Wheelchair Challenge gives new perspective
THE moment I forgetfully let my foot hit the wheelchair's wheel yesterday and almost toppled over I realised Avenues Lifestyle Support's Gympie Wheelchair Challenge was not going to be straightforward.
I represented The Gympie Times in the challenge and found the experience enlightening.
The challenge was organised to raise the profile of accessibility issues faced by wheelchair users in the community and to foster understanding.
Gympie MP David Gibson, councillor Rae Gate, fire and police officers together with disability service providers accepted yesterday's challenge.
The challenge's tasks seemed simple enough at first: try on an item of clothing, use an ATM, buy tissues, a stamped envelope and a cold drink.
But what we take for granted every single day changes in a wheelchair.
Simply moving about became a matter of planning instead of an automatic activity. Footpaths had to be negotiated, store access considered and obstacles all carefully weighed up.
Then there were unexpected challenges. Using an ATM at wheelchair height is an entirely transformed experience.
The machine's screen at the low level was difficult to read with the glare and I only passed the activity thanks to my memory of which buttons I needed to be pushing. I admit - it was borderline cheating.
And while challenges existed, it was uplifting to see the community embrace the challenge.
There were well wishes, thumbs up and the majority of people made an effort to make room and be considerate of the wheelchair in enclosed spaces. Such a simple act of thoughtfulness that comes at no imposition means so much for a wheelchair user.
There was good natured rivalry and while Cr Gate insisted as a woman she had to spend time trying on clothes, explaining her late finish, I experienced the kindness of one individual.
At the ATM, I pretended to be indignant when a team of fire officers pushed by. A kind-hearted lady, thinking I was genuinely upset, approached me to console me and explain the officers were in a challenge.
We laughed when I told her I was also in the challenge but what a remarkable show of compassion. It was touching.
Avenues Lifestyle Support CEO Tess Parker was thrilled with the challenge's success and a de-brief at The Decks on Mary provided valuable insight into accessibility issues.
"There is already talk of doing it again next year," Ms Parker said.
"It was a really positive experience."