- Gender: Female
- Age: 62
- Condition: Multiple Sclerosis
- Prior Device: Quantum Rehab Q6 Edge
- Main Use: Full-time mobility inside and outdoors
What’s your story?
I’ve had multiple sclerosis for 32 years. For the first 12 years it was strictly sensory, with numbness and tingling; most people weren’t even aware that I had MS. I rode bicycles, ran, and walked a mile to work every day at Levi Strauss in San Francisco. However in my forties the numbness and tingling sensations gave way to balance problems, foot drop, and extreme fatigue. My husband and I traded in our single bikes for a tandem and running became impossible. As walking became more and more challenging I slowly progressed from a cane, to a four-wheeled walker, then to a mobility scooter, and finally a motorized wheelchair. I can’t walk anymore but I can still go plenty of places. I started incredibleaccessible.com, a travel blog to share my wheelchair accessible travel discoveries, with an initial focus on my own backyard of Sonoma/ Napa Wine Country.
Why did you choose Model M?
I first discovered WHILL at Abilities Expo in San Jose in 2014. At the time I was still using a scooter and was avoiding the possibility that I would ever need to advance to a wheelchair. In my mind a scooter made me look and feel less disabled than a wheelchair would. A wheelchair was always that frightening future that I had tried to avoid for 30 years after my MS diagnosis. But when I spotted WHILL’s products I saw innovative design that didn’t scream disabled. I took it for a test drive at the show and felt very sporty in it. That was the Model A. When the Model M came out that met specific FDA regulations and standards, it met my mobility needs as well as looking pretty darn cool.
What do you like about Model M?
I get compliments on it! Perfect strangers, adults and teenagers alike tell me what a cool chair it is. And it’s powerful—the four-wheel drive really makes a difference going up steep inclines and over rough terrain. I even took it on hard-packed snow, uphill, and it moved faster than people walking. The park ranger followed me up the hill on his John Deere Gator™ because he was sure I would need rescuing. He was amazed that I could get safely to the top, he had never seen anything like it before.
But it’s not just great outdoors, it’s also nimble indoors. On other electric wheelchairs, I kept crashing into doorways because I didn’t have predictable control. The Model M is much more intuitive and I haven’t once crashed into the woodwork. Another pleasant surprise was the electric seat slide. I can slide forward six inches to tuck my legs under tables at home and in restaurants so I won’t drop food into my lap.
How has Model M impacted your life?
It changes how people look at me. Their focus is more on how ‘techie’ the wheelchair is, rather than why I need a chair in the first place. That in turn makes me feel less disabled and more mainstream. It also makes me more adventurous. Before the WHILL Model M I had more limitations on where I could go and what I could do. Now if a trail looks a little rough and rocky, I have the confidence that the Model M can get me over it. If a ramp is steeper than ADA requirements I have the confidence that I can power up it. Gravel and sand were always obstacles when I was using a scooter, but now I roll right through it. I love being outdoors and the Model M has reopened a bigger part of that to me.
Note: Jeanne had an extensive test drive with a demo unit.