Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Wheelchair assessment

Yesterday I had my Access to Work wheelchair assessment.

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.


Maggie said...

Fingers crossed you get it!

Anonymous said...

I have a beasty powerchair which I use for long distance/great long days/weeks away travelling on public transport. I also use a manual chair with power assisted wheels for shorter trips in the car, and I use it around the house too. I absolutly freaking love my powered wheels (acutally, I love both of my wheelchairs - but for different things). I have the emotion M15's, which are much much better than earlier versions which didn't have lithium batteries and therefore died a lot quicker and the batteries themselves had much shorter lives, too. I think the power add on he was talking about may well have been the alber emotion efix (http://www.alber.de/en/products/wheelchair-drive-efix.html) by the same people that do emotion. There are some other brands, but I think those ones also use lithium batteries, and are the only ones that do.

Mary said...

Ooh, thank you. That's interesting.

I've had the report now and it specifies "e-motion power wheel set" but it doesn't give a product number.

The description still talks about applying pressure to the push-rims for power assisted travel with manual effort reduced by "up to 80%".

The Alber thing you linked to seems to be more or less what he was talking about when he mentioned a joystick option, but it isn't listed on my assessment report.

I have asked for a test-drive and I'm approaching it with an open mind, the key thing will be how that 80% holds up on the hill out of the estate (and down the hill back in - think I'll be wearing my bike jacket). If it doesn't work then I'll have to ask for a new assessment.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's fair enough. I can't imagine they'd give you the old type emotion wheels (M12's, I think those were called) considering the new ones are around. I don't even think it's possible to get the old ones anymore (except second hand) and the new ones are much better. They also have much more programmability, for example you can be quite prescise with exactly how much force results in how much movement, and even have it different indoors and out and/or on each side. Yes, I think the link I sent is to the type the man mentioned in your assessment. For me personally, I like the emotions - they are somehow more tactile and more like 'normal' movement than powerchair driving. That said, they do take some effort and most people who use them (which almost always seems to be people who have upper body impairment) seem to have a limit to what they can do. I find them pretty good on hills - I recommend programming them so they have the longest 'run' time, specifically in order that hills are as easy as possible. This means that for each push you get two seconds worth of motor movement, and that push can be programmed to be the smallest touch they will respond too, as well. If they don't work for you then a powerchair or the other sort of 'add-on' (the type with a joystick, like the link) might work better. Joystick add on has the advantage of looking good, being easy to get in cars, over a step or two when no access etc. May not go as far or have as good curb climbing, though. Swings and roundabouts. Good luck finding the right solution for you!

Mary said...

I quite like the idea of remaining a "little bit" active. It's just such a tricksy balancing act - one hand, don't want to lose what little muscle tone I have left, other hand, don't want to have to be having a Good Day in order to post a letter.

Thanks for all the advice and good wishes - feeling very positive about the test drive!

Anonymous said...

Best of luck with your AtW wheelchair. I am having much the same set up for much the same reasons. Never thought it would be possible and I'm an OT by trade. I really enjoy reading your blog and what you've written has been a good help to me. Congratulations on your engagement.

picturesworld said...

The two important factors in life that everyone must need are mobility and independence. When a person’s movement is restricted, whether it is because of permanent disability, temporary impairment, or old age, it is really difficult to survive. Manual wheelchair will provide them the power to live with freedom and dignity.

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled on your blog. Very interesting, I am sorry you have had a fight on your hands. I tried out Alber emotion wheels after someone who was a complete stranger online sent me a set of unused for free (yes really). The problem was they were so heavy I couldn't lift them even with both hands. So I sold them on.
I use a powerchair but it is my own. I was more able 8 years ago so I had a manual Nhs chair. I use my old powerchair all the time now and have an Nhs assessment this week for my chair needs. I'm terrified I won't qualify but also terrified that I do. I don't understand why Nhs make such a fuss because manual or powered, they are both wheelchairs. I live in Scotland where the voucher scheme doesn't exist so it will be a run of the mill bog standard powerchair. No choice of colour or style. The only choice is take it or leave it! If I get that far! I wish you well in the future and hope that you find the solution to your mobility needs.

Unknown said...

I've been told ATW will only for a proportion of the chair in need for work. As I work 3 days (what I can manage) I have to pay 4/7 of the cost. The rest my employer pays (if it's an employer over a certain size they are expected to pay/contribute). Is the partial contribution a new rule??

Unknown said...

I've been told ATW will only for a proportion of the chair in need for work. As I work 3 days (what I can manage) I have to pay 4/7 of the cost. The rest my employer pays (if it's an employer over a certain size they are expected to pay/contribute). Is the partial contribution a new rule??

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