Thursday, 27 February 2014

Fun at the beach

This picture for me says it all. Meet Jack (in orange), Jenna (in the rainbow) and Lindsay. I’m Katy and behind the camera. Jack is eight years old. Jenna is three and a half. The last time Jack was on the beach Jenna wasn’t even born. Accessing the beach before this day was ni-on impossible.

In the February half term a few parents from the Leeds based support group for families of children with disabilities Little Hiccups joined several other families for a leisurely stroll (and a few races) along Bridlington’s north beach. The difference between ourselves and the other families we met was that three of our children have complex health needs.  

National statistics back up what we as parents and carers already know. Children with complex disabilities (physical, sensory, behavioural, emotional etc etc) remain significantly less likely to participate in leisure and sporting activities than non-disabled children. Including strolling along the beach, country parks, historical sites, skiing, and family bike rides. The majority of things we as children probably took for granted. This is not to say that it is impossible for everyone, but have you ever tried carrying a bucket and spade, suction machine, feed pump, oxygen, emergency medication, changing items, food and drinks whilst manovering a 25kg child in a 25kg wheelchair with wheels as small as a computer chair on wet sand. Believe me it’s training for any solider!

Rather than accepting total defeat we at Little Hiccups searched for an all-terrain wheelchair and thankfully found the Kangoo.

What’s so special about this wheelchair?
This wheelchair is amazing!! It's versatile and practical (two things every parent loves). With various attachments it can be taken on the beach, parkland, forests, attaches to a bike as a trailer, converts to a car seat and even has ski's! It comes in a range of colours and even has wipe down material.

For all the family it’s fun! The last time Jenna and I raced in her wheelchair buggy was against my seven year old niece in Toulouse Airport killing time waiting for our plane. Apart from the odd holiday maker and piece of hand luggage the terrain was totally flat. I’ll admit now (hoping our rep doesn’t read this) I think that’s possibly where we broke the suspension. That was fun, and tiring for Ruby and I, Jenna not so much. Compare that to eleven year old Georgia and I racing Jack and Jenna across the bumpy sand, splashing in puddles, legs kicking, gasping against the sea air and their beautiful smiles show it’s no contest.

Exhausted for all the right reasons, walking back up the beech we met Tracey and James waiting patiently on the ramp. Lindsay, Jack and Georgia sped ahead chatting to the kind rep who drove the length of the country to let us play in the sand. Walking with Tracey pushing James in his own chair back up the ramp I didn’t need to ask them how accessible they thought the Kangoo was. I could see for myself every few steps Tracey, heaving, pushing and willing James’ chair up over the slippery cobbles whilst I one handed pushed Jenna in the Kangoo and filmed them struggling.

Once together we dissected test day two and I asked them what the day had been like:

‘’This is awesome’’ (Lindsay)

‘Sooo much easier than James chair’ (Georgia)

‘It’s so much comfier than my own chair, comfier than a car seat…’ (James)

‘How about compared to a sofa’ (me), ‘Yeah, just like the sofa’ (James).

‘I’ll get to do loads more now, can we take this on our holiday this year’ (James).

Why is this so important?
Recently I was chatting to a family member who visited a country park where we first tested the Kangoo. I asked if he’d had a nice time and what they’d enjoyed as a family.

“Nice place but there’s not much there,” he replied.

I might have been incredulous had I not been accustomed to such responses, for over the past three years since having my daughter I learnt that sometimes those who can see, see little. How was it possible, I asked myself, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing worthy of note? Linsay and I, parents of children with severe sight impairments search endlessly for things that interest Jack and Jenna through touch, smell and sound. Taking the two in the Kangoo wheelchairs into the woods to feel the delicate symmetry of a leaf, pass their hands lovingly about the smooth skin of a silver birch, or the rough, shaggy bark of a pine is priceless. Thinking of the spring to come and imagining taking them into the woods to experience the first signs of awakening nature after her winter’s sleep. To feel the cool wetter air, the smell of sweet, damp earth, hearing the birds in the trees, touching the velvety texture of a flower and discover its remarkable convolutions is unbelievably exciting.

As parents of children with disabilities/sensory impairments/additional needs we are compelled to be creative in the ways in which we teach our children. The Kangoo’s versatility and practicality overcomes a huge accessibility barrier.  We hope that giving family’s access to use these wheelchairs for day trips like ours, weekends and holidays will give something more than just a single moment in time, but enriches their lives and give their families life long memories (and if like us a hundred new photo’s to share with family and friends). 

Written by Katy Swinhoe

From the left that’s me with James, Lindsay, Georgia and Jenna in the middle and Tracy with Jack on the right.

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