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This section includes information of my experience of both wheelchairs and my return to driving after my spinal injury.    This is my set up and the equipment and transport I use won't be suitable for everyone.  
 

Click here to go straight to the 'driving' section.



"A chair mounted on large wheels for the use of a sick or disabled person"

A dictionary definition, but there's much more to it than that........

Wheelchairs come in all shapes and sizes.  Everyone's needs will be different,  I've tried to include as much information as possible for the English wheelchair user below. 

I use both a manual lightweight chair which was supplied on my discharge from hospital in '95 and an electrically powered indoor/outdoor wheelchair.  This is supplied by my local wheelchair service who operate as part of the National Health Service (NHS).  I have had this since '97. Until I got my powered chair I relied on being pushed by friends and family in my manual wheelchair.   


As you are aware I live in England, the information detailed below is particularly relevant to residents of England and Wales.  

Since 1996 the British Government set aside a large sum of money for the provision of electric indoor/outdoor wheelchairs to those people in the community who would benefit from having one.  The details of this scheme and eligibility for it are detailed below.

                                                                    
In my wheelchair, aboard  the 'London Eye'  October 2000

Like most things introduced by Government bodies, there was much confusion and discrepancy with the way different local authorities interpreted the new guidelines.  Clearly every disability is different, in my opinion EVERY tetraplegic spinal cord injured person fits the criteria for the free supply of an NHS electric indoor/outdoor wheelchair.  

When I first contacted my wheelchair service about the provision of a powered chair, I was told I couldn't have one.  I was put on an assessment waiting list with virtually no hope of being considered in the foreseeable future.  I was incensed.  Not being someone who gives in easily, I wrote to my local Member of Parliament.  I outlined my case and the way I had been treated.  Within 4 weeks of that letter I was invited by the head of my local authority to attend the wheelchair centre for an assessment.  Within the next few months I took delivery of a new powered wheelchair.  This powered chair has increased my quality of life and independence beyond belief.

I'm not saying that an MP's intervention will work for everyone but it certainly speeded things up for me.  You have nothing to lose by trying.

Facts

Under the chronically sick and disabled persons act 1970, local authorities have a statutory responsibility to arrange for provision of equipment and adaptations to the home that will help people to maintain their independence and secure their greater safety, comfort and convenience. If you live in a residential home, you may also get help. Any equipment and adaptations will be provided on the basis of a professional assessment of your needs.

Suitably adapted or specialised equipment is a key factor in enabling a person to live as independently as possible. The range of items is large - so don't buy anything without getting expert advice and if possible, using the equipment on a trial basis to see if it really works for you. If your occupational therapist recommends an item of equipment, ask if there is a centre where you can see the equipment. Equipment provided by local authorities or by the NHS is generally considered to be long term loan.

Items for daily living as well as mobility also include items to make it easier to use the toilet, to wash, dress, use cooking facilities, etc: for example, hand rails next to the bath and toilet, raised toilet seats, widened doorways, a bathroom on ground floor etc.

Social Services Departments may be the best people to turn to initially for advice and help. However, all personal and health care professionals may be able to give help and advice - eg a social worker, district nurse, health visitor, or your GP. More detailed information may also be available from your local DIAL, Disability Information Service or Wheelchair Users Group.

Wheelchairs-Free long term use from the NHS

According to the National Health Service Act 1997, anyone who has a permanent mobility problem is entitled to a FREE, long term loan of a wheelchair from the NHS. Under the NHS, wheelchairs (including powered wheelchairs) and hand and pedal propelled tricycles are supplied and maintained free of charge to a disabled person whose need for such a chair is permanent.

Both occupant and attendant controlled electrically propelled wheelchairs are supplied.

Provision is made for:-

MANUAL WHEELCHAIRS:
For full time or occasional use.

POWERED INDOOR CHAIRS:
For people who are unable to propel themselves indoors in a non-powered chair.

POWERED OUTDOOR CHAIRS (Attendant Controlled):
For people who are unable to propel themselves indoors in a non-powered chair and rely on an attendant who is unable to propel them outdoors without a powered chair.

POWERED INDOOR/OUTDOOR WHEELCHAIRS
Are provided for severely disabled people by the NHS as from 1st April 1996.

Eligibility criteria for powered indoor/outdoor wheelchairs

Each Health Authority will assess local needs and determine local eligibility for the supply of powered indoor/outdoor wheelchairs. This should be within the broad national framework that the severely disabled person is:-

- unable to propel a manual wheelchair outdoors.

- able to benefit from the chair through increased mobility leading to improved quality of life.

- able to handle the chair safely.

THE TWO MAIN POINTS TO BEAR IN MIND WHEN APPLYING FOR AN INDOOR/OUTDOOR POWERED CHAIR ARE:

To qualify you must be unable to walk or walk effectively and unable to push a manual wheelchair independently indoors or outdoors.

State clearly how one of these chairs will enable you to become more independent and how it would improve your quality of life.

To obtain a NHS Wheelchair you should contact your GP or the local District or Regional Wheelchair Service.

Voucher Scheme

This scheme was introduced to give wheelchair users more choice and financial aid from the NHS if they choose to buy a wheelchair from the private sector.
The aim of the scheme is to give disabled people more choice of wheelchair within the NHS by offering them three options:

1. To accept the wheelchair prescribed, as at present

2. To contribute to the cost of a more expensive wheelchair of their choice. They will own the wheelchair and responsible for its maintenance and repair. This will be called the independent option.

3. To contribute to the cost of a more expensive wheelchair of their own choice from a range selected by the local wheelchair service. The NHS will own the wheelchair and be responsible for its maintenance and repair. This will be called the partnership option

The key principles of the scheme are:

a. Universal eligibility- anyone assessed as meeting the local eligibility criteria for a wheelchair may apply.
b. Assessment and review of needs by the wheelchair service and prescription of a suitable wheelchair in consultation with the user (and where appropriate, their carer or representative).
c. Supply of the wheelchair through agreed suppliers.
d. Continued access to NHS provision of special seating/pressure-relieving cushions if needed.

"YOUR LOCAL WHEELCHAIR ASSESSMENT CENTRE WILL BE ABLE TO PROVIDE YOU WITH FURTHER DETAILS. WHEELCHAIR SERVICES AND THE EQUIPMENT THEY SUPPLY WILL VARY FROM ONE HEALTH AUTHORITY TO ANOTHER, AS EACH AUTHORITY MANAGES ITS FINANCES AND RESOURCES INDEPENDENTLY"

 
 






Before my accident, I like everyone else was blissfully unaware that people suffering severe disabilities were able to regain lost independence by driving.  In the UK you still occasionally see the 3-wheeled light blue invalid carriages on the road.  These electrically powered hand controlled 'vehicles' were all that was available if you weren't able to drive a 'normal' car.

Nowadays thankfully due to increased awareness and some very clever engineering its possible for most people to get back on the road after almost all levels of spinal cord injury.  The types and permeations of vehicle and adaptation are endless.  Every disability will be different.  If you have a paraplegic disability then all the foot controls of the vehicle can be transferred to hand controls.  When your arms are affected too, like mine then the adaptations become a little more complicated and a lot more expensive!  I've detailed below the route I took to regaining my independence.  Hopefully if you aren't currently driving it will save you a lot of time if you plan to get mobile again.

There are grants available for vehicle acquisition and adaptation.  Please See 'Motability' on my Cool Links page for further information.

My Experience

I was initially assessed by my local mobility centre.  They were very efficient but it was clear that their 'test' vehicles were very limited.  As I'm 6'4" tall, getting into the drivers seats of most standard cars was always a squeeze for me.  After initial disappointment with them I was advised to go to see the Mobility Advice and Vehicle Information Service (MAVIS) 

The Mobility Advice and Vehicle Information Service was set up by the Department of Transport to provide practical advice on driving, vehicle adaptations and suitable vehicle types for disabled and elderly people, both as drivers and passengers.                                                     "Southern Ireland '98"  

Information is available by letter or telephone on all aspects of transport (public and private) and outdoor mobility for people with disabilities.  MAVIS is situated near Bracknell in Berkshire UK.  If this is too far from you they will advise you on a nearer centre.


What MAVIS can offer

Driving and Passenger Assessment:-

  • Full driving ability assessment including advice on car adaptations and the opportunity to test drive a range of vehicles.  Including drive from wheelchair conversions.
  • Consultation and advice on car adaptations and a test drive.
  • Consultation and advice on car adaptations for passengers.
The centre has facilities to measure a person's strength, steering force, reaction times, grip, correct seating position and other important factors. A written report is sent out after the assessment.

(NOTE: IT IS IMPORTANT TO HAVE THE RIGHT TYPE OF ASSESSMENT - IF YOU ARE UNSURE, PLEASE CONTACT THE CENTRE FOR ADVICE).

Test Driving:-

Vehicle familiarisation sessions to inspect and/or test drive adapted vehicles. There is a wide range of standard production cars at the Centre with a variety of adaptations, equipment and accessories. The models are regularly updated. The equipment includes a range of hand controls for manual and automatic transmission cars, power assisted steering, joystick steering, vacuum brakes, left foot accelerators, handbrake/gear selector modifications, special mirrors etc. There is also a range of car access aids, including swivel seats and wheelchair stowage equipment.

Test driving takes place under expert supervision in vehicles fitted with dual controls. It is carried out on the private road system at the Centre which is like a network of ordinary roads complete with pedestrian crossing, roundabout, traffic lights and road signs - everything in fact except other traffic! If it is needed, a test drive can also include a session on public roads.

My assessment and vehicle

I was assessed in one of the centre's adapted van's.  It had ultra light power steering, a small diameter steering wheel and a host of other high tech controls.  I was able to use the existing transit drivers seat but this vehicle could also be driven from a wheelchair.  Straight away because of the seating position in a van I felt more comfortable than I ever had in a standard car.  I was up over the steering wheel rather than it being in front of me.  My left arm has practically no useful function in it and my right arm only works well below shoulder level.  The position in the van and the controls on it made it easy, yes easy for me to turn the steering wheel.  Fortunately for me my right leg and foot has sufficient control and co-ordination to operate automatic foot pedals.  Within 5 minutes of familiarisation I was driving around the private road system at the centre.  The sense of freedom and achievement was beyond belief.  I left there with a comprehensive list of controls I needed to get driving again.  If I was a full time wheelchair user I'd be looking at a drive from the wheelchair option.  

I decided that I would look at the various 'people carriers' that were available at that time.  Renault had just released their now very popular 'Scenic' multi purpose vehicle.  The scenic's seats are a lot higher from the floor pan of the vehicle than those on a standard car.  After much deliberation I went ahead and ordered one through the motability scheme.  I chose and  talked my plans through with my local conversion specialists, then the vehicle was adapted.  To achieve the 'van' driving position that had been successful at the mobility centre the following adaptions were necessary:

Drivers seat moved backwards

Steering column extended 5 inches

Power steering lightened to 5-10lbs pressure (very light)

9-way infra-red control and steering peg fitted to 'small' steering wheel

Manual levers added to gear shift and handbrake levers enabling right handed operation 
                                                                                       Accelerator/brake pedals leveled

One of the most clever controls is my 9-way infra-red remote control.  This enables fingertip operation of indicator's, vehicle lights, horn, hazard lights, windscreen wipers and wash.

It is illuminated for night time use and is fitted to the steering wheel incorporating the control spinner.  My controller is provided by a company called 'Lodgesons' I chose them after looking at all the available control units on the market.

The unit works like this:  Pressing a button on the transmitter sends an infra red signal to a control box that is connected into the car's wiring.

Any person who finds driving difficult with two hands, or who can only drive with one hand will find this product may suit them. All Lodgeson's products can be used with either the right or left hand.  click here to visit the Lodgeson's website or see their link on my 'Cool Links' page.  With time spent driving I have become stronger and found easier ways of doing things.  I now have 40,000 miles, including two touring trips to Southern Ireland under my belt since my accident.  I am took delivery of a new 'Scenic' in November 2000. 

Wheelchair Transport

The vehicle I have has ample space for transporting my powered chair in the rear,  I used to use a set of fold up ramps to get the chair in and out of the car.  These are both awkward and heavy to use.  In fact I wasn't able to use them, relying on having another person to help.  I now have  an electric hoist fitted to my new vehicle.  It really simplifies the task of getting the chair in and out of the vehicle.  It also requires a lot less room to operate too.

  


If I can be of any further help to anyone please don't hesitate to email me.  Another great source of mobility information about driving adaptations is the 'mobility road show'  See their website through my Cool Links page.

 

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