(Note – this is not a sponsored post, all views and opinions in this post are those of myself and my husband and based on personal experience).
Once my husband had accepted that having a wheelchair was an enabler, not a sign of weakness for his MS, so many places opened up to us. Before he got a wheelchair, we had to sit down every couple of hundred metres for his legs to recover for a while, then start again. We spent a lot of time in coffee shops as he got strength back in his legs. It made going anywhere difficult, and alot of the time he’d sit and wait somewhere for me as I would go off and be a tourist. This meant he’d miss out on the things I was seeing. So he took a deep breath and asked his MS Nurse to support an application for a free NHS chair.
This was a big heavy beast of chair, 14kgs although good for hanging bags off the back! (there was one hilarious incident in Pisa where we had so many bags on the back he fell over backwards when I let go of it!)
Our first trip with the chair was in 2013, on a driving holiday to France with a group of friends. We didn’t need to use it alot most days, as we were mostly in a farmhouse drinking wine and eating cheese, but it came in really handy on trips out to Cognac and Bordeaux. After that we used to it on trips to New England, Amsterdam, Rome and Tuscany.
It proved tricky to get around in some of the cobbled streets in Rome and Tuscany, the front castors got stuck easily in the gaps between the cobbles, but with help from locals and a bit of brute force we managed. There’s a glass lift at the Coliseum ( those clever Romans!) but the cobbles at the Forum in Rome stopped us from getting the whole way around.
The problem with a big chair is that it’s not easy to self-propel, the wheels are too far back to get efficient movement, so the husband started to investigate wheelchair options. After a lot of research he settled on a chair called the TIGA FX by RGK Wheelchairs. If you recognise that name, think back to the Paralympics where many of the British athletes used a RGK chair.
The TIGA FX is a small, light, folding wheelchair that fits neatly in the boot of the car, but more importantly, fits in the overhead bin of an aircraft. YES – REALLY! We love seeing the faces of the cabin crew when they see us fit it in the overhead. (We’ve only come across one aircraft type so far where it doesn’t fit and that was an old short-haul 767 where the bins are big enough, but the openings are not. In this case the crew put the chair in the closest for us.)
The chair is only 6.5kgs and is much smaller than the old chair. I can fit it in the boot of a 5 door Mini and it’s much easier to use around the home, getting in and out of rooms and along the narrow hallway is much easier with a smaller chair.
The beauty of RGK is that their consultants are in chairs themselves and know how to measure up for customers, and they understand how a customer might want to use the chair.
It’s not cheap, as you might imagine, but I can’t tell you how much my husband loves his chair. He gets admiring looks from strangers on the train or at the airport, or at a concert when they see the carbon fibre, and cabin crew on all flights we’ve taken with it have been really impressed.
Prices for the chairs vary according to the customisations you have. My husband picked a certain paint for the frame, colours for the front castors, different cushion, a pouch for keys and wallet, and removable handles for me to help him in the tricky parts. He’s also bought the FrontWheel, which is a larger wheel at the front which when clipped onto the front, effectively makes the chair a tricycle and helps him get over uneven ground such as grass, gravel, cobbles and snow & ice. All of those customisations, additions and spare set of wheels have pushed the overall price to a few thousand pounds but you just can’t put a price on the freedom this has given us both. It’s a custom designed chair, well built in the UK by real craftsmen who know what wheelchair users need.
We’ve been up a glacier in Canada, seen the Northern Lights in Iceland in winter, took a boat to the Isles of Scilly, been around mediaeval Italian towns, travelled on countless trains and planes and to a music festival, concerts and football matches. It really has allowed us to travel as far as we can.
As you know from my other posts, we’re trying to find cool design for disability in the home – and this wheelchair fits the bill…