Disabled Cardiff student forced to use student loan to buy a wheelchair

She is now calling for a wider NHS criteria for people to get publicly-funded wheelchairs

A disabled student at Cardiff University was forced to use her student loan to buy her own wheelchair.

Bethany Handley, 24 years old, was left with no choice but to her own or face being stuck in her house after being told she did not fit the criteria for a publicly-funded one.

Whilst at university, as she was able to “walk a little bit indoors and needed to use one outdoors” she did not qualify for the “narrow eligibility criteria” of an NHS wheelchair, reports the BBC.

In response to the lack of support she received as a student, Handley is now campaigning for a wider criteria for people to get publicly-funded wheelchairs in Wales and more choice for what type of chair they need.

The services responsible for providing mobility aids to around 70,000 in Wales are the All-Wales Posture and Mobility Service, who assess people’s needs and decide whether they are eligible for mobility aids, such as wheelchairs.

Unlike in England, where people with disabilities can access a personal wheelchair budget which can be topped up to buy a chair privately or from the NHS.

Bethany graduated from Cardiff University in 2022 and as of last year became a full time wheelchair user meaning she recently got her first NHS wheelchair as she now met the criteria.

On 3rd December 2023, celebrated International Day of Disabled People, Handley disclosed her personal experiences of becoming a full-time wheelchair user that year on Instagram.

Handley said: “Each time I was discharged from hospital I was left to adapt to a new life without support. The adaptations and aids I rely on to have any quality of life have been funded by family, friends and people’s extremely kind donations, not the NHS or social services.”

Handley also gave a talk at Cardiff University in November, during Disability History Month surrounding disability activism, the Social Model of Disability and the Disability Arts Movement.

The BBC reported that concerns were also raised last year by the chairman of the cross-party group on disability, Mark Isherwood, who stated: “It isn’t about more money. It’s about using the money that’s available smarter and giving people the dignity, the respect and the freedom to access, in this case, the wheelchairs they need.”

Isherwood believes that the current NHS system breaches the Social Model of Disability that the Welsh Government formally adopted in 2002, which recognises that a person is not disabled by their impairments but by lack of access and inclusion. She indicates that the current system in place in the NHS needs to change, stating this is an example of where it has created more barriers for people with disabilities, rather than helping to support them.

Feature Image Credit: Bethany Handley

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