"The right wheelchair lets me storm off, away from my parents!"

How Ruby’s lightweight wheelchair from Whizz Kidz gives her power-assisted control over her future

It wasn’t just that Ruby’s wheelchair from local services was bulky and heavy, although that definitely impacted her independence. It made it “harder to get home from school by myself, hang out with friends, keep up with my friends, or just be social in general.”

For this funny, cheerful 18-year-old A-level student and Kidz Board member, her old wheelchair had another flaw. “Aesthetically, it didn’t look nice,” she says with a smile. “They didn't let me choose the colour of my wheelchair, which I think really impacted my confidence.” 

Born with cerebral palsy, Ruby has always used some kind of mobility aid to get around. Going to pick up a new wheelchair before she came to Whizz Kidz didn’t exactly live up to expectations.

"Whenever I went to get a wheelchair, I would think about what colour I could get. I always wanted a different one each time, and I wanted it to look cool, like the wheelchairs other kids had. When I was 14, I was like, I want a green wheelchair. And they were like, you can have grey or black.”

That was always going to be too dull a choice for Ruby, who loves vibrant colours, tie-dye clothes and wearing “things that are different”. Instead, she came to Whizz Kidz when she was 15 and got the right wheelchair for her. Lightweight and beautifully blue, with a power assist add-on, this wheelchair and ongoing support has made a real difference to so many areas of her life, particularly as she gets ready, fingers crossed, to go to university in Bournemouth to study Law, with a focus on Family Law or Human Rights Law.

Power at the flip of a switch

There’s so much she can do with the right wheelchair that she couldn’t before. “My new wheelchair allows me to get home from school more easily, to be more social, to use the train. It gives me a lot more confidence to use the tube and public transport,” she says.

“I can push further distances by myself, and it's given me a lot more confidence, especially now I'm going to university. I'm going to have to push a lot more on my own and be completely independent because I'm going to be living on my own.”

It's allowed me to storm out of the house and be free, I just zoom off to my friends

Power assisted add-ons are vital parts of the right wheelchair for many young people Whizz Kidz works with. These give manual wheelchair users a battery-powered electrical boost that helps them go further than they could comfortably push. They can be used when your arms are tired from self-propelling or need extra power to get up an incline. A quick flip of a switch, and you can power away. On some models, you can adjust the speed on a phone app. 

Ruby had hers on top speed but jokes that although it was more fun, “I kept running over small children, so I had to tailor it and think, okay, we’re going to be responsible here.”

“It makes you feel confident; it makes you feel like it's really fun, especially when it's windy, it's like you're on a motorcycle or something. It makes you feel like you have much more freedom and, yeah, more like I'm prepared for adult life.”

Power-assisted strops

Meanwhile, as she makes that transition to uni and adulthood, Ruby’s wheelchair is also helping her be a teenager. We all remember (or can look forward to) that age when you sometimes need space from your parents. Has the right wheelchair come at the right time for that?

“Oh yeah, definitely. It's allowed me to storm out of the house and be free, just zoom off to my friends and talk to my friends, but then it's not a thing. It allows me to be more my age and less dependent on my parents.”

It’s hard to throw a decent adolescent strop when you depend on your parents to push you. Ruby has also found that her relationship with her friends has developed since she got her new wheelchair. 

“Something that a lot of people my age do, they go on really long walks. Before, I'd have to wait for them to push me, and it wouldn't be as social because they'd be behind me, but now we can walk beside each other and talk to each other at the same time, which is really cool.”

Skipping queues and not being pushed

Teenage years can be the time when you form your strongest friendships. Self-deprecating Ruby says with a grin that while she would describe herself as "optimistic, enthusiastic, and funny," her friends would probably say she was "chaotic, clumsy, and a mess".

Does relying on your friends to push you change the basis of your friendship?

“Yeah, my friends are non-disabled, and I think it's changed their perception of people in a wheelchair, to be honest, because when I had a clunky wheelchair, I was more dependent on other people.

“But now that I have my Whizz Kidz wheelchair, I'm more independent and less reliant on others. I’m able to hang out with my friends more and talk to them more because I'm able to get to them physically. Yeah, it's just made us closer."

Ruby recalls her best moment since she got the right chair, a recent trip to Thorpe Park with a friend:

“When I went previously, it wasn't such a good experience because my friend would have to push me the whole way, but this particular time, I used my power assist, and she didn't have to push me at all. So even though it was raining and everyone else was just like in the queue, I was zooming off on my power assist with my friend. But because I had my power assist, I could go so much, like I could go more quickly, and I could also skip the queues. It allowed me to go on all the rides that everyone else couldn't go on, but with my friend. It was really cool.”

"I can turn on my power assist and zoom"

The right wheelchair allows you to keep up with friends, escape from your parents, and get away from the unwanted attention of strangers in the street. Ruby told us how when you’re a wheelchair user, you can get approached by random strangers who come up to you and ask if they can push you. Power assist comes into its own here.

“It's really annoying and just really uncomfortable,” she says. “Before, I'd just be like, "no" but I'd have to carry on wheeling slowly because I would have been tired. But I wasn't going to let a random person push me. So now I can turn on my power assist and just zoom off, and I can get away.”

Ruby joined Whizz Kidz’s Kidz Board, the campaigning group of young wheelchair users at the heart of the charity, last year. She wanted to join to meet other wheelchair users and advocate for “ a more accessible future because I'm really into not just complaining about your problems but also trying to do something to change it.”

So, what advice would you give to other young wheelchair users?

“Always advocate for yourself because, although it might be hard and it might be difficult, try to do what's always best for you, don't do what other people want you to do.” This advice served Ruby well when she was 10 and pushed back against teachers who wanted her to use a buggy on school trips because “it was easier for them but wasn’t easier for me.”

“So I'd just say always advocate for yourself or find somebody who will advocate for you, and you can do anything you put your mind to.”

Getting the right wheelchair at the right time has made a real difference, Ruby tells us. She’s sat her A-levels in Economics and Psychology, is excited to vote in her first general election, and is learning to drive before university. "It has made me more independent and more confident,” she says. "I have more control over my future, I can advocate more about my needs, and, through Kidz Board, I can try to make the future more accessible.”

We know that with the right equipment and support, young wheelchair users like Ruby are on a roll. Find out more about why the right wheelchair is the real difference.