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22nd January, 2022

Disabled Sheffield student makes ‘impossible possible’ thanks to ‘cool’ powered WHILL wheelchair

Despite disability, Harriet Willis, 27 from Chesterfield in Derbyshire, has been able to continue her busy family and student life through a ‘life changing’ electric wheelchair from TGA.

Busy mum Harriet, known as ‘Hazzy’, is studying Applied Human Rights at Sheffield Hallam University. When she finishes her Masters, Hazzy wants to go into Research and Disability Rights Advocacy to help more people with disabilities enjoy a fairer life. Hazzy has Hypermobility spectrum disorder and ME which means she find moving around difficult so needs a wheelchair to stay active. However, over the years pushing herself in a manual wheelchair has become harder and harder, with Hazzy becoming ‘absolute shattered’ when going out for the day. Her condition means she gets extremely tired and is always at the risk of her joints dislocating. This situation was making life tough, especially when looking after her four-year-old daughter, so Hazzy asked her Occupational Therapist for advice – she was recommended a TGA WHILL powerchair. Hazzy went to the Naidex exhibition for a test drive – her life was about to change forever.

Hazzy is passionate about rights for people with disabilities. Therefore, she follows the influencer Dr Hannah Barham Brown on social media. Dr Hannah is a trainee doctor, equality campaigner and deputy chair of the Women’s Equality Party. Hannah has a similar condition to Hazzy, EhlersDanlos syndrome, and also owns an enabling WHILL powerchair. Hazzy read about this and the blogs by accessible travel writer, Georgina Layton, who also has a WHILL. This compelled her to find out more.

“I’d tried power add-ons for my manual wheelchair in the past however I had such bad experiences with product unreliability and poor service that I didn’t want to try again. So, I started looking at electric wheelchairs however they all looked ugly in my opinion. I tried a few at Naidex but found them hard to control with their fiddley joysticks as I have limited movement in my hands and fingers. I needed a powerchair that didn’t have a joystick. My OT had mentioned the WHILL, so I went onto the TGA stand for a test drive, they were so helpful. The WHILL C2 is steered by a pad which fits in the palm of your hand, so you don’t need to grip. The whole product looked cool. I know it sounds corny but finding the WHILL has made the impossible possible.”

When asked ‘how does it feel to have a WHILL?’ Hazzy says: “It’s amazing…I have independence that I never thought would ever happen. I go out and I am not completely shattered like before, it is brilliant. Before my WHILL I could only push myself in my manual wheelchair for around 20 minutes and then would have to stop and rest. Or my husband would then have to push me. We were all struggling to get out to parks and we avoided bigger trips. Now the three of us don’t have any worries like when we went to the Thomas Land Theme Park. We were there all day and I could participate in everything I wanted to. I know it sounds a small thing, but I could actually go and get my own drinks without needing help. This was huge for me and added to all the memories of a wonderful day out.”

Back at home Hazzy’s WHILL has also made day-to-day life easier, especially as they are having building work done at present. With their home ‘upside down’ Hazzy has been able to park her WHILL out of the way using the remote-control App on her phone. She transfers out onto a chair or her bed and then steers it to a suitable storage place. Hazzy even gives her daughter a ride for fun.

Overall, the WHILL helps Hazzy conserve her energy for when she needs it most and helps protect against joint damage. She can go out in their Motability car as her husband takes the WHILL apart and puts in the boot. They are also looking to get a car boot hoist fitted next year so they will not need to dismantle the powerchair.

Hazzy sums up by encouraging everyone with a disability, if they can, to not delay and get the right wheelchair to help as soon as possible:

“If you have a disability and are looking for ways to get mobile then I say, go and do it now, don’t delay. Why put your life on hold? Getting a WHILL is the best thing I’ve ever done and as I’ve always loved cars, I love its automotive look. Actually, it feels more like driving a car than a wheelchair. If you feel you need it, then go and get it. Go and get your life back.”

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