Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson talks about the My Voice, My Wheelchair, My Life programme
It is probably difficult for non-disabled people to comprehend just how important their wheelchair is to those who use them on a day-to-day basis.
A wheelchair is so much more than just a piece of equipment. It is no exaggeration to say that for me it is one of the most important things in my life. If I didn’t have a chair that fits me and allows me to do everything I need to do, then I wouldn’t have an independent life.
Without it I can’t work, I can’t go to the shops and I can’t do many of the things that make me what I am. It makes a massive difference to nearly everything I do.
That is why I am delighted to champion a new campaign, My Voice, My Wheelchair, My Life, which will be launched following a special summit in London on November 27.
The aim of the campaign is to do no less than transform NHS wheelchair services to ensure users get the right chair for their needs at the right time – and have appropriate and continuing support afterwards.
The summit, which is sponsored by NHS Improving Quality and NHS England and which I will be attending, will bring together experts, users, professional associations and clinicians from across England – in person or ‘virtually’ – to pool our experiences and map a way forward.
There is no doubt things have improved for disabled people in the last 20 years or so. I recall the constant struggle of getting up and down curbs, for instance, that could severely restrict where I went. Now most pavements have drop-down curbs and the general environment is much more disabled friendly.
We have also seen progress in the design and scope of wheelchairs. They’ve certainly changed since I was young when NHS wheelchairs were only available in two sizes – child and adult. I distinctly remember the awkwardness and discomfort when I was too big for the child model but still didn’t fit the adult one!
But NHS wheelchair services still have a long way to go. The fact is that everybody’s needs are slightly different and the key is close consultation with the user to make sure those individual needs are met.
There are many elements to this. Measurements need to be exactly right as does the cushioning of the seat and the back support. Even the colour is important – because your wheelchair is an expression of you and your character.
Getting it wrong it can have a serious knock-on effect on the wheelchair user’s health and wellbeing – and that can also be costly. Developing a pressure sore because of inadequate padding, for instance, can cost the health service thousands of pounds.
Just as important is ensuring that people get their chair when they need it. It just isn’t good enough to have to wait many months for delivery. Delays not only severely restrict what people can do, they might also be counter-productive because someone’s fit could have changed in the meantime.
Getting this right will be a two-way process. Wheelchair services need to take greater account of individual needs and be flexible enough to accommodate them. At the same time users need to understand what’s available and how to get the most from the service.
As with so many things, much of this comes down to attitudes. If everyone was more aware of what we need as wheelchair users it would make such a difference. That applies to the small things as well – like leaning on someone’s wheelchair as though it’s just a piece of furniture or, quite literally, pushing you around without you asking. That happened to me recently and I was distinctly unimpressed!
As the campaign says: it’s My Voice, My Wheelchair and My Life!
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