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One wrong move - when life isn't set up for wheelchairs
Gareth is 36 years old, lives in the north east of England and has been tetraplegically paralysed for the last 14 years, following a road traffic accident. He splits his time between working from home as well as at a local college, whilst also playing wheelchair rugby and table tennis. He runs the blog Diary of a Gimpy Kid and writes in conjunction with the disability aids site Active Hands. Today he is talking to us about accessing healthcare in a wheelchair.
I had my biennial optician’s appointment yesterday. On the drive in, I found myself thinking about the chair I was going to have to transfer myself into and tried to recall the technique I’d used to accomplish this previously. As it turns out, and for the very first time, the optician didn’t ask me to transfer, instead simply telling me to reverse back to where the chair was and take my sight test from there. This was indeed a welcome change, although I did feel like a bit of a cheat during the test, as I was now sat a whole metre closer to the letters I had to read out!
Whether it be transferring into an optician’s chair for a sight test, a dentist’s chair for an oral check-up, or a hospital plinth for various organ scans/tests, I always have to mentally prepare myself and psyche myself up beforehand. After all, one wrong move from either myself or my chair, and I’ll need scooping off the floor like an upside down lasagne!
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, when accessing the vast majority of medical clinics in a wheelchair, if the appointment involves anything more intrusive than a basic consultation, then I am expected to transfer into the clinic chair which is never in my experience set up to accommodate wheelchair transfers. At my local dentist, the armrest of the chair swivels outwards 90 degrees, however the base of the chair slopes out onto the floor, meaning that in order to pull up alongside it I have to push one castor up and onto the base so that when I transfer my front castors are on different levels, making the chair tip from side to side as I edge myself over, painfully aware that each lift could be my last!
Moving on from medical health to physical health, and accessing equipment and machines at the gym often poses a similar array of problems (don’t even get me started on trying to access a swimming pool)! I was a member of a local gym for years where all I could use was the handbike (once the seat had been removed by a staff member), a couple of pulley machines (providing they were set up for me first) and the free weights. And due to my injury affecting my hand function; even this wouldn’t have been possible without using my Active Hands gripping aids in conjunction with the various gym items and apparatus.
Sadly there is no way that my lack of sensation or core balance would allow me to perch on the tiny, fixed seats attached to the majority of gym machines, and that’s not even taking into account whether I could even transfer on and off them in the first place! Yes, there are gyms that provide accessible machines, where the seats swing away, allowing a wheelchair user to work out from his/her chair; there is even one near me. However, I simply cannot afford the huge monthly fee that this high-end gym charges, and it unfortunately would seem that, if you are a wheelchair user wishing to access gym machinery, then you have to pay a premium for the privilege. Instead, I decided to bypass the gym completely and towards the end of last year managed to pick up an ex-gym handbike on eBay. That, coupled with the free weights I own, enables me to achieve just as good a workout as I was getting at my old gym, but without the monthly fee or journeys in the rain!
Overall I would say that although I am grateful to live in a time where public buildings now have to be made accessible wherever possible, I can still encounter issues once inside them. I am largely able to find ways around these issues, using a combination of inventive wheelchair positioning and transfers; however one or two face to floor falls could convince me to reassess things in the future!
But what about you guys? Have you ever experienced difficulties accessing various medical and physical health apparatus? Or do you maybe have any solutions to the problems faced here? Let us know in the comments!