Tom Shakespeare

At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, Bob Dylan caused a storm when he appeared on stage with an electric guitar for the first time. When I go electric, I hardly think anyone will notice, but it might make all the difference to me. I am talking about wheelchairs again, not rock and roll. Since becoming paralyzed in 2008, I have mostly used a manual chair. I did have a power chair at first, but it felt like driving a tank. A heavy chair is impossible to get into an ordinary car, and cannot be lifted up steps, and needs a lot of practice to maneuver smoothly inside confined spaces – such as homes.

I can sling my lightweight manual chair in the back of my car, I can bump it up steps and onto trains, I rarely crash into anything. Most importantly, I feel a direct contact with the ground and I’m getting some physical exercise. But faced with a slope or a cambered pavement, or a long distance and I am completely stuck. I can’t manage without someone to push me around, which makes me feel dependent and the other person feel like a carer. Most importantly, I am getting older, and my shoulders are getting sore. I worry about wearing myself out with all this pushing.

Which is why I am thinking again about the benefits of a power chair: more independence, the freedom to zip around at speed wherever I want to go. So time to get out my trusty Swiss Trac. This a wonderful invention bolts to the front of a manual chair and helps you zoom around town and country alike. When you get to a house or some steps, you can detach and leave it outside, and enjoy the flexibility of the manual chair again. Dylan may be uncompromising, but I’m not.