If your mobility problems are severely restricting your ability to get out and about, it may be time to start thinking about getting some wheels.
People use wheelchairs and mobility scooters for different reasons and not necessarily because they are unable to walk at all.
It could be that you are only able to stand for short periods, or you might experience giddiness when you are standing. Perhaps you have more general mobility problems, e.g. you suffer with arthritis that makes it painful to walk.
Even if you are able to walk around at home, you may feel more confident using a wheelchair or mobility scooter when you venture outdoors.
The Wales NHS-run Wheelchair Service (Cardiff and Wrexham) lends manual wheelchairs to people with a permanent or long-term disability. Assessments are also carried out for specialised and powered wheelchairs. There is no charge for the loan of the wheelchair but you need to be referred to the service by a health professional, e.g. an occupational therapist or doctor.
If you would prefer to buy or hire your own wheelchair or mobility scooter, it’s important to get professional advice about what kind would suit you best.
The Red Cross Practical Aids to Living (PALS) centres offer advice and allow you to try out a selection of wheelchairs and mobility aids.
Usually the cheapest option, these are often used by people who can stand but are unable to walk for any distance, and also for temporary use, e.g. if you break your leg.
Manual wheelchairs may be self-propelling (including one-arm drive) or designed to be pushed by someone else. It’s essential to consider your weight, size and any other specific needs when deciding which model to buy or hire.
Manual wheelchairs are designed to be folded and transferred by vehicle so make sure the model you choose is not too heavy for the driver/user to pick up.
Disabled Gear provides plenty of ideas on what is available and what to think about when buying a manual wheelchair.
Electric and battery-propelled wheelchairs are usually easier to manoeuvre than manual ones. There is also the advantage that you don’t need someone to push you, even if you are unable to propel yourself.
Bariatric wheelchairs are built to carry heavier people up to 50 stone.
Wheelfreedom hires out power assisted mobility packs which can be fitted to manual wheelchairs and used by an attendant to propel someone of up to 14 stone (21 stone with a heavy duty power pack).
A mobility scooter may be more practicable if you want to go out regularly; however, you need to be able to get on and off the scooter on your own and feel confident steering yourself around.
There are many models available, ranging from smaller Class 2 models that can only be used on the pavement (unless there isn’t one) and have a maximum speed of four miles per hour, to much larger Class 3 scooters which can travel up to eight miles per hour on the road.
You do not need to register Class 2 scooters for road tax. Class 3 scooters must be registered with the DVLA but there is no licence charge. Insurance is also recommended (though not obligatory).
If you are using a powered mobility scooter for the first time, or if it is a while since you have driven on the road, it’s a good idea to ask someone to come out with you for the first time (or if possible, get some training. Contact your local road safety officer to see what is available in your area).
VAT relief on equipment
If you have a long-term condition or disability, you might be eligible for VAT relief when you purchase a wheelchair or mobility scooter.
Don’t forget, the Motability Scheme can be used to lease a powered wheelchair or scooter (as well as a car). You must receive certain benefits to be eligible and you may still be eligible if you are over 65 if you were claiming certain disability allowances before you reached this age and have at least 12 months remaining on your allowance.
Even if you are not eligible, the Motability website includes comprehensive information which will help you make an informed choice when buying your wheelchair or scooter.
You can also do a postcode search for powered wheelchair and mobility scooter dealers near you.