"The experience was a real eye opener, giving me a small idea of the challenges wheelchair users face."

When I was given the opportunity to spend a week at work in a wheelchair, I was apprehensive. As quite an impatient person, my initial concern was that everything would take longer than usual – making lunch or using the bathroom, for example.

Then I started worrying about what would happen when I went outside. Would I be able to get to the shop? Alone? And if I did manage to get across our car park, over the uneven pavement and down the busy road, would I actually be able to get into the building?

I know spending a week in a wheelchair bears no semblance to the journey of our beneficiaries or any other disabled person – especially when it’s only for eight hours a day in an accessible office. But the experience was a real eye opener, giving me a small idea of the challenges wheelchair users face on a daily basis.

Fitting a Rough Terrain

On day one, our technical advisor Chris adjusted a Rough Terrain wheelchair so it fitted me perfectly. In this picture, he is fitting new brakes – an absolute essential for a novice like me!

He taught me some basic mobility skills like how to propel myself efficiently, turn on the spot and steer around corners. He also reminded me to put the brakes on when sitting still.

When I was comfortable, I began to explore the office. I realised straight away that it was not as easy as I thought it would be. Doors became obstacles that needed practice, the slight gradient of the carpark began to feel steep and  things I take for granted, like carrying a drink, became new problems to solve. Though I tried to do things on my own, I quickly began to need help with certain tasks.

The rest of the week passed as a series of goals – to get upstairs, to travel to the shops, to be able to fill my water bottle without getting stuck in the kitchen – and slowly, I started to get used to the wheelchair.

My trip to the supermarket

On day three when I was ready for a new challenge, I decided to go to the supermarket. Not confident enough to do it alone, I took my colleague Clare with me.

The camber of the pavement and potholes along the way threw me off balance, and the cars seemed enormous as they sped by next to me. The bollards in front of the supermarket entrance were hard to navigate between and the people inside seemed oblivious, making little effort to make room for me in a wheelchair that suddenly seemed cumbersome. My first experience as a wheelchair user in public was more intimidating than I imagined.

Working at Motivation, I am always hearing inspiring stories of our beneficiaries and how they overcame their disabilities to live independent, fulfilled lives. Nearly all of them say that when they first became disabled, they lost all their confidence. Although I could never understand how that feels, my trip to the supermarket and the rest of my week certainly made me think.

Today, I am back on my feet and reflecting on my time in a wheelchair. Although my natural clumsiness and terrible wheelchair skills made a less-than-ideal combination, I feel that I could have improved with more practice and time. But that would only have helped me to a certain degree; there are still many shops and cafes in our area that are not accessible, no matter how experienced a wheelchair user you may be. And that is just a tiny fraction of the exclusion wheelchair users face in rural areas in developing countries.

Support Motivation

You can help us provide disabled people in developing countries with the wheelchairs they need to be active and independent – even in the rough terrains of their rural communities.

You can help deliver essential training that will help them understand their disability, meet other disabled people and become more confident. You can help us challenge discrimination and stigma towards disabled people, raising awareness of disabilities in schools and putting pressure on businesses to include disabled people in their workforce.

To make a donation to Motivation today, click here.