It’s a beautiful thing to see, disabled people customising and decorating assistive devices. For years I’ve had my smiley face wheel covers on my manual wheelchair, then I acquired a new chair from a friend and it led to a few months with with her bright pink wheel grips, while my covers sat unloved on my old (now ‘spare’) wheelchair. Yesterday I went out for the first time with both wheel decorations on the one chair (looks amazing, thanks for asking), and it’s inspired me to write a post about my experiences with customising the mini-environment that is my very own portable chair.
Why I don’t really customise anything
I admire the chairs, canes and walkers covered in stickers, tape, fabric… And so on, but I’ve never done anything like that to my own aids. To begin with, this was because of a heightened awareness of the chair not being mine: it’s on loan from the NHS (and now, a friend). However, I do have a little mobility scooter which I own outright, and that’s never been plastered in magazine clippings either. So, why?
I don’t want to compete with my chair (she says, adding both bright yellow and pink to one set of wheels), I’ve always liked them to blend into the background as much as possible. I know this seems to contradict the smiley faces, but if I did add anything else to a chair, I’d want it to feel right. And I’ve always found that hard to predict. I don’t want to feel as though I’ve wrapped a “bad” thing up in pretty colours in order to make everyone feel more comfortable around it.
The wheel covers feel like a single, bold statement that makes me smile and prevents some stone-rattling wheel noise. Additional décor has always felt like an unnecessary faff for me personally. Especially with my old chair where it was so big and clunky, I didn’t want to add anything else to it.
Another issue is practicality: wheelchairs have more in common with shoes than armchairs in how much they get worn and muddied! I’d need to do something wipe-clean or washable, and while there are ways to make most ideas more durable it’s all extra stages to think about and risks in terms of being removable…
Since I’ve never had a strong urge to decorate my scooter in any specific, permanent way (as in, things stuck to it with glue rather than that fake flower I clipped onto the basket for a while), I’ve not bothered. The impulse hasn’t been strong enough. Although I do have some ideas at the moment, so the day may still come now I’m a bit older and have more of an idea what makes me feel good. And as for my chair, with its smaller size in comparison to the old one, I am drawn to decorating parts of it with removable fabric covers, which could be washed if dirty or repurposed if I return the chair one day.
The swappable decorations I’ve used instead of the glue-able
Blankets: As a teenager, I didn’t go out in my wheelchair without my cream, sparkly-threaded blanket that I would fold exactly, to lay over the wheelchair cushion. It made the cheap chair a little comfier and added a touch of cosy chic to my day. I (mostly*) stopped doing this with my new chair because it’s more comfortable to begin with, and an added blanket destabilises me a bit, what with there being no arm rests and the overall fit being more accurate. (* I did bring the habit back with a picnic blanket recently, purely because there was no other way to carry it and there was a great need for picnicking!).
Cushions: On a similar vein, I always use a cushion with my mobility scooter, else I end up with back ache. It’s nice to switch up the cushion choice depending how I feel and what I’m wearing. Though I mostly use my old wheelchair’s cushion, as it’s the right size and blends in with the black of the scooter’s chair.
Bags: In the days of Big Clunky Chair, I had bags down to a tee. I could fit a particular size in next to me on the seat without even shuffling over to one side, so I’d slot a neat mint green bag in beside me and lean it on the side panel/arm rest. Now I’m glad to have a better fitting chair but it means no bag space (or arm rests…), so it’s finally time to get practical with cross body bags.
In the photos with this post my little Roxy bag (thank you, online second-hand shopping, for reuniting me with a brand I much admired in childhood) is hooked over the handles of my chair and it’s nice to see how well the striped pink strap compliments my pink wheel grips. However, during the afternoon these were taken, I mostly had it worn across my body (I’ll put a picture of it like that below this paragraph!), it got in the way of my arms a little but it did feel secure and therefore low maintenance.
The key with me is not having too many unnecessary elements to think about, so a bag not needing to be balanced on my lap or held in place is a big plus. And although it’s not a customisation of my chair, it feels like an extension of the same attitude, adapting things to suit wheelchair life in a way that suits my style.
What I’d like to do in future
I’ve hinted at my plans already so I’m sure you won’t be surprised, but I’ll go over some thoughts in more detail…
I’d love to add a specially made cushion to my mobility scooter, so I don’t have to worry about the current ones I use falling off. I’d make the cover in a durable yet attractive fabric, and design it so there’s a pocket to be slotted over the back rest, both holding the cushion in place and covering the boring black back of the seat! If that plan falls through I might cover the boring black part in a collage of magazine photos… I’m thinking a mixture of fashion and guitar mags would do the trick.
Continuing with the theme of fabric covers, as I mentioned earlier I’d love to add some to my manual chair (the one pictured), the seat cushion should be easy enough although I do often whip it off the chair and sit on it on the floor to avoid hurting myself when picnicking… So the fabric would need to be wipe-clean on the underside at least.
I’ve said this before and no doubt will promise it again, but I do need to get myself some attachable bags to put bulkier things in while using my chair! I’m glad I’ve finally sorted the small cross-body bag side of things, but having the others would finish things off nicely. Especially for outings with a friend where my mum isn’t on hand with a back-pack!
Instagram is a great place to get inspired/envious and I’ve seen a few people with cup holders attached to their chairs. I’m not sure if I’d prefer to have a water bottle tucked away in a bag than attached to the bar near my leg, but it’s something to think about. Small pouch-like bags can be attached there too, which are a neat alternative to the cross body variety if they start feeling too restrictive.
To take us back to pure, impractical decoration: I’d like to do something with my mobility scooter’s basket! Maybe a fabric liner peeking out over the top to make me feel like I’m cycling off for a picnic somewhere (this post is making me out to be a picnic obsessive, isn’t it?). I say “impractical”, but this would stop my keys from rattling when I drop them into the metal basket, so might be more than just a pretty frill…
It’s been nice to come back here and write something light-hearted. I must admit it was more of an excuse to share these photographs than anything else. If you enjoyed it do let me know, and I’ll have to write another someday to update you on whether my future wheelchair plans came to be.
Until next time,
Look after yourselves/each other.