By no means everyone who uses a wheelchair could be described as “wheelchair-bound”. In fact, that phrase has fallen out of favour, partly because its negative connotation of being confined or imprisoned, but also because many wheelchair users are able to stand and walk a short distance, either with help or unaided.
Wheelchairs fall under the umbrella of “assistive technology” – pieces of equipment which are there to assist you as and when needed. You might need to wear glasses for reading, but not for driving. You might need a walking stick when your rheumatoid arthritis flares up, but not when it’s in remission. You might need a hearing aid in a crowded noisy setting, but not for a one-to-one conversation in a quiet place.
Similarly, you might need to use a wheelchair in some circumstances, but not in others. Sitting in a wheelchair doesn’t mean you’re never going to get out of it again, but just that you can benefit from using it at that time. It could be that you’ll only need it for a limited period of time, maybe if you’re recovering from an accident, illness or medical procedure. Or it could be that you’ll rely on it more and more as your mobility or stamina recedes.
Whatever the reason, you can think of a wheelchair as an accessory to improve your situation when you need it. When the sun’s too bright, pop on some sunglasses; when the cold wind blows, put on a thick coat; and when walking’s not an option, use a wheelchair. Some people are too proud to use a wheelchair, thinking of it as ‘giving in’ or ‘admitting defeat’. In truth it can be just the opposite, empowering you to experience things you might otherwise miss out on.
So who can benefit from using a wheelchair? The answer is anyone who has difficulty walking, at whatever age and for whatever reason. Some people will be able to move themselves along in a manual self-propelled wheelchair, pushing on the rims attached to the large rear wheels, while others will rely on a friend or carer to push them in a manual ‘attendant-propelled wheelchair’.
Then there’s the increasingly popular option of a powered wheelchair, with advances in rechargeable battery technology making them a reliable and versatile choice. Some of the many benefits of using a wheelchair include:
Battling immobility: If your mobility has declined it can limit your lifestyle choices, the temptation being to stay put at home. Using a wheelchair helps you overcome the obstacles of limited mobility. It won’t quite give you wings, but it will give you wheels! If the family is going for a walk in the sunshine, you can go too, without fear of running out of steam. It’s the same for shopping trips or other excursions. Don’t become your own jailer simply because you can’t walk very far. A wheelchair can help set you free.
Retaining independence: If you do run out of steam while walking, what will you do? Chances are you’ll need to call someone for help. Thinking ahead and using a wheelchair avoids that scenario and removes worries about becoming breathless, dizzy or even falling. You can use a wheelchair indoors or outdoors to safeguard your independence, giving you the freedom to move around as you wish.
Comfort: A good quality wheelchair tailored to your body’s size and shape is extremely supportive and comfortable – far more so than a standard chair. If you’re going to see a show or a movie, will you be able to sit in comfort and enjoy it, or will pain and discomfort ruin the experience. Going in your own fitted wheelchair ensures the former, and the days when public places didn’t cater for wheelchair users are, thankfully, now gone.
Fighting social isolation: People with reduced mobility risk becoming socially isolated, especially if they live alone. Social isolation and loneliness have been proven to have a significant detrimental effect on both physical and mental health, but it needn’t be that way. Using a wheelchair means you can continue going out, visiting friends, taking part in a wide variety of activities and hobbies. Many wheelchair users maintain a wide circle of friends and come to see their wheelchair as their most supportive friend of all.