Background Whimsy for February 2010 Voices Column above


Picture 1. It is nearly dawn here at my apartment in Addison Court.

Lately, I have been getting up early, drinking 5 cups of Ethiopian coffee and so ending my caffeine for the day. Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Pictured here is the view from my kitchen/dining room/living room window. I look out East onto the parking lot and the “urban” scene of Beaver Avenue in downtown State College.

Picture 2. This is my new power chair; it arrived yesterday.

What you are seeing is the Jazzy Select 6 Ultra chair made by Pride Mobility Products Corporation. It cost over $5,000 and was paid for by the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Picture 3. This is the joy stick, mounted at my request on the left side.

Since I am right handed mounting the joy stick on the left leaves me with the motor skills equivalent to signing my name with my left hand. (Lots of luck.) My idea, in keeping with the principles of occupational therapy, was to spare my right hand (and more importantly my right arm) unnecessary strain. The result is that I bump into walls, door sills, and furniture. Yesterday, before putting the thing away for the night, I turned the large living room table completely around.

To the far right of the joy stick, just barely visible, is a half moon showing that the power chair is full of electricity. The on-off button is to the left of that, then the horn, then the speed, the button on the top decreases the speed. Notice that the one light means I cannot go any slower. With practice, I can make the thing crawl. With proficiency it will go over 10 miles an hour, a seat belt protecting me against the world.

The two buttons to the far left control the elevator function. I can go up. I can come down.

The following is what up looks like:

Picture 4. High eggs.
Picture 5. Low eggs.

So far, I have had a great deal of fun using the joy stick to go up over the bathroom sink so I can brush my teeth, going up over the sink so I can wash my dishes, going up into cupboards I could not reach before.

Picture 6. Toggle wheels—the next frontier.

You will note that there are three wheels on each side. If I go forward all six wheels go in the same direction. If I go back, the toggle wheels (at the front and rear of the machine) turn around to go back. When they turn, there is a moment when I am not going straight back. Instead, I swerve and the way I am supposed to correct the swerve is by continuing to move back and correct the swerve.

Only walls and doorways get in the way. Instead of correcting by going back, I go forward, causing the wheels to turn around forward. After one of two maneuvers, I am in the corner of the room, unable to move in any direction.

Fortunately, about 62 percent of the time, I can make a sharp u-turn. Turning around in circles is easy and a lot of fun.

As I learned from yesterday, I am not yet ready to go outside. Practice is how to get to Carnegie Hall. Practice.

Joel Solkoff, trapped behind the desk in the second bedroom, May 15, 2008.