Disability blogger gets WHILL powerchair through 96-hour Twitch fundraiser
Jess Smith, 31, from Weston-Super-Mare with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), has been able to purchase a ‘game changing’ WHILL powered wheelchair by organising a 4-day, non-stop fundraising video streaming event on Twitch.
Having walking difficulties due to EDS, ME (chronic fatigue) and Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (PoTS), Jess needed a way to get around more easily. She had an existing powered wheelchair however it was cumbersome, unsteady and did not fit her needs or in a car boot. Jess researched online and discovered on Instagram how the WHILL C2 from TGA was changing peoples’ lives both indoors and out.
Jess contacted TGA and Anna came out to assess whether a WHILL was exactly what she needed. The WHILL proved ideal as Jess explains: ”You know when you try something for the first time, and you instantly realise this will improve your life forever? Well, that was the WHILL. I immediately felt more confident… actually, to a level I’d never felt before. I was not sitting in a bulky looking medical advice; it was sleek and modern. However, it was something I couldn’t afford so needed a way to raise some money.”
As an avid disability blogger and social media streamer, Jess is part of a ‘stream team’ of likeminded creators called ‘Occasionally Bears’. After hearing about the WHILL and how Jess needed this chair, the team suggested a ‘mutual aid fundraiser’ on the video broadcasting platform Twitch. Jess and 16 of her teammates ‘raided’ one another’s streams continuously for a 96-hour event – ending with Jess’ own stream. Their worldwide followers got involved by spreading awareness, tuning in and donating to raise funds for Jess’ new powerchair. Many of these users understood disability so were delighted to get involved by tag-teaming in shifts, to continually stream sharable video games, virtual art, music and topical conversation.
Jess’ fundraising target was reached on day four which was overwhelming as she says: “Everyone involved was incredible, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. The generosity, including from complete strangers, was unbelievable and the shared experience will never be forgotten. I was so emotional about the joint achievement of getting the WHILL, I kept crying at the end, it will boost my confidence and is clearly a life changing product.”
In the short space of time since getting her WHILL, Jess has already used her new powerchair to visit London, fly to Edinburgh and spend more time walking her dog Umbro. As a life-long ABBA superfan, the highlight of being in the capital was going to the ABBA Voyage Arena as Jess continues: “The concert was awesome, and the ‘ABBAtar’ holograms were so realistic. My WHILL got me independently into the venue and it was handy that there was a lowered bar so I could roll up for a drink. Moving around busy London had a few challenges but on the whole, it wasn’t too bad. My feet and ankles were protected from getting bashed plus I didn’t tip up going up small kerbs like I used to in my old powerchair. Even on the Tube’s accessible stations I only needed a ramp and staff assistance once as the WHILL’s wheels were big enough to bridge the gap between platform and train.”
Jess’ trip to Edinburgh was equally as successful: “As I’m going to be a bridesmaid shortly, I needed to go to Scotland to sort out dresses with my friend. Flying from Bristol was all ok as they loaded me and my WHILL onto the plane using an Ambulift. When in Edinburgh I was able to get round with stability on the old cobbled streets and turn on the spot, which would have been impossible before. Plus, simple things like having no castors on my WHILL makes moving about so much easier and I know my long dress at the wedding will not get caught and ruined. It’s simple features like these and others such as fold away armrests for sitting comfortably at tables that make all the difference.”
Jess wraps up by adding: “I really feel like I’ve actually got my freedom back. The WHILL C2 – what a confidence booster and genuine game changer.”