Quickie wheelchairs, which are much lighter than the medical model behomeths commonly available in nursing homes, hospitals and for those unable to afford ultralight wheelchairs, were invented for a wheelchair user years ago. Marilyn Hamilton found that the heavier wheelchairs prevented her from being as independent as she could be, and two friends set out to design a product that would enhance wheelchair users' lives. Marilyn cofounded Quickie wheelchairs to provide them to others.
As I struggle using a medical model heavy manual wheelchair (mind you, this is my secondary chair since I use a power chair most of the time), I can't help but wonder about the correlation between learned helplessness and the design of this - thing they call a wheelchair. It weighs three times as much as the wheelchair I had that broke. Its front wheels seem to curl up like a possum when I try to go over a threshold, like into my own bathroom. The arms on it prevent me from moving laterally at all- there's no way to reach over them with my disability and no way to remove them. The footrests stick out at an angle which means I have to move extremely slowly through hallways, but of course that's not a problem since pushing it is like pushing a spare table around.
Lest you think I'm writing this just to vent, let me point out what this has shown me. I'm less likely to move at all. I've asked my assistant to move things closer and have had to eliminate many of the independent tasks I used to do. I'm leaving things undone that I could have done before. Worse yet, I am worn out by the end of the day even though I'm doing an iota of what I used to do.
So what if a person only has access to these heavy duty wheelchairs? He or she (and those around them) winds up thinking that the limits on that equipment are part of the disability when actually its the wheelchair that's part of the problem. Of course someone would feel limited and learn to ask for more help using a piece of equipment that's heavier and unable to allow independent movement.
Yes,, those of us who have had access to quickie wheelchairs and ultralightweight ones are surely very lucky people. Instead of learning helplessness, we learned what we could do with that equipment.
Thank you , Marilyn.