A lot of you probably noticed that I have been using a WHILL Model M for a few months. It has been great using it around my hometown but I couldn’t wait to take it to Walt Disney World. This post is a comparison between my experiences in my manual wheelchair vs what it was like using the powered WHILL.
But first a disclaimer. WHILL provided me with demo Model M to test. Since this blog is about Disney, it made sense for me to take it to Walt Disney World to try out. We payed for our vacation. WHILL just provided the wheels. 🙂 Also, the WHILL Model M is the only power wheelchair I’ve used, your experience with another type may vary. But I hope my experience will help and let you know what to expect. All opinions are my own.
“WHILL Personal Electric Vehicles are bringing a fresh perspective to personal mobility with an innovative design and state-of-the-art technology—creating the confidence to drive anywhere with unprecedented independence and style.” Is all of that true? Absolutely!
About the WHILL Model M
- The design is amazing. The Model M just looks cool. And you feel cool when you are using it. I got so many comments on the design alone. It’s very compact and could go anywhere my manual wheelchair could. That includes getting between tables in a packed Disney restaurant.
- The controller is really easy to use and is very responsive. That is very important when you are navigating crowds. Stopping is easy and you can keep pace with the crowds. The Model M also has a very tight turning radius which made it easy to get on Disney busses and ride vehicles.
- The seat will slide forward which makes transfers easier. It really came in handy getting on and off of some attractions. It was also great to use in restaurants. Table legs are always getting in the way. The seat sliding forward helps you get under the table so you can reach everything and not drop food in your lap (which I am always doing.) The arm rests also easily swing up for transfers or if you want them out of the way while dining.
- Electromagnetic brakes prevent unwanted movement. I had to stop on several hills and I felt so secure. I could also transfer without powering the Model M down and know that it wasn’t going anywhere.
- The Model M has a range of 15 miles. We charged it overnight and were ready for a day in the parks. It will also go up to 5.5 miles per hour! I never hit top speed in the parks but it was fun being a lot faster than Andrew for once. 🙂
- And the wheels! The Model M’s front wheels have Omni-wheel technology with 24 independent rollers that allow you to move in any direction. They also allow you to climb over 3” obstacles and can handle all of the bumpy terrain you might encounter like the paths at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I usually spend a lot of time in the parks looking down to make sure my feet are where they are supposed to be and on the look out for obstacles. The Model M allowed me to hold my head high and enjoy my surroundings.
One of the things I was most nervous about was taking the WHILL Model M on Disney busses. It’s a pretty tight space and if there are guests already on the bus it can be even tighter. Turns out I had absolutely nothing to worry about. Getting up and down the ramp was really easy. Some of the busses the ramp can be a little steep when the drop you off at the parks and there isn’t a curb. When I use my manual chair I usually get Andrew to help me so I feel more comfortable going down the ramp. The Model M handled it great.
It can also maneuver really easily in small places. Getting parked in the wheelchair spot was not a problem. A lot of the bus drivers were surprised how easy it was. I had to move forward to the next wheelchair spot once so a scooter could park in the spot I was it. I had no problem avoiding other guests and getting in place. The WHILL Model M four point tie-down system so I felt secure during the ride to the parks. I didn’t take it on the Monorail but they way it handled the busses I’m sure it would be easy to use there as well. Especially getting up the ramps at the station!
Florida is pretty flat, Walt Disney World is not. 🙂 Whether it was queues, getting into the Animal Kingdom, or getting from Liberty Square to Fantasyland, the WHILL Model M helped me tackle them all. I’m always worried about losing momentum going up a hill in my manual chair. Not an issue with a power chair.
Another concern I had was navigating the crowds. Being in a mass of people when you are so much lower than them can be stressful. Again, I didn’t have anything to worry about. The controller is so responsive I could adjust my speed to keep pace with the crowd. Coming to a stop quickly was also easy. You never know when someone in front of you will decide to stop suddenly.
Heat and Endurance
The Florida heat and humidity can draining. If we visit during the summer months I had to take a lot of breaks. I know this is typical of everyone. But the heat coming off of the pavement on my hands and the rims of my manual wheelchair always adds a little extra frustration. Wearing gloves can help but they are also hot. The heat was a lot more bearable using the Model M. Of course things were easier since I didn’t have to use as much energy to move so I was automatically a little cooler. I could also lean forward a little as we made our way through the parks so my back didn’t get quite so hot. This meant that I was able to hang in a lot longer before we had to stop for a break. Andrew was ready to throw in the towel before me for once. 🙂
During the summer months at Walt Disney World you can pretty much expect it to rain at some point in the afternoon. Those rain showers are pretty easy to avoid especially if you take a break back at your resort. But on our trip it was raining almost all day every day. That is usually pretty miserable for me. I still haven’t found rain gear that works for me. I have a poncho that covers me and my manual chair but it’s not easy to move in. It’s a last resort type of thing. Even in light rain my rims will get wet and it’s hard to stop when someone suddenly stops in front of you. So that means I’m relying more on Andrew to push me.
But the Model M made things so much easier. In the light rain I could just wear my rain jacket. Driving through puddles wasn’t a problem and I could still control it and stop suddenly if I needed to. If the rain picked up, I put my jacket over my legs and held an umbrella. And let me tell you holding an umbrella after not being able to for so long is fun!
I took the Model M on several attractions, just like I have in my manual chair. The only real difference was that it was a easier getting up and down some of the ramps. The WHILL electromagnetic brakes prevented movement on attractions that don’t require tie downs. And those that did it was easy for the Cast Members to find them. I felt really secure on Kilimanjaro Safaris which is pretty bumpy.
The WHILL Model M helped out in so many different ways on this trip. I am going to continue to update posts with information about the Model M and how it really helped in certain situations. Right now you can see the Model M in the Flight of Passage queue and Frozen Ever After. If you have any questions about the Model M or accessibility at Walt Disney World just leave a comment below or feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I love hearing from you!