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Cath testing a prototype Dragon

" Did you know the inside of a postbox is black? "

I didn't have an electric wheelchair until I was 8 years old, in fact I didn't have an electric wheelchair at all as a child - I had a Turbo.

Extending my body

I didn't need to learn to drive it - I just could. My Turbo just knew where I wanted to go. I imagine it worked in the same way as legs; you don't have to think 'legs take me there' you just move - my Turbo did just that, it was like an extended part of my body, I didn't have to think about what I was doing.

Forget the wheelchair

People saw me first, not the wheelchair with a little girl in it. That never changed. A teacher at secondary school made a comment I will probably never forget - I was 15 and in a classroom upstairs with access via a lift. Another lad who used a bog standard wheelchair (a chair and a battery with 4 wheels) hadn't arrived and someone came to speak to my teacher - they left, and the lesson continued. My teacher then circulated and later arrived to look at the work being done by the pupils at the table I was seated at, she discussed our work and moved on. Classrooms being so cramped, she had to step over the boot of my Turbo to move to the next table - NOW she realized that the conversation she had had 45mins earlier with the messenger at the start of the lesson had implications for me. She turned to me and said "Oh Catherine! I forgot you use a wheelchair."

Sat tucked under the desk she hadn't thought of me as being any different to my friends. The other lad in a wheelchair had been unable to get to French as the lift had broken down; the messenger had asked if anyone else needed to use the lift; my teacher's response had been "no." My teacher was so flustered now there would be problems getting me downstairs, that she probably didn't notice the joy showing on my face saying my Turbo allows me to be me, not the girl in the wheelchair. By the way the 'lad in the wheelchair's' name was David, he did not have a Turbo.

Going places alone

The day Lou came to demonstrate the Turbo, I took it straight over the edge of the ramp to our front door. It did not tip, just balanced there half in the air - superb! I recently went to a National Trust Park - a walker's paradise. I was using a bog standard chair (no need to name, there are so many), I started on a rough track up and over some really rough ground. On my return I realized I was in trouble, one bump and the chair rears in the direction of the slope and I am unable to steer or stop. Assistance was necessary. My comment "My Dragon could have coped with this!" If it takes me there safely there is no worry about my return. I used to take my Turbo on rambles during our Pontins holidays on the Isle of Wight 10 metres or so in front of my parents with my sister like any other kid - no problems - my mum only need worry about what I might be up to not my Turbo.

You can pick blackberries in a Turbo and not just the ones at waist height.

I got my Turbo near the age when you are given a little independence from your parents, you know, going to the local sweet shop or calling for your friends to play. My mum tells the story of when she sent me to post a letter. On my return I commented "Did you know the inside of a postbox is black?" I'd never been able to look inside before, the outside is red.

My Turbo let me believe I could do anything - not only can I go out in the snow, I can pick up a snowball and pull my sister in a sledge (with only a hook bent out of place), I can drive through a puddle and travel over gravel and up and down kerbs alone. It does not jump in puddles or travel through sand dunes. I can walk through a stream but not paddle in a river. I painted a mural on my bedroom wall where the cat used to scratch the paper off - not just a dado rail; I could not paint the ceiling.

Learning to succeed

Every year on sports day I would win the wheelchair assault course. The end of the course always involved a 5-10 metre dash. My Turbo did not travel as fast as other chairs, I always thought that part was pointless as it involved no skills, anyway it didn't matter, my manouevrability enabled me to win every time. I didn't have to think about not knocking over cones, my Turbo was part of me, if I missed them so did my boot.

From Turbo to Dragon

My Turbo graciously grew old and I went to university. I left my Turbo in bits in the conservatory instructing my dad to leave it alone. I wanted the parts - it had a fantastic beep.

But university without my Turbo? I know you are now concerned for my mental well-being - but, fear not, my Dragon came with me now!

Speed was no longer an issue - having my Dragon on sports day would have been a very unfair advantage! I could now not only tell you the colour inside every postbox, but could order my own drink at the bar without needing a flag to attract attention - I was now nearing the height of an adult - albeit a short one.

I needn't worry about waiting until someone else was using a lift before I entered as I could now reach those buttons previously above my head.

Living in my student house on the outskirts of town caused no probs. Across Parker's Piece I could keep with my mate on her bike. I was able to take short cuts across gravel pathed colleges, in and out before the porters spotted me - unfortunately my Dragon couldn't limbo under or climb over gates when they changed the code.

Making an impression

I am now an adult approaching my 30s. My Turbo and Dragon were not just a gimmick for kids and brightly coloured chairs are not just for kids either, I like purple too. My Dragon accompanied me throughout university and on to train to become a secondary school teacher. Imposing presence in the classroom would have been almost impossible without the height my Dragon gives me. There are still cramped classrooms so the tight turning circle is essential. It's an expensive option to build a bigger classroom (or an anti-gravity classroom as one of my pupils once suggested). In the corridors I also need height and stability on the move; a bog standard chair leaves me dodging bags round my head!

Cath McNicol



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© dragonmobility ltd 2004-16 | Author : DanE | Last updated: 19th April 2021