This article is a reflection on branding, looking at how brand association for one disabled user has transformed disability aids into vehicles of escapism!
I look around my room. It’s my bedroom but it’s also an Aladdin’s cave of mobility aids. I have my lightweight wheelchair, a medical bed, a power chair, a hoist, and a plethora of new shoes tucked obtrusively under the bed. The new shoes were bought in hope: the false belief that one pair would eventually be sprinkled in pixie dust.
Every piece of apparatus here is ‘utilitarian’. Everything serves a purpose. Everything requires training and inspection. Everything has an asset label with barcode and some catchy reminder of my own mortality ‘This product belongs to Bury Council and should be returned when no longer required’. There is no space in this bedroom for fluffy cushions or sentiment.
Yes, clothes are no longer a fashion statement. All my clothes are elasticated and velcroed. Everything zips up, pulls up, wraps up or seals up: all with the greatest of ease. It seems as though you have to be a stoic in this world. That means learning not to be affected by grief, joy, pleasure or pain. Don’t these feelings just get in the way? Are they not just obstructions to positive thinking? But I don’t fit with this hygienic world. I don’t do ‘calm acceptance’ in the face of adversity. Those paralympians on the TV present the acceptable face of disability. But heroics don’t work for me – they just bring me down.
I’m what you would call an epicurean. My life so far has been dedicated to the pursuit of comfort and pleasure – and I’m not about to let this Multiple Sclerosis change things.
Despite the utilitarian abruptness of all these medical gadgets that surround me, there is still a facet that resonates with my epicurean outlook. It’s not the colours – which invariably are sanitarium white or cold brushed steel. No, it’s the words written on the side. No doubt they are accompanied by well honed marketing concepts. You can imagine it now. Marketing teams composed of graphic designers, typographers, product designers, occupational therapists and market analysts huddled together in a brainstorming meeting. They try their best to envisage what us disabled folk aspire to or get nostalgic about.
Take for example my hoist. It’s really just a crane. But it looks deceptively like a rowing machine. It’s called the ‘Oxford’ ingeniously enough. It has a wispy font to suggest a carefree trip from the boathouse along the Thames. Yes, I’m with you on this. Let me join the Oxford crew. Take me away from this emasculating experience that is designed to ‘lift me up’ but only seems to bring me down.
Then there is the hospital bed that has found its way into my home. It’s called the ‘Tudor bed’. I’m not sure where the brainstorming team were going on this one. Apparently it was designed with risk management, ease-of-use and servicing in mind. I’m not sure that Henry VIII would have had servicing in mind with this particular bed although I know he had a keen sense of adventure. I can imagine him in his youthful days rolling about with a lithesome maiden wearing his fustian attire. I know he would also have been reassured by the weight limit given for the Tudor bed. A magnificent 36 stones is the supportable maximum. I’m not sure whether this is a target for myself. Lately I have been doing quite well in pursuit of this quest. Is this the ‘dead weight’ or perhaps they avoid using this unfortunate terminology? Suddenly my Tudor imaginings are abruptly cut short. The remote control, the actuators, the iron bars on either side betray the true lineage of this bed. The Tudor name is surely a contrivance of a brainstorming team pumped up high on Irn-Bru or double shot cappuccinos.
I now look around the room for another adventure in branding. I look to my trusty power chair: its name is Sirocco. Apparently this refers to a hot oppressive wind originating from the Sahara. Now I see the power chair in a new light, taking me through blinding sandstorms. It surmounts dune after dune as I sit majestically like Lawrence of Arabia. My white robes envelop the chair and caress my face in a luxuriant embrace.
Of course, now my limbs and neck muscles have atrophied, I’ve had to look around for a more ‘supportive’ electric chair. Last night I caught myself licking my lips over the latest mobility catalogue in just the same way as I used to look through car brochures. The chair that caught my eye was the ‘Quickie Samba’. I cannot begin to describe what reminiscences this name evoked. It’s a long time since I’ve had a quickie. And as for samba, I’ve had the good fortune to see it in the streets of Brazil. It’s a long way from the ballroom dancing routine which shares the same name. I wonder whether I will be able to manoeuvre in this chair to a samba beat?
My world has become small: just large enough to swing a wheelchair. Nostalgia and reminiscences are my escape. Thank you ‘brainstorming team’ for giving me a porthole on a global cruise. A chance to indulge my epicurean fantasies. A chance to escape this utilitarian abyss.