I am, unexpectedly, getting a new powerchair. The reasons behind that are long and irritating and frankly I’ll get to them in another entry tomorrow.
One of the really good things about getting a new powerchair is something I think some people outside of my immediate family are having trouble understanding.
I got to choose the colour. I’m excited about that. My Quickie Salsa M (most recent powerchair) was red with silver swing away footplates because that was the only colour it’s available in. It’s a nice red but I wouldn’t have chosen it. My Jazzy 1121 (powerchair before that) was technically second hand so I got the green the original owner had chosen (it had, perhaps, been used 5 times by the original owner). It was a dark green and there wasn’t a huge amount of it so it was OK.
Here’s the thing: if I get to choose a colour for a wheelchair I pretty much always choose the same one. Black.
As a teenager I went to wheelchair services and they said “this is a new wheelchair on the market and it’s only going to be available in black” and I said “well, that’s the colour I’d choose anyway.” We went back several weeks later to have it fitted and the manufacturer had decided it would be available in a range of colours. As wheelchair services hadn’t specified a colour they’d sent blue. A hideous, bright, horrible blue. It didn’t help that the seat and backrest slings on this chair were highly patterned with coloured splashed in pink and purple (and maybe another colour?) on black and it really clashed with the blue of the frame. The OT went out of the room for something and I told mum that I hated it. I remember that at my school they had some old falling apart spare wheelchairs, heavy and uncomfortable and ugly as anything. I told her I wasn’t going to use the new chair, I’d rather use one of those. I left the hospital without my new chair that day and the OT arranged for me to get one in the black I’d been promised. I felt comfortable in that black wheelchair when it came and that allowed me to get the most out of it I could.
One of my friend’s parents told me point blank she didn’t understand why I’d not been happy with that blue wheelchair and why my mum had pushed for it to be changed. As a young teenager I didn’t have the words to explain it beyond “I didn’t like it.”
When I was at uni I went to wheelchair services at Stoke. As it was the first time they’d seen me it was a long assessment and involved more professionals than any wheelchair assessment I remember having before or since. At the end when we were wrapping up they confirmed which of the wheelchairs I’d chosen (there were two which would work for me). They asked if I had any questions “Yes, what colour does it come in?” They weren’t sure and could probably find out “I want it in black.” I told them.
Not long after I got that wheelchair I was asked to speak to an engineering student – a friend of a friend – who was doing a project about disability equipment. I forget what it was he designing. He proudly told me one of the features of his product would be a choice of colours. I wouldn’t have to have black, I could have any colour I wanted – just like a bike or a pair of glasses. I told him I already could have a choice of colour and I’d chosen black. He didn’t get it. I tried to explain that a wheelchair isn’t like a bike or a pair of glasses and black was my choice. To him, it was like a bike and you want it to stand out in your favourite colour. At the time I had 24 hour care and one of my carers was there and seeing me failing to get through told him she also cared for two other students “One with a blue wheelchair and one with a purple one.” I’m not sure he got what he wanted from our conversation.
I want a black wheelchair because I like black. And because I like bright colours and I like to wear them and have them stand out. I don’t want to be worrying about whether my clothes will clash with my chair. I don’t want to be wheeling round in a chair that’s a colour I hate.
And I want people to see me more than they see the chair I’m sat in. Don’t ignore my chair, you can admire it and ask questions and acknowledge it. This new one is pretty awesome and I think I’m going to be very happy with it. But I’m more than my wheels and having a black one helps with that. It’s a part of my body and it needs to work for me.
When the wheelchair tech was here with new chairs for me to trial he suggested we tell him what the maximum I wanted to spend was. Less than 36 hours before that I hadn’t even known my existing chair was unrepairable and I was like “uh…” Mum told him we wanted me to have the right chair for me and she didn’t want to get into a budget.
I’m confident the chair I’ve ordered (Quickie Jive M Hybrid) is that best chair for me. And a part of what will make it work for me IS the fact it’s coming in black.