Welcome back to another Mobility Monday post.
As the world starts to find its new normal, I decided it was time for me to take a wheel in to the unknown: lockdown supermarkets.
Our family has been isolating as much as possible from the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are all classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’ by government guidelines so technically didn’t have to shield, however with our track record of immunity issues, rare disease and violent reaction to illness, we decided to try and keep our risk factors as low as possible for all of us. As a consequence of this, I hadn’t been in a supermarket, or anywhere of note, since the morning of Saturday 21st March.
3 mammoth months later, I decided to take my Lith-Tech Smart Chair 1XL with my dad who we’re bubbling with (5 months ago, none of us knew that oddly satisfying term. Isn’t it strange how things evolve?) out in my car and down to The Big Sainsbury’s.
Now I’ve heard, read and seen some awful experiences of shopping over the last three months. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of being in busy public places or indeed around people that much anyway. I find as a wheelchair user I’m often infantilized, joked about ‘in a kind way’ or even climbed over as an inconvenience. It’s not the best out there. So, during a pandemic where people have been having open fights over bog roll and aggressively questioning whether the people they enthusiastically clapped for every Thursday were actually NHS workers when standing outside of Wilko filled me with dread.
I needed to go though. I needed to break the seal of agoraphobia that had been creeping at my heels for the past few weeks. It’s hard to want to leave the house when it’s mentally difficult, physically painful and you’re not keen on people. Having an awesome Lith-Tech wheelchair that is so easily transportable and comfortable really takes some of that pressure off.
Of course the ‘chair performed brilliantly on its first run out in months to somewhere that wasn’t just a 5 minute garden stroll from my house. No battery power issues, just smooth and roomy allowing me to relax in what was a pretty nervy situation for me. Navigating around the store was easy. Social distancing measures had been put in place, most customers and staff were wearing masks and giving everybody around them plenty of space and time. It was actually one of the most pleasant supermarket shopping experiences I’ve ever had.
The only issue I ran into was at check-out. I had £160 worth of shopping so needed to use the manned check-out rather than self-service. Unfortunately the wheelchair didn’t fit down the aisle space due to the protective plastic barrier screens that had been erected in between each till. This is not a complaint about the ‘chair or the supermarket. It’s something that has had to happen to keep us all as safe as possible and unfortunately, not everything can be made perfect and accessible for all in emergency situations. Luckily, I had my dad with me who was able to unload my items and take my trolley through for me while I found an alternative route round through self-service to bring me back out to the end of my till. I also struggled to reach in for the card payment machine (as again, I couldn’t fit in to the aisle with the barriers in place) but staff were so friendly and helpful, along with my dad helping to stretch the cord enabling me to pay for my shopping.
I’d also been worrying about wearing a mask, as I had heard of people having issues with breathing in them properly. I was super lucky to have an amazing friend, who is a superb seamstress, make one for me. It was so comfortable and breathable, even with the filter in. The bendable nose piece fit perfectly to the contours of my face and I made sure not to touch it at all. I felt so much more content knowing if there was any way I could be a carrier that I could be reducing that risk to others for the time I was around people at the supermarket, as I was attending during the elderly/disabled/vulnerable hour. Sarah isn’t selling her masks to the public at the moment but please take a look at her online shop Pip And Lil Original and her Instagram account Pip And Lil to see her beautiful makes, including the best and most beautiful re-useable face wipes I’ve ever had in my life. She is a supporter, an advocate and a wonderful person. We should be holding people up like this during these difficult times, so please go and offer that support her if you can.
Also, if you are reading this and needing a wheelchair or know someone who does, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Toby at Lith-Tech. They too have been supporting a vulnerable community during the pandemic at a time where many NHS mobility services were suspended.
Next week I’ll be telling a story of a little gastropod adventure my wheelchair and I have recently been on! Until then, stay safe.