Matthew LawIn the last issue I discussed ways of transporting drinks when you have the balance problems that ataxia brings us. I suggested using a lap tray when you ‘enter the world of wheelchairs’. It’s this ‘entering the world of wheelchairs’ and the types of wheelchair you might get that I wish to speak about in this article. For me, there came a time where I became too tired of struggling with my balance. The answer was to get a wheelchair.

Dread turned to excitement

The very thought of using a wheelchair had filled me with dread for about 10 years, but the first time I actually used one, that dread turned into excitement. I could move around without having that fear of falling over every minute of every day. I felt excited about building a life for myself around this newfound freedom.

For 10 years or so I used only a manual wheelchair. As I was driving 20 miles to and from work during the week and 10 miles to and from my parents’ at weekends I did not have a need for anything else. However, following medical retirement in 2003 and a house move closer to my parents, I wanted to go out without having to drive my car, so I bought my first motorised wheelchair, or ‘power chair’. This brought me much needed freedom but meant I had to switch constantly between chairs as my power chair is not suitable for use within my home.

Manual indoors, power outdoors

Last month I finally decided to do something about this and bought a manual wheelchair with an add-on electric power system. I use it as a manual chair indoors and as a power chair when outside. My power pack is called the SD Motion Drive (pictured).It has a removable controller – a joystick – and can be switched from manual to power by simply dropping two levers placed inside the top of each wheel. It has a removable lithium-ion battery which gives up to 10 miles drive-time on one charge.

The chair itself cost £1,950 and adding the power cost an additional £5,200, so it’s certainly not cheap. However, NHS wheelchair services provided £1,314.50 of the total and there are charities out there that will provide funding for wheelchairs. For other tips to independent living with ataxia contact the Ataxia UK Helpline for a list of grant giving organisations.