Wheelchairs are tricky things with strange criteria. If you tick all the NHS boxes, then you get a "voucher" towards the cost of a chair (although you may have to supplement this with hundreds if not thousands of pounds of your own money in order to get a chair you can live from rather than one which merely keeps your backside off the ground). If you don't tick the NHS boxes, then you get bog-all.
I don't tick the NHS boxes. My mobility is limited enough so that I warrant a "normal" manual wheelchair. However, since my arms are affected in much the same way as my legs are, a manual wheelchair is only any good to me if I have someone else pushing it. Obvious solution: a powered wheelchair. Unfortunately for me, to be eligible for a powered wheelchair you have to be needing to use a chair to get about inside your own home - which I don't.
I do of course have my scooter but to be honest, I've barely used it since I started working. It was great when I could go out on it for a few hours and then sleep for the rest of the day and most of the day after... but these days I just don't have the spare energy to be able to drive it all the way into town and back. It's also too big to put in a car or take in a taxi. And in work terms, it hardly enables me to present a professional image - I never cared if the shop assistants in town saw me rolling up windswept, rain-soaked and knackered from the ride in, but for potential client meetings it's a different ball game.
All this led me to ask Access to Work if I could have help getting a powered wheelchair from them. Hooray! They said yes, I could, although it would be subject to a wheelchair assessment from one of their people, and I would have to provide a letter from my doctor confirming that it would be medically appropriate and that I was fit to use a powered chair. Fine by me, and my GP has been more than happy to provide a supporting statement.
Access to Work sent a very nice man we shall call H to come and assess my needs. First we talked about what I wanted to be able to do that I currently can't do. Locally, I wanted to be able to go to the postbox or the little local post office by myself so that I could post my own letters and buy my own postage supplies without needing to arrange for an assistant or beg a favour. In the surrounding area I wanted to be able to do my banking, visit the main post office, attend meetings with clients or my Prince's Trust advisor/mentor, and access networking events.
Next, out came the measuring tape. Apparently I have very long legs. I need to find out how much I weigh.
Finally we started talking about possible solutions. And this is where I was gobsmacked. I was expecting him to suggest something like this, something that looks kind of like my scooter with the front end taken off.
His idea is more along the lines of a more traditional ultra-lightweight manual chair, but with 'intelligent' powered wheels that work in three ways:
1. Turned off, they are like normal wheels, you hold the rims and manoeuvre yourself about, or someone can push you.
2. Turned on, they are like normal wheels would work if you were really strong, you push the rims with a little push and they use gearing and battery power to go WHEEEEEEEEEL! until you tug on the rims and they apply the brakes.
3. Apparently there is an option for a joystick for completely powered travel, but he was a bit vague on this - he said it was a new product and I haven't been able to dig it up online.
The major benefit of this system would be that my powered chair would only take up the same space as a normal wheelchair including being easily foldable for transport. I also like the idea that if the chair runs out of battery, I won't be stranded wherever I stopped - I can just self-propel myself to the nearest place where it's safe to sit around, and call a regular taxi.
Also it will look much nicer.
He's going to write up his report, Access to Work will approve it or not, and then I can have some test-drives. I'm very excited.