TGA Mobility

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Hannah Barham-Brown in the WHILL Model C at Naidex 2019

Friday, 3rd May 2019

New mobility aids can be a bit scary. Even beyond having to get used to a new piece of kit, there’s the emotional repercussions of change.

I’m Hannah. I’m a GP Trainee, a Disability Advocate, a speaker, and heavily involved in politics. I also have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which means my joints dislocate easily (amongst other exciting quirks). I’ve been using a manual wheelchair for a couple of years now, and it has been wonderful for me. I was able to exercise again, and be independent in a way I’d struggled to with my walking sticks. Ruby the chair even has light up front wheels…

Unfortunately, after possibly pushing it a bit too hard (pun fully intended), my shoulders started to struggle, and mobilising round got harder and harder, leading to a lot of pain and frustration. I had to accept that I would need to move into a powerchair.

That felt big, and scary. Change is scary, sometimes.

Then Merida the WHILL Model C came into my life, thanks to the lovely folks at TGA Mobility. I first had a go on a WHILL at Naidex. Now, I’ll be honest, I am a bloody terrible driver. I currently drive a massive Astra Estate (yep, every wheelchair user’s best friend, the huge car), and I cannot park that thing. I’ve seen more graceful steering from a tank. So my first time in a new powerchair, going round an Assault-course-esque route while being interviewed by the lovely Dom, on camera? This could only go well, right?!

Well, actually, in the WHILL, it did.

Turns out this thing is sensitive, and pretty damned invincible. Kerbs, ramps, stony pavements hold no fear for Merida (and yes, I named her after the character from ‘Brave’. She’s red and kickass. And she’s great on hills. It works).

A week later, Merida arrived, and those fears of change were there, but along with that, a side of excitement. The independence Ruby the manual had once given me, Merida could provide now.

Two days later, I arrived in Exeter to give a TEDxExeter talk. Outside Exeter station is a very steep hill. There I was with a rucksack on the back of my chair that weighed about as much as me, an overnight bag on the footplate, and when I saw a hill that steep, I immediately went to turn away and get a cab, as for the last 3 years, that hill would been impossible, with or without my manual chair.

But then I remembered Merida. My invincible Merida. Being a social media addict, I immediately got my phone camera filming, and went for it. (video here.)

It was easy. Almost scarily so. I got to the top of the hill, aghast, and burst into tears. It’s hard to express how much that simple act of independence meant to me after so long (and my apologies to the lovely stranger who saw a girl in a wheelchair crying hysterically in the street and understandably panicked. They were happy tears, I promise!).

Are there little tweaks I would make? Sure, but surprisingly few, which given how individual every person’s requirements are, is quite a feat for any wheelchair. I’d love it to go a bit faster (though I’m sure the pedestrians of London would disagree), and I wish it had a USB port for my phone – but that’s seriously niche (and perhaps betrays my Twitter addiction). I would ask for a louder horn, but volume has never been a problem for me…

I love that the arms swing out of the way, and that the footplate folds back so I can stretch out and stand without tripping over my wheel. The numerical battery countdown keeps me reassured that I’m not going to get stuck anywhere (and I really am putting this thing through its paces, so it’s amazing I haven’t run it down to 0 yet!).

In short, I genuinely love this chair, and the opportunities it is opening up for me. Together, in the last month, we’ve given a TEDx talk, three other speeches, we’ve canvassed around Leeds for my local election campaign, rolled around London, Exeter and Hull, and collapsed into multiple taxis and onto many trains. In the coming month, it’s going to take me to charity events, European Election campaigns, and who knows what else! My friends like to joke that I’m aiming for world domination; with Merida the WHILL Model C, I feel like that could actually be possible…


You can follow Hannah on Twitter, here

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