In 1993 I was a back seat passenger in a car when, unfortunately, the driver lost the road and crashed. I don’t recall the accident. I woke up from a coma a month later in The National Spinal Injuries Centre in Stoke Mandeville. I was 17, paralysed, and wheelchair-dependent. It felt like my life had to start again, learning how to look after myself, and basically live!
I left the hospital just before my 18th birthday and I had to live in my parents’ front room for 6 years. After 18 months of being at home with nothing to do, I learnt to drive and got a job and life started to feel normal again.
Over the years I’ve had several jobs, but none as rewarding as teaching wheelchair skills.
I first had a wheelchair skills lesson from a physio at Stoke when I was an inpatient. Being a boy, discovering I could do a wheelie in my chair (the back wheel balance) was very appealing. I quickly learnt how to negotiate curbs, thresholds and uneven surfaces through practice and making a lot of mistakes.
In 1999 I got involved with a Spinal Injuries Charity called Back-Up and went on a couple of activity courses with them. Back-Up then asked me if I wanted to be involved with a peer-led Wheelchair Skills Training project they were starting. The aim was to learn how to teach people the skills they would need to use a wheelchair safely and to be more independent – I jumped at the chance!
Through this project, I began to teach wheelchair skills to newly injured people with Spinal Cord Injury, in Spinal Centres and on courses run by Back Up around the country. I have gained Accreditation in Wheelchair Skills training through this work with Back Up.
For over 12 years I have taught people the fundamentals of using a wheelchair, which has encouraged them to lead more independent lives. I have been approached by wheelchair users with a range of disabilities in my community and asked if I could teach them wheelchair skills. I have come to realise there are many more wheelchair users in the country that don’t get the benefits of peer-led wheelchair skills training – this is why I have started up Freedom Wheelchair Skills.
My aim is to develop the skills and confidence of people who need a wheelchair for their mobility, to enable them to lead more independent lives and get out there!