Tom Shakespeare

I’m very excited. By the time you read this, my new wheelchair will have arrived. Not only is it made of titanium and designed for my individual physique, it has also been painted in British racing green. It’s a big improvement. Not only is my current chair falling apart, due to rough treatment in dozens of airports over the last four years, but also it’s a rather dull shade of blue.

You need to understand that most disabled people don’t think of their wheelchair as a tool. It’s part of them. A wheelchair takes the place of your legs, but it’s also somewhat of an outer garment, like a smart suit or a stylish coat. It expresses something of the real you. That’s why some disabled people have stickers or sequins stuck to their chair, or why they might be very particular about which spokes they have on their wheels.

A wheelchair is not just a mobility aid, it’s not only about function. Of course, the size of my wheels, the ease with which I can brake and the comfort of my cushion are vitally important. But above all, a wheelchair is about how it makes you feel and how it enables you to present yourself: as rugged, or sporty, or chic.

In the past, wheelchairs were big, heavy and ugly. They were difficult to push, they were too wide to go through many doors, and they looked medical, grey and dull. The advent of the light-weight wheelchair literally revolutionized the lives of disabled people, enabling them to be more independent and get to more places and to look professional, not invalid.

So, if my wheelchair is an extension of my body, then be careful not to hold it, lean on it or kick it. It’s not part of the furniture, it’s my second skin. When you touch my chair, you touch me. And I’ll notice.