Most people assume that I primarily use my wheelchair for personal mobility. They assume that the main reason I use my Quantum® Edge® 3 Power Chair with iLevel® technology is to get from point A to point B. Maybe I’m going from my office to the bus stop so that I can get home or maybe I’m headed from my home to go pick up burgers and chicken tenders for my family’s dinner. Of course, this assumption is correct. The reason I have a chair in the first place is to enable me to get around.
This isn’t the only function for which I use my power wheelchair. In addition, I quite often use it as my “hired muscle.” Let me explain. Having a spinal cord injury, I am not able to stand for more than a moment or two and can only walk one or two steps at a time. This is one of the main reasons I need a chair for mobility. Having dwarfism, though, means that I don’t have the arm reach or strength to carry bulky or heavy items. This is also where my wheelchair comes in.
First, there is the matter of my children. When they were infants, I carried each of them on my chest in a baby carrier. They were small and light enough to easily bring where we needed to go. They both outgrew the baby pouch, yet luckily, this was the same point at which they could safely ride on my wheelchair with me.
Since toddlers are going to toddle, once each kid could walk, I needed to train them to stay with me on the chair and not run off if they saw something interesting that they wanted to touch. To do that, I used a bit of classical positive reinforcement conditioning. In other words, I kept a bag of fruit snacks in my pocket whenever we were out, so that I could easily bribe them into quickly getting back on the chair if they jumped off. At this point, no bribery is needed and we have sold their stroller because both kids began to prefer perching on my chair after they were about 2 years old. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to carry their combined weight of about 80 pounds all over Southern California with out the “hired muscle” of my power chair.
In addition, I use my chair to carry other heavy or bulky items. Need to carry 6 grocery bags home from the store? No problem, just hang them on the clips on the back! Maybe it’s all the bags and buckets for a trip to the beach or maybe we need to haul everyone’s carry-on bags as we go through the airport.
The front footrest on my power chair can also serve as hired muscle. This is especially true when I use the tilt feature on my chair to distribute the weight safely. When balanced correctly, I can carry some very large items. These have included oversized suitcases, cases of water, and child car seats. These are items I would never be able to transport otherwise.
So, yes, I do use my chair mostly to get around my home, neighborhood and community. Yet, I also use it as my hired muscle, which has been critical to maximizing my independence.
About Joe Stramondo: Joe is an assistant professor at San Diego University and is extremely active in the disability community. Joe uses an Edge 3 Power Wheelchair to maintain his mobility and independence. In his spare time, Joe strives to be the best father he can to his children. Click here to learn more about Joe.