It is only fitting that I write my first blog highlighting my experience in the WHILL during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. In 1979, on December 27th I received the best Christmas present a girl with cerebral palsy could ask for - independence. This was the day I received my very first power wheelchair. I remember distinctly coming home from Stanford Rehabilitation Clinic in my new chair, jumping up and down while sitting in the chair, so excited to be able to maneuver myself independently in the community without the assistance of my parents.
As I matured and developed, I continued to value the independence that a power wheelchair provided me. I was able to navigate my university campus independently, go to the mall, and take walks in my community. However, there was a significant catch. The surfaces had to be level with nice flat wheelchair ramps to navigate. I couldn’t imagine navigating steep terrain, rocks, gravel, let alone ice. On top of that, I always wanted to be fashionable and somehow wheelchairs were never seen as a cool accessory in the fashion industry. While I had a disability, it was important for me to look good. I would constantly challenge myself to figure out how to make my wheelchair a positive accessory. I wanted people to notice me first and my chair second as a cool accessory. But we all know with the medical industry it’s more about functionality and keeping someone safe than it is about esthetic appearances. Over time, I just came to accept the fact that the wheelchair would be part of who I am and that it wouldn’t be a chic accessory. While I did have chairs that allowed me to navigate some terrain (grass and packed gravel), going on ice was sketchy and maneuvering in tight places was always a challenge. I had to make sure my back wheels never took out someone’s feet or a china display.
I’m happy to say that a few months ago things changed in my life when I became familiar with WHILL, specifically their new Model M. This chair is state of the art and like no other chair on the market. Why do I say that? The chair glides as if I am flying or floating. The turning radius is so small that I can now navigate the tight spaces like quaint antique shops which I was never able to enter. When I use the Model M, I feel elegant inside and out. I don’t feel like I’m wearing a clumpy work boot for construction; rather, I feel as if I am wearing Christian Louboutine.
There are so many features to this chair that are unlike any other chair on the market. First, let me highlight the overall design. Everything flows together in simple lines. It doesn’t have your typical joystick, but instead the joystick is an integral part of the actual side armrest. The front wheels are omni-directional. By not using traditional casters, the WHILL glide sideways making you feel as if you’re floating while you move. Another awesome feature that I use every day is the ability to move your seat forward. When you approach a table, you are able to position yourself and then move your seat forward allowing you to sit under the table rather than a few feet away as what occurs in my old power wheelchair. As you can see, my other power wheelchair made it very difficult to sit at restaurant tables often having to be sideways in order to avoid bruising my knees.
WHILL Model M prides itself on being a chair of unlimited possibilities. The chair of freedom. I put that to the test a few weeks ago when I wanted to take my daughter ice-skating, her favorite activity. I have been on the ice with her before. Typically my chair needs assistance getting on the ice, and I usually have to wait until the ice has been skated on so that I don’t slip and slide. This time I wanted to see if I could go onto the ice right after the Zamboni had made it slick and smooth. The Model M glided right onto the ice without any assistance. For the first time, I felt as if I could actually ice skate. Not only could I keep up with my daughter, but together we enjoyed spinning, doing pirouettes, and having the time of our lives.
This is only the beginning. I’m eager to see how the Model M does hiking over sand, gravel, and tanbark. It is a chair that allows you to have adventures by day and elegance by night. It’s the chair you want to take out on the dance floor wearing a Vera Wang wedding dress. When you think about indepen-dence or are looking for something to make you feel elegant and proud, look no further than WHILL Model M.