I’ve been using a wheelchair for 15 years. When I look back over that time, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been able to take on. Whether career aspirations, travelling dreams or social endeavours, I’m living a full life. A key enabler of this has been learning wheelchair skills.
I often think of the irony that the wheelchair is seen as a symbol of disability when it’s actually one of the most empowering tools you can give someone who needs it. Having the skills to use any piece of equipment is essential to make sure that you can use it effectively. Having the skills to use a wheelchair is no different.
Early on after my injury at 19 years old, I was lucky enough to learn wheelchair skills. Read more of my story on my website.
Living the life you want to
Wheelchair skills are the techniques that enable me to get around in my wheelchair, from pushing efficiently and carrying cups of coffee to getting up and down stairs and escalators. Wheelchair skills are the things that enable you to live the life you want to. So, naturally, they will differ with the person who is learning them, whether that is down to interests or ability level.
Having the skills to use any piece of equipment is essential to make sure that you can use it effectively. Having the skills to use a wheelchair is no different.
One thing that has bothered me for many years, something that I cannot understand, is why this incredible skillset is limited to such a tiny fraction of the 1.2 million wheelchair users across the UK.
Giving everyone access to the skills they need
Last year, I set up The Wheelchair Skills College, a Community Interest Company with the vision of ensuring that every wheelchair user has access to the skills they need to live a fuller life. I delivered pilot sessions with wheelchair services in NW London that demonstrated the impact I knew it could have. One man who had been using a wheelchair for 5 years told us that learning how to push properly had meant it was easier to get to his local shop and a woman who had been using a wheelchair for 31 years went up and down a kerb independently for the first time in our training session.
Wheelchair skills are for everyone. I’ve taught 4-year-olds and I’ve taught 84-year-olds wheelchair skills. Earlier this year I delivered a session at a primary school to kids with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities. I had to make some changes to my teaching style but they all took something away from that session.
A woman who had been using a wheelchair for 31 years went up and down a kerb independently for the first time in our training session.
The content and structure of a wheelchair skills session will vary depending on those taking part. The outcomes however will remain the same. Building confidence and gaining independence are the focus in the training sessions which when taken back into daily life can make improvements to mental and physical wellbeing.
Enabling peer support
Research carried out by the Q Lab Network into peer support mirrors my own experience and highlighted that people recognised value in meeting people with similar health conditions. One participant last year told us “I’ve seen people on YouTube but to actually speak to people who have done it makes a huge difference and showed me that it can be done.”
Accessing reliable lifestyle information when living with a health condition from a trustworthy source can be incredibly difficult and we see evidence of that from all the channels that pop up on social media platforms. Working in a connected way across the country and gathering insight will enable us to become a central point of knowledge to share information to service users and professionals.
I’m not fixed on a model of delivery yet in how this will look. I’m having a lot of conversations and scoping out a number of possibilities. One of those avenues led me to join the Q community and writing this blog for you today.
Seeking help from the Q community
There is still a lot of scoping work to be done in building this model. I don’t have all the pieces yet but I’ve made a start and this is where I need your help. Please do leave a comment below if you’d like to talk about this more. To get the ball rolling, I’ve picked out 3 things that I feel are priority areas for me now.
- Have you seen any previous examples of something being developed and scaled?
- Could you connect me with groups of wheelchair users to run pilot sessions?
- Do you know of any funding that could support the scoping work and model development I’m carrying out?
Finally, earlier this month NHS England and NHS Improvement launched ‘Solving Together’ which could be a way to move this idea forwards. I’d appreciate if you could take the time to show your support on the platform by voting and leaving a comment on my idea of wheelchair skills training.
If, like Pete, you’re using lived experience to improve health and care services we’d love to hear from you. Join Q to share your experience with improvers from a range of disciplines and make a difference to patients across the UK.
Find out more about NHS England and NHS Improvement’s Solving Together ideas hub.
Visit Pete’s The Wheelchair Skills College website.