A new training scheme for wheelchair users aims to reduce health inequalities and equip them with skills that will provide mental and physical benefits, build confidence and support them to become independent.
Pete Donnelly decided to set up The Wheelchair Skills College after seeing there was a gap in the support available to wheelchair users. A wheelchair user for 15 years following a motorbike accident at the age of 19, Pete was a speaker at the recent NHS Big Conversation for Improvement.
He said: “Wheelchair skills are a foundation on which people can build the confidence to explore other aspects of their identity. But while it’s so important, it’s not offered as standard to everyone who uses a wheelchair.”
He believes one of the most important things about his courses is that they are created by a wheelchair user, for wheelchair users.
He said: “Leaving hospital, I was keen to get back to things that gave me a sense of normality. It was a mix of going back to adapted ways of doing old things like going back to college and trying out new things as well – playing wheelchair sport and driving with hand controls.
“It was only through wheelchair skills training that I got an insight into what could really be achieved using a wheelchair. It was brilliant. No one can teach you as well as someone who has already walked, or rolled, that path.
“Learning these skills had such a big impact on me that I wanted to give something back. A year later I trained to be a wheelchair skills trainer and have been doing it ever since.
“Learning wheelchair skills changed the way I looked at everything. All of a sudden, the world seemed a lot more… possible.”
Now he is keen for healthcare service users to have access to the sessions.
Sessions start with the basics, such as how to sit properly in the chair and pushing both forwards and backwards, before moving on to more advanced techniques like going up and down kerbs.
Pete has been teaching wheelchair skills since 2008 and says it’s never too early or late to start learning wheelchair skills. He said: “Recently when teaching a wheelchair skills training session, I saw a woman drop off a kerb independently for the first time – after 31 years of using a wheelchair!”