Monday 1 March 2021

International Wheelchair Day

The 1st March is International Wheelchair Day and it was first stated in 2008. 
It is an annual event which provides and opportunity for wheelchair users, like myself, celebrate the positive impact that having a wheelchair helps us in our day-to day lives.

The importance of International Wheelchair Day

International Wheelchair Day is important as it gives wheelchair users an opportunity to share how their wheelchair helps them and gives them back their independence and improves their quality of life.

This helps to reduce the stigma and stereotypes associated with wheelchairs and wheelchair users.

The day also provides an opportunity to highlight the difficulties and barriers wheelchair users may face, from gaining access to a suitable wheelchair for their needs to difficultly with accessibility such as on public transport, at concerts or to buildings, even access to education and employment.

"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." 

The aim of International Wheelchair Day

There are three main aims:
  1. To allow wheelchair users to celebrate the positive impact their wheelchair has on their life.
  1. To celebrate to work of those who provide wheelchairs to individuals and support wheelchair users to give them back their independence as well as those that strive to make the world more accessible for wheelchair users.
  1. To acknowledge the fact that there are millions of people all over the world that need but don't have access to a wheelchair or one the suitably meets their needs.

Who uses a wheelchair?

According to the World Health Organisation and estimated 1% of the world's population, which is around 65 million people need a wheelchair.

There are a multitude of reasons as to why a person may need a wheelchair and this will vary from person-to-person depending on their needs and health condition/disability and the amount of mobility they have. 

Me and My Wheelchair...

A caucasian young woman with red hair tied back. She is wearing glasses and a black hoodie and is sat in a wheelchair with a tennis racket in one hand.

I'm a part-time or ambulatory wheelchair user, I have some mobility but I don't have good balance especially outdoors and even with my crutches I can only manage short distances and it's extremely tiring and painful and it takes a lot of concentration for me to be able to walk.

My wheelchair keeps me safe, it's stops me from falling or passing out (which can happen if I'm upright for too long or when I sit up/stand). It helps me to ease and manage my symptoms such my pain and fatigue levels. Since getting my wheelchair it has greatly improved my independence, safety and freedom and without it I wouldn't be able to leave to house.

When I was at University I played some wheelchair sports (shown in the photo).

The challenges of being a wheelchair user & wheelchair accessibility

Since becoming a wheelchair user I have faced many challenges.

Many times I have found buildings inaccessible. I don't use public transport but things like parking can be a nightmare even when you're a holder of a Blue Badge (UK accessible parking permit). 

Far too often I see accessible parking spaces being misused and many people who misuse these spaces don't realise to importance of the spaces such as needing the extra the room to get my wheelchair out of the boot and bring it next to the passenger door for me to transfer myself.

Kate Stanforth
People assume sometimes have preconceived perceptions and stereotypes around wheelchairs and wheelchair users such as we cannot walk at all so sometimes people don't understand that you can still be mobile but need a wheelchair also. Kate Stanforth, a dancer, disability campaigner, model and ambulatory wheelchair user has done a lot to show this, for example in her modelling shoot with George clothing.

As well as access to buildings it's then the building itself: service desks or card machines too high or clothes racks too close together etc.

Alongside the theme of building there is also a distinct lack of accessible housing, especially for younger disabled people and this problem isn't just a local issue but I've found that many young wheelchair users find it difficult to find suitable properties.

Sometimes when I'm out I also find that people become a bit blind to me and will walk in front of me, or they will speak to the person with me rather than to me.

I still feel that wheelchair access and attitudes, even in the UK still has a way to go. I understand that listed buildings can't be made fully wheelchair accessible  (which is a shame as I love visiting new places). Shops could also be made wheelchair friendly, I've lost count the amount of time I've found displays blocking aisles - I mean you would think that shopping trollies have the get past, so why not think of buggies and wheelchairs too? Or there is now accessible changing room or accessible toilet/Changing Places.

Finally even with the NHS, to get a wheelchair you have to jump through many hoops and accept what they are able to provide which is often very limited. As a result many people who need wheelchairs will fundraise and/or purchase a custom wheelchair for to get a wheelchair suitable for their needs. The cost of a custom wheelchair can go into thousands of pounds I feel this is wrong. Wheelchairs are not a fashion accessory but a necessary means for a person to get around independently, sure I know they're not cheap to make but I don't feel that wheelchairs should be as expensive as they currently are.