It’s safe to say that purchasing my power-chair changed my life for the better. However, something I’ve been asked many times over the last few years is why I opted for a power-chair, rather than a mobility scooter… and whether I had any advice for those trying to make that choice themselves. Now, I have a confession to make. Although I did lots of research online before I purchased my power-chair, and of course tried out a model before committing to buy, I never properly tried out a mobility scooter. I was confident in my decision back then and I’m even more confident in that decision now, but I never felt as though I had enough personal experience of mobility scooters to advise people or fully explore the comparison. Until now, that is… On a recent little getaway to Northumberland with my best friend, we decided to take my manual transit wheelchair instead of my power-chair – we weren’t sure how accessible the area would be, so this seemed like the smartest choice. Another reason we made that decision though, was because two of the tourist attractions we were visiting had the option to rent a mobility scooter for the day, for free. It was a win-win situation – we could use my transit wheelchair for the holiday, but I’d still have the freedom and autonomy to move myself around on two of our days’ activities. And best of all, I’d finally get to try my hand at driving a mobility scooter. Before I talk any more about my experiences, it’s important we acknowledge that using a rented mobility scooter for just two days, especially a model that arguably wasn’t specifically suited for me and my needs, in no way compares to the lived experiences of those who use their scooters regularly and spent time choosing a model that’s right for them. As you’ll see if you keep reading, my rented mobility scooters and I definitely weren’t a match made in heaven… but I definitely discovered some valuable perks that I really feel could help others make a decision that’s right for them.
You might assume there isn’t much difference between driving a scooter or a power-chair – initially, I thought the same. However, I was surprised to find that operating a mobility scooter was slightly trickier than I expected. Though there was a good range of motion in the delta tiller (driving) bar, I found myself really missing the precise turning circle of my power-chair that could simply be operated by gear stick. Do bear in mind that I’m not the best driver in the world, though. What I ended up doing when I needed to change direction wasn’t so much of a three-point turn as it was a forty-seven-point-turn, a near-miss collision with the walls of a historical castle, and the grand finale of getting completely stuck in a path of gravel in front of a group of tourists. I’m expecting my call from Top Gear any one of these days now.
For me, the single biggest advantage of using a mobility scooter compared to my power-chair was the speed they can travel at. Though my power-chair’s nifty 4mph usually serves me well, there are frequent occasions where I’m on a long, open stretch of path and I wish I could just egg it on to go a little bit faster. With scooters, however, you can really get your speed up. It’s incredibly easy to adjust the speed dials on the control panel and tailor your speed depending on the environment, and even being able to get up to 6mph was the best thing ever. Less so for my companion who needed to bust out all their speed walking moves to keep up, but I was having a cracking old time. It’s worth bearing in mind that some road legal mobility scooters for long-distance travel can get up to 8mph too.
One of my biggest worries ahead of using a scooter for the first time was whether I’d be able to cope with the posture required to drive it. My chronic illness gives me pain and fatigue, and I knew that having my arms slightly raised to hold on to the handles of a scooter and possibly needing to sit/lean slightly forward might be an issue. Though in practice this wasn’t as troublesome as I feared, especially because the scooter had an adjustable front bar that could be pulled nearer to you, I did tire more quickly and use up my expendable energy more rapidly when using the mobility scooter. I found myself really missing my power-chair - where, although the lower back rest can lead to discomfort, all I have to do is sit comfortably and use one hand on the control stick to move.
Finally, one key difference I wanted to touch upon is how the manual moving of a mobility scooter might compare with a power-chair. Though I don’t have personal experience to draw upon here, I suspect that transporting and looking after a scooter may be more accessible for some people than looking after a power-chair. My biggest struggles are getting my power-chair into a car, as I don’t have an adapted car, so this requires taking the chair apart and lifting the heavy individual pieces into the boot one by one, and carrying the battery around to charge it. However, particular models of mobility scooter, like the CareCo AirLite X Scooter, may nicely sidestep this issue. Not only do they come apart into five pieces, the lightweight design means even the heaviest part weighs only 14.5kg – a significant difference from my chair, and possibly more accessible for people who need to take care of the maintenance themselves alongside living independently with pain and fatigue. In conclusion, my experience with mobility scooters made me feel confident in my decision to choose a power-chair. However, I discovered plenty of advantages to mobility scooters that I wasn’t prepared for. Perhaps if I’d tried out a model that was more suited for me, I’d feel differently… and that’s why I want my take-home point from this post to emphasise how important it is to think about your individual needs and try out as many mobility aids as you can. You’ll know when you’ve found The One!