This is what my second-hand, electric wheelchair would have looked like when it was new. By the time I got it the seat was cracked, rats had built nests in the battery chamber, and all the foam in the cushions had soaked up about 10 years worth of cigarette smoke (my BFF and his wife were both chain smokers). I had to drive home from Oklahoma with all my windows open, the smell was so strong.
I didn’t get it through the insurance company for two reasons. (1) Insurance will only pay for the chair if I have to have it to get around the house. They could care less if I need it to get around in the real world, which is why they won’t pay for ramps to the house or the van. (2) If I pass the first test, then they want me to pay a copay of $3500. If I had that kind of money, I could buy the chair from the factory for less than that.
To get it in and out of my van I use a portable (45 lb.) ramp. I’d like to have one of those motorized lifts (or even a hydraulic-assisted manual one), but they’re incredibly expensive. Plus, since that kind of ramp is permanently mounted to a van, I don’t want to put one in my ’94 Town and Country. It just doesn’t have that many miles left in it. But my wife and I have agreed that when the van dies we’ll use up our funeral fund and put a nice ramp in the new one. We just won’t be able to die for a couple of years.
Actually, the chair lives in the van because there’s no room for it in our townhouse. So I use a walker at home. It’s not a bad chair — in fact it was top of the line when it was made. I’m glad to have it. But I swear it was harder to learn to use than the manual chair was. It’s not the basic driving that is difficult. It has a joystick, and that’s a breeze to learn — esp. if you’ve ever played any video games. But learning what you can and can’t do with the chair in the real world will drive you crazy.
For example, in the old days any change in surface level acted like a wall to a heavy electric chair. Even a simple door jamb might as well be the empire state building. So they changed the chair design. Now the front two wheels are on springs so that they “give way” when you hit an obsticle. In fact, it’ll roll right over anything two inches high or less. I can even maneuver over most speed bumps if I hit them at an angle. Of course, the chair rocks and bucks and tries to throw me out, but that’s the price you pay for mobility.
Naturally there’s a bit of a downside as well. Any sudden stop puts pressure on those springs and the front wheels fold under, pitching you out of the seat on your face if you’re not prepared for it (and sometimes even if you are). The same thing happens if the grade changes too abruptly — as often happens when a sidewalk “wheelchair access” ramp stops going downhill at the street level.
Stores aren’t made for the chair, either. Isles are too narrow, and even though I can turn the chair around its own center, there’s seldom that much room in which to turn around. If you go down an aisle and hit a dead end, you can just turn around and walk out. I have to “back” out, without the aid of a mirror, I might add.
The biggest surprise to me was: none of my doctor’s offices are actually handicap accessable. Oh, they make a stab at it, like putting in ramps or elevators any place there’s a stair. But not only do they not have powered doors, they don’t even have slightly wide doors. Trying to get me and the chair through a narrow doorway while working the controls with my right hand and not being able to pull with my left arm is a real challenge. And an amazing number of them don’t even have handicap bathrooms.
While movie theaters and restaurants have made great strides towards making their outsides handicap accessible (and their bathrooms are great!), their insides aren’t always so “handy”. Plus, with all the thought and planning that wheelchair designers used to make the new, fancy chairs, you’d have thought that they’d have made them so that they fit under a work desk or a restaurant table — but they don’t.
Which is why, in spite of me having this nice, fancy chair, I also still have my old manual one. The one my wife has to push me in since I can’t use my left arm anymore for that chore.
By this point, you’d think this would be easier. But I guess if it was easy, everybody’d want to be crippled.