As a person with cerebral palsy, an electric wheelchair is one of life’s essentials. But…
I had been to a seminar in central London which ended at 10pm, no mean feat of organisation when you have cerebral palsy. I left the building and started to cross a wide road, with an island in the middle, when my electric wheelchair stopped and left me stranded on the island.
With late night traffic coming past me on both sides I felt vulnerable and frightened. After a short while I began to consider my options – who could I call on my mobile at that time of night for help? I live on my own and I knew that my home assistant (who helps me with food preparation and general admin) would not be available. Social services have no emergency support for such circumstances so it would have to be the police.
I looked around: was a potential mugger lurking or was someone close enough for me to ask them for help?
A young woman approached – should I ask her for help? She looked honest so I explained that I was unable to move. Had she not been a Good Samaritan I could have been in even more trouble but together we flagged down a police car. That should have meant help was at hand, but it took them one and half hours to get me home, and that was without my wheelchair which had to be brought back separately by another police car.
My experience shows the challenges faced by wheelchair users: for one thing there are no breakdown services for wheelchairs comparable to those enjoyed by car owners.
But it also shows how social services departments are using direct payments to offload responsibilities. As someone who receives direct payments, the attitude of social services is that I have money to purchase services so “it’s my problem not theirs”.
I was unable to get the wheelchair repaired for the next five days, so I was stranded and isolated and in effect housebound. My cleaner and home assistant came round as usual but they had to do my shopping as well as normal duties and this meant my cleaner had to work more hours than usual. It was fortunate she was able to do this.
Why can’t there be an AA or RAC for wheelchairs offering a breakdown and recovery service when the manufacturer is unable to respond? In addition, social services should be able to loan electric wheelchairs to users in an emergency until their own is repaired, if we really are committed to independent living.
Anna C Young is a disability activist