Over the past few months, I’ve been having lots of trouble with my electric wheelchair. It kept cutting out without warning – sometimes for a few seconds but more frequently, it cut out and wouldn’t restart. As the wheelchair is provided by the NHS, I kept phoning their contractor to come and repair it.
As a disabled woman working full time, my wheelchair is critical to me being able to work. I didn’t feel safe crossing the main roads to get to work and one day, the chair cut out in the office. I made yet another phone call and was told I’d have to wait 3 days before an engineer could get to me! I asked what I was supposed to do in the meantime. I was advised to “free wheel the chair home”. I tried to remain calm as I explained to the administrator that if I was capable of free wheeling a heavy electric chair, I wouldn’t need it in the first place! On another occasion, an engineer came to my work to try and repair the chair and ended up breaking it completely, leaving me with no way of getting home. I was told that it wasn’t his responsibility to ensure I got home safely.
After months of similar experiences, I decided to contact my local MP (Rob Wilson, Conservative). The government are desperate for more disabled people to work but how can they if the system is failing them? At this stage, I had decided enough was enough and I was going to buy my own wheelchair but I felt strongly that the system that is meant to support disabled people is in fact making life difficult for them. They are at the mercy of a contractor who didn’t seem to understand that a wheelchair is often someone’s lifeline, it enables independance and that without it, they are effectively putting their lives on hold.
The involvement of my MP, Rob Wilson, got me a meeting with the manager of the Wheelchair Service. I explained that whilst it was too late for me, I was trying to ensure that other disabled people didn’t go through a similiar experience. As a direct result of the concerns I had raised, the Wheelchair Service has now purchased 2 spare electric wheelchairs which can be loaned to people if their chair cannot be repaired immediately. There are also new procedures in place to ensure that if a wheelchair breaks down 3 times, the client will be assessed for a new, more reliable wheelchair. The administrator who spoke to me has also been made aware of how frustrating and unhelpful her comments were. Flyinglady will be approaching companies like these and offering some disability equality sessions!
I went through months of being unable to do what I wanted to do because I didn’t have any confidence in my wheelchair. I hope that by raising these concerns, it will help other people to avoid the same problems.