Looking Differently At Disability

Personnel returning from Service with an injury or disability not only face dealing with physical and mental trauma, they also need to adjust the way they live.

Becoming disabled doesn’t make a person an expert on disability – and it can be complicated. In the blink of an eye, everything that was once easy, familiar and taken for granted can change and become painful, awkward or difficult. Simple things like mobility or even eating can be interrupted because of injury. It’s possible that as a result of injuries sustained in Service that life will have to be redesigned from scratch, to fit in with new parameters of capability.

In this feature we look at what kind of ideas and equipment are available to help make the life of injured Service-leavers easier and more efficient in the day-to-day.

Two terms you might come across as you start to delve into purchasing equipment are ‘assistive technology’ and ‘universal design’. Assistive technology is a term that describes devices used by disabled people that have been specifically adapted for their needs. Items can range from cutlery with easy-grip handles through to mobility equipment such as ‘walkers’ or wheelchairs. The term also indicates the general attitude developed in the UK under what is known as the ‘social model of disability’. This is a framework that treats disabled people simply as ‘people’ first. Essentially, society has moved away from a ‘medical model’ where disabled people are seen as being in need of looking after – but rather supported to become as independent as possible.

Enabling people

Although it might be a small item, something like adaptive cutlery is a good illustration of enabling people towards independence. These small items mean that people can feed themselves instead of being fed by another person. Assistive technology assists; it does not replace the function itself. It enhances and enables people to live their lives.

Universal design is a slightly different concept that attempts to produce things like equipment or infrastructure that can be used to its fullest extent by anyone, irrespective of ability. This idea includes not only the mainstream majority but also say, mothers with pushchairs or older people who might well have mobility issues as well. In a way, this is future-proofing, since with an ageing population, more and more people will become disabled simply because of their age, when sight or hearing loss or arthritis start to take their toll.

Again, the tone is positive. Universal design is an inclusive term and indeed disability issues in the UK are becoming far more mainstream than they ever were before.

How To Buy The Right Equipment


There is a world of equipment for disabled people to select from. In fact, the choices can be overwhelming. A starting point, such as a basic needs list, will set you in the right direction when you’re making purchasing decisions.


Consider your needs carefully and whether the equipment you’re thinking of purchasing really does resolve the issues. Disability equipment needs to work on three basic levels above all others: function – ease of use, comfort – discomfort produces pain, pain saps energy and morale and thirdly, safety – is it the correct model for people with your needs? Using the wrong equipment can make matters worse over time.

Buying equipment

Disability equipment can be expensive although there are grants and benefits available to help meet costs. It’s simply a case of supply and demand. With this in mind, you might be tempted to let price be a major driver. Remember that it isn’t just the internet where you’ll find equipment.

Whilst you could use the internet to find out more about appropriate equipment choices there is no substitute for trying it out. Disability exhibitions, such as Naidex in Birmingham bring together hundreds of dealers stocking thousands of products. Better still, speaking with staff that have seen people with similar challenges to you can really help to clarify what you need to think about when purchasing.

Home demonstration

If you’re purchasing a larger piece of kit (such as a wheelchair accessible vehicle) or even a powerchair, you should consider an approval period or a home demonstration. You need to know that you can ‘live with it’ before you part with what could be a significant amount of money. Question number one is ‘Will it fit through the front door?’

What are you going to use it for?

There are wheelchairs and there are more wheelchairs. You need to find the one that will best serve you for how you want to use it. If you intend to get out and about and be very active you’ll need a different wheelchair from someone who chooses a more sedate approach to life. Using precise search terms if you’re looking on the internet will help to funnel your selection before speaking with people with expertise such as occupational therapists or even the people that sell the wheelchairs.

Getting the right size.

Size matters. You might use your equipment all day long. Just like your clothes, equipment needs to fit properly or it’ll chafe. This can be more serious than it sounds. If, for example, you have lower limb paralysis and use a wheelchair, pressure sores can develop where skin rubs or rests on unsuitable surfaces. These can turn septic and become very nasty, sometimes requiring surgical intervention. Make sure that your equipment adjusts to your exact fit and that you take advice on measurements and the like.


Look at discussion forums and disability publications for more ideas and opinions.


The difference between good equipment and bad equipment is far more significant than between say, a good and bad car. Good equipment can enable you to live a rich and full life. Bad equipment can frustrate or hurt you and take away your energy. Buy the best you can from the best brands available.

Charitable organisations

Charitable organisations can provide support as well as advice for Service-leavers and may be able to put you in touch with specialist medical services or equipment dealerships.

The Not Forgotten Association

The Not Forgotten Association provides entertainment and recreation to the Serving wounded, injured or sick and to Veterans with disabilities or illnesses, whether their health problems arose during Service or subsequently.

Each year some 10,000 men and women benefit from a unique tailored programme of outings, holidays, events, concerts and Royal parties, as well as the provision of televisions and TV licences to people with limited mobility. Beneficiaries of all ages, from all the Armed Services, are welcome.

Their aim is to provide camaraderie, the opportunity to meet like-minded people, and, for those recovering from injury, a sense of challenge.


The ‘RNBT Family’

From the day they join the Royal Navy or Royal Marines, all ratings and other ranks are part of the Royal Navy Benevolent Trust (RNBT) Family; so are their dependants.  For the rest of their lives they may seek help from the RNBT at times of need.

The RNBT Family, which numbers about two million, may be assisted in the following ways:

  • Financial grants covering a very wide range of individual needs.
  • Regular payments supplementing the income of older people.
  • Care of older people at Pembroke House, the RNBT’s care home near Chatham.
  • Financial assistance to other organisations which assist the ‘RNBT Family’.
  • Advice on welfare matters.

The annual total of all grants is about £2 million.

Please call the Grants Administrators on: 023 92660296 for advice and assistance.


Mobility Aid Services

After 12 years Military service, I volunteered at my local hospital and gained the skills to become a physiotherapy assistant, eventually becoming a Technical Instructor providing assessment, rehabilitation and support.

In 2011 I established my business with a primary intention to benefit and provide assistance to disabled Military personnel and have worked with Veterans, The Royal British Legion and Combat Stress.

The majority of my customers have a chronic condition or mobility issue, causing difficulty or even putting them at risk whilst carrying out an activity. We can provide the advice to make an informed decision and the equipment to ensure needs are met and independence is maintained.

Richard Jackson

Freephone: 0800 084 2336


The Motability Scheme enables disabled people to lease a new car, scooter or powered wheelchair, using their Government funded mobility allowance. If you receive the War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement (WPMS) or the Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP) you may be eligible to join the Motability Scheme.

Currently, Motability lists around 2,000 different models of vehicle and these can be adapted to the needs of disabled people, perhaps through fitting hand controls and the like. Disabled people may even choose to select vehicles that enable them to travel or even drive from their own wheelchairs. These are known as Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles or WAVs.

Motability is a genuine success story and has helped over four million disabled people retain their mobility.

More: www.motability.co.uk

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