After 25 years of living with a slowly progressive neurological condition, I came to the realisation that I needed a reliable and more powerful means of getting around. In the home, I was okay, but I had to rely on others to do anything outside the house. Just moving around in my wheelchair was becoming much more of a struggle. Often, observers would helpfully ask “Why don’t you get an electric chair?” I’m not sure how the grim instrument of capital punishment would help my situation, I think they must have meant powerchair! What a great idea, I wish I had thought of that! However, I give a truthful reply. “I want to maintain the little physical activity I have, it wouldn’t actually fit into most London taxis and buses and it would certainly be too heavy for my Wife to lift into our car.” They nod with sympathy, but I know that my convenient excuses were just that; I was avoiding facing up to my worsening mobility.
After a lot of encouragement and careful consideration, I arranged to tryout a trike attachment made by a Spanish company called BATEC which makes a variety of hand-cycles. These clamp on to any manual wheelchair and turn it into a speedy electric trike. This option meant I could use it to travel a good distance, then disconnect and go into buildings in my own chair. Their website declares: ‘You can get used to being in a wheelchair, but not to giving up on life’. That was reassuring! With its chunky tyre, disc-brakes and headlight, it really is a good-looking piece of engineering and it turns heads. I recorded a video of me zooming along my street during my trial, and put it on Facebook for fun. When a friend commented: “You need this in your life!”, that got me thinking.
Without the new carbon-fibre wheelchair the rep recommended, the electric hand-cycle itself cost £5,000, which I knew I could not afford. Knowing that disabled people are mostly on their own when it comes to covering the extra costs of being disabled, and that trusts and charities might be able to help, I decided to crowdfund the money myself. Crowdfunding is appealing to a large number of people to each give a very small amount of money. If your crowd is big enough, you can raise some significant funds. The idea is big in America, but isn’t quite the same in the UK. Your crowd is usually much smaller, but give much more. I don’t consider asking for the support of others as begging if your appeal carries a super-positive message and nothing to inspire sympathy or pity. My campaign for ‘life-changing mobility equipment’ began. The generosity of Friends and Family, a community event and some funding from Barchester charity got me over the line.
When I thanked everyone who supported my appeal, I said the Trike would change my life, and it has in so many ways. Doing things on my own has greatly improved my confidence, especially on holidays and family days out. I’ve traveled by train to football matches at Wembley Stadium and taken a full part in village life and explored a French fishing village; things I never thought I’d do. I found myself on my own again for the first time in years. Once I got used to this scary new feeling, I began to rediscover the simple pleasure in just being alone.
My Trike has helped me as a dad too. Instead of holding everyone back on days out to the grounds of stately homes, parks or weekend city-breaks, I can scout ahead and give thrilling rides to our youngest when he gets tired. I have taken charge of my two kids on a cycle ride at Centreparcs (ideal for trikes!), my daughter for a pub-lunch in a neighbouring village and would often be with the other parents on the playground of the village school at home-time.
According to SCOPE, we live in a society where 2/3 of us are uncomfortable talking to a disabled person. In the same way a support dog helps re-establish the link between disabled people and others, I have found that people smile and wave when they see me whizzing through the village, zipping around Cork market, navigating the medieval cobbled town of Carcassonne, on a daring solo mission around Swansea Bay or along a wind-swept Norfolk coastal path. The way they think about disabled people has been challenged. My trike makes me more approachable, lots of people ask me about it. This is so much better than the observations that I needed help getting around!
My trike is very elegant solution to my worsening mobility and has given me hundreds of miles and many moments of happiness. It is a great privilege. When people ask how I got it, I answer that it was a precious gift from my friends, family and my community. It really has changed my life.
Richard Brown MBE