What were you doing when you were seven years old? Most seven-year-olds are playful and energetic, and enjoy running freely. But cerebral palsy changes a normal perspective into something extraordinary. When I was seven, a brand new world opened up to allow me to have a little bit of the typical seven-year-old’s carefree life. I had gotten my very first motorized wheelchair!
Some people with cerebral palsy are capable of using a manual wheelchair, but others need the help of a motorized wheelchair to go where they want. From that day forward, my life changed for the better. Independence came as I flipped a small, cold metal switch to turn my wheelchair on. A little orange light glowed, telling me that the battery was ready to go. It was a very special day that I hopefully will never forget.
My parents debated whether I even needed, or could operate, the motorized wheelchair. It takes me longer to control my limbs to get them to do what I need, or want, them to do. Technically, I could use a manual wheelchair, but only with one arm. Unfortunately, no one can get very far only pushing single-handedly. I could either go a little bit forward, or go in circles. As you can guess, this is extremely frustrating and tiring, especially for a young child. Luckily for me, my mom won that debate, and my motorized wheelchair was ordered.
In the early ’80s, motorized wheelchairs looked completely different than they do today. Mine was metal, with a brown seat, back and armrests. I was very impressed that my seat cushion had the same material as the seats astronauts used in the space shuttle. My dad transferred me from my red manual chair to the motorized one, and I could hardly wait.
The physical therapist talked me through everything before I could try it out. I just wanted figure it out on my own, but I patiently listened until they told me I could finally drive myself. If you don’t have cerebral palsy, it’s hard to imagine how challenging it can be to direct your hand to the “on” switch and then to the joystick. It may sound easy, but this takes concentration and effort. The more relaxed you are, the better.
I felt destined to be independent, and to disprove anyone who thought I couldn’t drive myself. My first chair came in two speeds and was basic. My parents could fold the wheelchair to store it in our car’s trunk. If I needed new batteries, my dad could buy them at the local battery store. If I needed new tires, we could go to Kmart and buy ones that went on a kid’s bike. I especially liked being able to get pink tires.
I caught on fast. I remember my mom taking me to a mall, and I quickly asked her when I could meet her. But no matter how much I begged, she didn’t let her seven-year-old daughter go off alone in the mall. Even so, I enjoyed being able to look at what I wanted, stopping and going at will.
Motorized wheelchairs have changed a whole lot throughout the years. Unfortunately, you can’t just get batteries anywhere, and finding wheels is more complicated and expensive these days. However, I’m forever thankful to the person who invented the motorized wheelchair. It certainly has changed thousands of lives for the good.
Note: Cerebral Palsy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cerebral Palsy News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cerebral palsy.