01 March 2019

International Wheelchair Day


Did you know that the 1st of March is international wheelchair day? International wheelchair day is an annual day of events and activities which take place around the world during which wheelchair users celebrate the positive impact a wheelchair has on their lives. Since it was first launched in 2008, celebrations have taken place in various countries all over the world including Australia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Senegal, South Africa, UK and USA.

What are the aims of international wheelchair day?
International wheelchair day has three main aims:
• To enable wheelchair users to celebrate the positive impact a wheelchair has in their lives.
• To celebrate the great work of the millions of people who provide wheelchairs, who provide support and care for wheelchair users and who make the world a better and more accessible place for people with mobility issues.
• To acknowledge and react constructively to the fact there are many tens of millions of people in the world who need a wheelchair but are unable to acquire one.

Why is international wheelchair day important?
International wheelchair day is important because it allows wheelchair users to share their individual stories of how using a wheelchair has improved their quality of life. By sharing these stories and celebrating the positive impact a wheelchair can have we can start to lessen the stigma and stereotypes associated with wheelchairs and those who use them.

It is also an important day to think about those who need a wheelchair but are unable to acquire one and those who's wheelchair's aren't suitable for their specific needs. According to the WHO (World Health Organisation) there could be as many as 100 million people in the world who need a wheelchair but as few as 5 to 15% of them have access to a suitable chair. International wheelchair day provides the perfect opportunity to discuss this major issue and find solutions.

There are many reasons why a person may use a wheelchair and the reason(s) will vary from person to person. Some people have variable mobility so may use a wheelchair part-time whilst others use a wheelchair all the time/full-time. I personally use a wheelchair full-time for various reasons. My EDS causes a wide range of symptoms, several of which affect my mobility. Pain, fatigue, dizziness, low blood pressure, poor proprioception and other other issues affecting my legs, knees and feet have made walking difficult for years (I started to use crutches when I was 14 but these became too tiring and put too much strain on my shoulders, elbows and wrists- the effects of which I still suffer today).

I first started to use a wheelchair when I was 16 to help me get around college. Just getting to college, sitting through lessons and trying to complete my work was taking up all of my energy (due to fatigue caused by my EDS). I had nothing left for walking so me and my parents decided to invest in an electric wheelchair (I wasn't strong enough to self propel a manual chair). As electric wheelchairs are so expensive and we couldn't afford to buy one outright we brought one secondhand on a payment plan from my local mobility shop. For journeys out of the house a friend kindly lent me her spare manual wheelchair which my parents pushed me in.

About a year later when I was 17 (after I'd had to leave college due to declining health) we decided to bring my electric wheelchair inside the house for full-time use as I was really struggling to get around on my crutches. Around this time we also realised that my manual wheelchair (for journey's out of the house) wasn't suitable for my needs so I was referred to wheelchair services to be assessed and fitted with a chair that better suited my needs. I was given a Karma manual chair with leg raisers and tilt (which I still use today).

For the past few years I've used an electric wheelchair to get around the house and for short journeys out of the house (for example going to the doctors). For other journeys out I have the manual chair wheelchair services provided that someone pushes me in. I'm very lucky that my manual wheelchair is suitable for my needs but sadly my electric wheelchair is not. I'm hoping to save up for one with leg raisers and tilt in the near future.

Using a wheelchair has completely transformed my life. Before I had my wheelchair leaving the house was very painful, tiring, made my dizziness worse and affected several of my other symptoms too. Now when I leave the house I don't have to worry about those things as much, I can enjoy myself and I can go out more often. When my mobility inside the house also started to become affected I was especially grateful for my wheelchair because without it I would be completely bedbound. Since my wheelchair has been in the house I've also fallen and tripped less often.

At first I found it hard to accept that I needed a wheelchair (I think mostly due to the stigma and stereotypes surrounding wheelchairs) however once I realized just how much using a wheelchair could enhance my quality of life I found the acceptance process much easier. It no longer felt like "giving up" or a "last resort" I was giving myself the best quality of life possible and enabling myself to live life to the full. And that's what wheelchair awareness day is all about; getting rid of the stigma and stereotypes surrounding wheelchair use whilst sharing your own personal story.


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