Joyce waved me goodbye at the back gate, wearing her colourful apron and a massive grin. She watched me until I’d turned the corner and I waved back just before I vanished out of her sight.
It was a crisp autumn night and the sun had set an hour before as I made my way carefully through the leaves, and through the pedestrians making their way home. I doubt anyone would’ve thought twice about the wheelchair user gliding past them on an electric trike.
I was running a very average errand, dropping something off to Leftwing Idiot who lives a couple of minutes from the castle. But for me this was a momentous trip! It’s the first time in over a decade that I’ve travelled along a street alone.
We’d planned it all very carefully. I called Leftwing Idiot just before I left, and he was waiting for me on the street by his flat. Joyce saw me off and knew to expect me back in just a few minutes.
As I wheeled down a street so familiar that I know every bump and pothole, I felt something much less familiar inside. It was a feeling I last remember having when I was six and was allowed to go the corner shop alone for the first time by my mum. She’d waved me off just like Joyce. The triumphant rush of excitement, responsibility and freedom was just the same as it had been all those years before.
This journey was only possible because of my Una Wheel, the new power attachment for my wheelchair, and because of thoughtful and sensitive support.
Since getting the wheel I’ve been gently exploring what it can do. There are still some real risks and making journeys on my own will only be safe in very specific circumstances. I’ll still need close supervision in most situations, but the fact that going alone is possible for even a few minutes feels incredible.
Tonight, it meant I could be a good neighbour and take something to Leftwing Idiot rather than him coming to me.
Ultimately, I think that’s why this feels so important – it’s not just about being able to move on my own, or how easy moving feels. It’s not just the literal power, the electricity held in the battery, that the Wheel gives me – it’s also that it’s opened new ways of being a friend, neighbour, sister, aunty – and I don’t really have the words to do justice to just how significant this is.
It’s taken over ten years to find the right piece of equipment to make a journey like this possible, and it shows once again the huge impact the right equipment can make.
I’m lucky to have the capacity to keep looking for tools that will help me, a community I can seek advice from, and the resources to buy equipment when I need it. But many disabled people don’t have access to these resources, and it isn’t right that access to life-changing inventions is a lottery. We need an NHS wheelchair service that can keep pace with technology, we need social care that’s flexible and creative, and we need to build a world in which mobility aids are recognised as tools and are talked about with joy and positivity.
As a society we need to work towards long-term solutions and equality, but if you want to support other disabled people to access what they need now, please consider donating to The Biscuit Fund, Whizz Kids, Family Fund or one of the many personal campaigns on sites like Go Fund Me.