Just under a week ago, I picked up a brand new electric wheelchair. To the untrained eye, its somewhat unremarkable outward appearance and black paint job might make it indistinguishable from my previous one, but look deeper and you’ll find several improvements. The most notable of these is the addition of an extra set of wheels, so that it now has six instead of four. These have the effect of improving the chair’s agility – it is now much neater in its movements, requiring less input from me on the joystick when I need to get into a tight space. Furthermore, the two larger wheels that were previously at the rear have now been centralised, enabling me to turn on a sixpence more quickly. The chair does both of these things very smoothly, and is completely unfazed by bumps and kinks in the ground below – where its predecessor would shake and rattle dramatically in response to the slightest jolt, the new model is silent, the extra wheels allowing it to glide cleanly and gracefully around like a metal ballerina dancing on a bed of air. By this stage, you can probably tell that I’m very impressed with what I’ve been given!
The chair’s merits don’t just lie in the newer features, though. Since it is essentially a giant Meccano kit, which took an hour and a half to dismantle and reassemble before I received it, old parts can easily be screwed in amongst their replacements. When I first sat in the chair, its armrests were too far back and too short, making them inconvenient for me when driving. As it turned out, this wasn’t a problem for long, as the engineer was simply able to attach my old ones instead, easily rectifying the situation. Part of my old seat was also carried over to the new chair to give me a similar sitting position, adding to the Frankenstein’s Monster-style feel of the machine. As a result of these modifications, I have a chair that is practically tailor-made for me – even before it was ordered, we requested that it be exactly the same width as my old one, so that I could still drive it into the back of our car. The control panel and buttons are all the same too, so there are no new processes for me to learn. It’s as the old saying goes – if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Lying amongst all of the old and new abilities this chair has is a single, fundamentally important one that was the main motivation for having a new one. The University of Winchester’s main campus is rather steep, to such an extent that taking my old chair there would most likely have been downright dangerous. I have tipped up in it before on a much smaller incline, so steeper ones would have posed a much more serious problem. Thankfully, due to the two extra wheels at the back, it is impossible for me to perform a wheelie now, so I am equipped with just what I need to tackle a brilliant three years’ study without any accidents. This new chair will be my little trooper!