Mike Spencer - The Inventor of the Wheel-Easier
When Mike Spencer realised his mobility scooter was too big to take into shops, he went home and came up with a solution Electric scooters have made an enormous difference to people with mobility problems. But only the smallest ones are able to negotiate tight spaces in shops. That's when a wheelchair comes into its own.
Mike Spencer knows the problem only too well. The married father of four grown-up children, from HAGLEY in the West Midlands, has lived with MS for 15 years. Over time, Mike has gradually lost the ability to walk unaided and, if he needs to get out and about, he relies on his electric scooter and wheelchair.
'One day I had to go to my village shop, so I took myself off on my scooter. Somehow I managed to nudge the fruit and vegetable display and sent oranges and aubergines everywhere - much to the amusement of the other shoppers (WHO HAD ALREADY SCATTERED OUT OF THE WAY).
Although everyone was really good about it, and I smiled and thanked them for their help in sorting out the mess, inside I was bursting with frustration. When I got home I thought, 'I can't carry on like this'. I have to find a way of getting into the shops and manoeuvring without worrying about crashing into things.'
Mike realised what he needed was a rack he could attach to the back of his scooter that would carry his wheelchair. 'I thought there must be something already available, but I could not find anything anywhere INDEED THROUGHOUT THE WORLD.' So Mike set about making enquiries into how he could make his vision a reality.
He got a prototype made with the help of Remap, charity which designs and manufactures one-offs for disabled people. Mike loved the result and thought that other people would feel the same. That was how he started up his own business. Mike knows only too well how the loss of mobility and independence can affect self-esteem. When he used to work for a bank, he travelled all over the United Kingdom, covering about 4,000 miles a month. A couple of years after Mike was diagnosed with MS, he was driving home when he begun to feel unwell. He pulled off the motorway to steady himself and the next moment he passed out. When he saw his doctor the next day, Mike was told he had a form of epilepsy and would not be able to drive a car again.
Mike had to give up his job, and for the next 12 years he wrestled with his new circumstances. His walking became more affected and he was beset by a spectrum of neurological problems.
Despite eyesight, cognitive and bladder difficulties, Mike's philosophy has been characterised by an utmost refusal to lie back and accept what is happening.
He became active in his local MS Society branch, edited its newsletter and indulged his passion for painting. Mike believes his positive mental approach has benefited his health. 'I think staying positive encourages the nerves to find new pathways away from myelin-damaged areas of the brain,' he said. 'One 'boost' leads to another, and I am completely convinced that unless I continuously use that positive force I would not be able to enjoy the life I now lead.' That is, of course, not to say that Mike has his low points.
'But I also think that even in life's most negative situations it is possible to find positive outcomes (The aubergine expierience and then Eurika! is just one ).' Mike hopes his wheelchair rack invention (the Wheel-Link) already in production is just the first of many innovations that will make a positive impact on people living with disabilities. He already has plans for a special rubberised coating for the inner grip wheel of the wheelchair (Wheel-Easier) which will make pushing easier and more comfortable. The ideas are based on years of personal experience and are informed by the simple premise that people with disabilities are the real experts on the subject.
Back out to the shops, where Mike's idea first took hold, and his wheelchair rack is attracting interest. 'I have people stop me in the street and ask 'where did you get that from?' I see their quizzical looks as they watch me take my wheelchair off the scooter, as if to say: 'Good grief, just look at that!' It makes me feel marvellous in a way.
My invention has been seen on TV Midlands Today, and is supported by my M.P., and many others and I am also in discussions with British Rail and the Minister of Disability regarding the manufacture of safety bays for scooters at railway stations around the country.' With a disease like MS, you never know what's around the next corner. Mike doesn't airbrush the difficulties.
'The mobility-thing could have gone either way,' he said. 'Quite frankly, I could have lied down a long time ago and said 'that's the end for me'. But my attitude is, 'I want to get out there. I can do it, I've got to. Life is worth living'.' There are times when MS makes being positive seem like a cruel joke, the very last thing on your mind. But, perhaps, if Mike's experience is anything to go by, that's when its potential benefits are greatest.
'Some people see the wheelchair and they feel sorry for me,' he said. 'But to me the wheelchair is marvellous. Its benefits outweigh the downsides. Now I see the world in a different way.'
(Submitted website deceased, links removed.)