolute star, “helping to push” me, in my powered wheelchair, the entire way along the bumpy canal path. That kid keeps me going – literally!
Accompanying us was the newest addition to the family, my gorgeous niece, baby Sophie, born in June. A funky-haired little ray of sunshine.
Next month, I’ll be glamming up to attend the wedding of one of my best friends. Having known each other for over 20 years, I’m excited and proud to see her walk down the aisle.
I will attempt to take photos on the big day, but make no promises. I may be distracted by cocktails! Pray there be cocktails…
Beyond that, my plan is to fully embrace the approaching crisp autumn days and cosy nights with hot chocolates, candles and cuddly blankets. Yes, I’m old. Do I care? Naaaaaah!
Oh, this year, I also discovered I really dislike figs! They have the strangest texture. Much like chewing on the sand smothered sandwiches my mum used to make for us to eat on the beach as kids. Mmm, gritty!
As a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user for the past two decades, I’ve experienced many frustrating encounters with lifts/elevators.
~ Being unable to fit inside because they’re occupied by physically fit (lazy, ignorant) able-bodied people
~ Getting stuck in them (once on a very old ferry!)
~ Getting stuck out of them (broken/out of service)
~ Waiting, waiting, waiting…
As a teenager, I went shopping to my local TJ Hughes store (super cool!), which was on three floors. It was a crappy old lift but nevertheless I travelled to the top floor because, well, I wanted to!
When I came to use the lift again, it wouldn’t work – it was completely unresponsive.
Unable to walk at all, I was stranded on the third floor in my manual wheelchair.
More than a little irritated, I started hammering the call button on this lift, “you WILL bloody work!!”
At this point, I was left with no other option than to be manually carried down two flights of stairs by a member of staff. Talk about awkward!
Well, it was either that or, frankly, I’d probably still be stuck there now.
Thankfully, I’m teeny tiny, my wheelchair was lightweight and foldable, and the guy who carried me was young and smelt amazing! I was tempted to ask what he was wearing but thought better of it. I’m not that weird…
It was fortunate that I wasn’t in my current powered wheelchair. If I had been, I honestly don’t know what would have happened…forever stranded in TJ Hughes!
It’s a memory that’s imprinted on my mind. It shouldn’t have happened, it was annoying, undignified, embarrassing and yes, at the time, I was thoroughly pissed off!
Although, on reflection, it is pretty funny. Got to laugh, right!
Of course, it made me wary of using lifts in the future. But I really don’t have a choice! I’m not going to avoid them and miss out just in case something bad happens.
It’s inconvenient at the time but always resolvable.
IF I do ever get stuck again, well, then I’ll worry about it…IF.
Side note ~ If you are fit and able, and have two fully-functioning legs, please use them! Kindly take the stairs and let those in need access the lifts/elevators. Ta muchly!
He attended university, completed a placement year, works full-time, started his own business, and is now on the Great Britain Air Rifle Talent and Development Squad. Josh is able to drive a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) and has lived independently since leaving his parental home at 18.
1. University ~ Can you tell us about the process of putting a care package in place and living independently as a disabled student?
During my last year of college, I expressed an interest in going to university. After research with my social worker and factoring my needs and desires, we identified appropriate universities that fit my criteria. I then had to decide on a live-in carer or a care agency. I opted for the agency route in order to be as independent as possible.
Once accepted by the university, I sorted accommodation and started looking for care agencies. My social worker provided me with a list of care agencies registered with the CQC, but it was down to me to make arrangements. The first care agency turned out to be unpleasant! So, after 4 months, I switched to another agency who I remained with for the duration of my university experience.
2. How was your overall university experience?
My overall uni experience was, let’s say, fruitful! From falling asleep in my wheelchair in front of the mirror to having university staff put me to bed within the first week because I was so drunk. It was clear that I was going to make the most of my 3 years at uni!
I got involved with numerous societies and activities to keep myself active and included with the student culture. I had a fantastic time and never experienced any discrimination or abuse. The staff made me feel at ease, allowed me to be as independent as possible, and provided access to necessary resources.
I graduated with a first class honours in IT Management and Business and, 4 years after graduating, I was invited back to receive an Honorary Masters in Technology.
3. You carried out an internship with Hewlett Packard during your studies, and then worked as a cyber security manager. What, if any, challenges did you encounter in finding employment and how does your disability affect your working life?
The general employment process with assessment days, face-to-face interviews and telephones interviews were fairly seamless. Most employers are extremely accommodating if you give them notice and make them aware of your access needs.
I do remember one assessment day with a popular car manufacturer where the activities impacted my ability to take part due to my physical requirements. This may have affected their decision to not employ me, even though I was just as capable, if not more so, than the other candidates. But apart from that, I have not had any issues finding employment.
Obviously, my disability limits me physically. However, as I work in technology it does not affect my ability to do my job. Yes, working full-time is not easy for me, but it’s also important to remember it’s not easy for able-bodied people either.
I have always been the sort of person who just gets on with it. I also believe that with technology making everything more accessible for disabled people, in most cases, our disability should not affect our ability to work. If you have any employer with an inclusive work culture, who is willing to support, understand and give you flexibility within the work place, then for sure you can work!
4. You returned to university to speak to students about entrepreneurship, and inspire them to start their own businesses. How did this make you feel and why do you think it is so important to encourage other disabled people to pursue any entrepreneurial aspirations they may have?
This gave me a sense of achievement and fulfilment. I believe that sharing experiences, whether positive or negative, helps others to follow their own passions and aspirations.
There is a general consensus that employment for disabled people is difficult to find, and arguably this could be due to the lack of inclusive employers. This is what makes the entrepreneurial world an attractive proposition for disabled people – it is flexible, offers them ability to work around their needs, and also avoids the hardship of being in a culture that is not disability confident.
5. You ventured into self-employment and founded AbleMove. Why was this so important to you?
I have always wanted to start my own business. When I realised I could create a product to make travel more assessible for disabled people, it was a no-brainer decision for me.
When you’re working on something you’ve created and can see the life-changing benefits, there is a real feeling of fulfilment.
Winning the award gave me a sense of personal achievement and recognition. It gave me a fresh perspective on developing my own business and the benefits it can provide versus working for a large company.
The prize money and a business deal with easyGroup Ltd enabled me to give up my full-time job in order to pursue my own business. This allowed me greater flexibility regarding how I manage my disability.
7. Prior to winning the award, you had to move home and rent within the private sector. What challenges did this present?
The challenges with the private rent sector (PRS) are vast, especially given almost 85-90% of PRS homes are inaccessible for wheelchairs.
After applying for the Stelios Awards, I was told I had to move out of a good sized two bed apartment due to the landlords requiring their property back. Having lived there for 3 and a half years, it was time to start the dreaded challenge of finding a needle in a haystack.
It’s purely pot luck if you can find an accessible house to move into straight away that doesn’t need any adapations.
After fighting with the council and various estate agents, we eventually managed to find a property on rightmove. Now, when moving home I need to consider carers since I rely on them throughout the day. My main PA (personal assistant) was unable to continue working for me, and so I had to re-jig and was then only able to maintain one PA.
Finding an accessible property and then having to manage your care situation around it is extremely stressful, tiring and irritating. On top of this, I was working full-time, getting the business of the ground, doing weekly exercises and training for the Great Britain Shooting Talent and Development Squad.
8. Can you tell us about your invention, the easyTravelseat. What is it and how does it benefit disabled people?
My travelling experiences involve being manhandled from wheelchair to aisle chair and then manhandled again onto the aircraft, which is highly undignified and uncomfortable. I therefore sought to create something that would help me travel in a more comfortable and dignified manner.
The easyTravelseat is a sling/seat combination that is designed to work as an in-situ piece of equipment. It is placed in your wheelchair, and you then remain seated in the easyTravelseat until you reach your destination.
For instance, when flying, you would remain comfortably and securely seated within the easyTravelseat for your entire journey through the airport, onto and during your time on the aircraft and off again.
Once I created it, I realised the many benefits it offers disabled people. It allows users to travel in a more safe, dignified and comfortable way, on all modes of transport. Furthermore, it opens up leisure opportunities such as canoeing, kayaking, skiing and so on. The easyTravelseat enables users to be transferred quickly and easily without having to be manhandled. The user is comfortably seated with their own cushion, a gel pad or foam.
9. Where did the idea for the easyTravelseat stem from, and what did the development process involve?
The development process involved researching the types of equipment already available, and the demand for such a product. I conducted market research to determine whether wheelchair-users would find the product useful. Then we identified a concept and progressed to prototyping in order to test how the seat would work. We then moved on to the point of manufacturing the seat and getting the required medical marking and approvals in place. During this process we had been working initially with airports around the lifting side of the device, including our sling manufacturer and then an airline. We started production in February 2019.
10. Does the easyTravelseat cater for disabled people of all shapes and sizes?
The easyTravelseat will cater for the majority of disabled users with the exception of very young children, bariatric passengers or people with extreme contoured seating.
11. How does the easyTravelseat compare with similar products on the market, such as the ProMove sling or the NEPPT Transfer Evacuation Sling Seat?
The difference with the easyTravelseat is the specific design and application of use for aircraft, whilst ensuring passenger comfort. It allows users to be moved around the aircraft, including during an emergency, and to then disembark the aircraft in a much safer, dignified and comfortable manner. All other slings are designed to be removed and offer no protection or comfort when in-situ.
12. What other assistance do you think airlines could and should be offering to disabled passengers?
I think the most important area airlines should be focusing on in the immediate is the loading of wheelchairs, both electric and manual, to prevent damage. It also concerns me the people on the ground lifting these wheelchairs are at risk of causing serious damage to themselves. There is industry equipment to load wheelchairs onto an aircraft without having to manually lift a wheelchair. This would help the loaders and reduce the amount of damage to both the chairs and the airport staff. Also, a secure area in the hold may also be advantageous to prevent luggage damaging wheelchairs during turbulence.
I also think the UK should be pushing (as Canada has done successfully) the airlines to provide free tickets for a carer when flying with a disabled person. After all, the airlines make it a necessary requirement for WCHC passengers who cannot move without any support to fly with a personal assistant/carer.
Airlines should also be addressing the toileting situation inside the cabin too. It is currently impossible for the majority of disabled passengers to access the toilet whilst flying.
Regarding hidden disabilities, there are those who are much more calm when they are surrounded by objects which are all different colours.
Long term, all airlines should be looking to allow wheelchair-users to remain seated in their wheelchair, inside the cabin, during the flight.
13. What does the future hold for you and your business?
The future is bright for easyTravelseat! We are off to a steady start with interest across the globe. We believe in an accessible aviation world and are able to provide an immediate solution to help reduce some of the significant problems with maintaining safety, dignity and comfort when flying with a wheelchair.
We will now look to ensure easyTravelseat is easily accessible in as many countries across the globe as possible in the coming years.
On Friday 5th April, I attended an evening performance of Les Miserables at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Over the years, I’ve seen several different shows at this theatre, and have always been impressed with their accessibility.
I am a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user, and so my primary focus is wheelchair access. However, the Birmingham Hippodrome is continually making improvements in order to be more inclusive and cater for all disabilities.
We all know how difficult it can be to book tickets for shows and concerts when you have a disability. But I can honestly say, I’ve never had a problem booking wheelchair-accessible seating at the Birmingham Hippodrome. I’ve never had to dial the booking line the minute tickets go on sale, which is often the case for other venues, and there’s even a choice of where to sit!
The Arcadian is a manned carpark situated just around the corner from the Hippodrome. It offers sufficient disabled bays and cost £7:50 for the duration of our stay (around 4 hours). This is Birmingham – parking aint cheap!
Wheelchair Access ☆☆☆☆
The Birmingham Hippodrome, refurbished in 2000, is easily accessed via the main entrance. There are multiple double doors as well as an automatic door, with security staff always on hand to assist if required.
There is then a wide, gradual ramp to the right of the central stairway. This leads to two large glass lifts/elevators. Again, there’s always multiple members of friendly staff available to assist with doors, directions and the operating of the lifts.
We sat on one of two raised platform areas at the back of the Stalls (lower level), known as the Lounge. Despite being at the very back of the audience, we had a great view of the stage, and since we were elevated, we didn’t have to head-dodge!
There was also plenty of leg room and space for multiple wheelchairs, so it was very comfy.
There are multiple accessible toilets, all of which are clean, spacious and impressively well-maintained. They even smell good! From my point-of-view, the only thing lacking in this department is the addition of a Changing Places facility, which would no doubt be a huge asset. For this reason alone, I had to deduct a star from my rating.
In 2018, the theatre made a conscious effort to be all-inclusive by installing gender neutral toilets.
“The theatre offers a programme of signed, audio described and captioned performances. Touch tours have been introduced, so blind and visually impaired can familiarise themselves with the props and scenery before attending a performance and assistance dogs can be accommodated with care being provided for the dog during each act.” ~ Birmingham Hippodrome website
I was out shopping yesterday in my Quantum 600 powered wheelchair. While the many other shoppers bustled past without a second thought, one considerate old lady stopped to ask if I needed her help to reach anything.
As fellow wheelchair-users will know, shopping can be frustrating for various reasons. Not only are we grappling with the general public (the pushing, shoving and impatience), and trying to navigate narrow aisles without running over any toes; we are also bum height! 😣
Not only that – reaching anything above or below torso level is a challenge, particularly with elbow contractures and poor grip (as in my case).
With that in mind, those few kind words from one generous old lady truly made my day. It really is the little things in life – the small gestures – that make a big difference. If only everyone was so thoughtful!
I am aware that some disabled individuals may take offence at such an offer, presumably seeing it as a sign of pity – the implication being we (disabled people) cannot manage by ourselves. However, I personally cannot construe it as anything other than sincere concern and consideration for a fellow human being.
We all need help and support every once in a while, regardless of ability or circumstance. Even if you don’t require assistance from others, at least show some gratitude and have the courtesy to decline their offer politely.