The good times roll for those with a life on wheels

At back are Frank Stofberg, Karl Braaf and Derick Smart, and Nolan Jacobs. In front are Anda Nyoka, Desmond Mitchell and Ralph Williams.

Shonaquip participated in its first International Wheelchair Day by celebrating the positive impact the right wheelchair can have on someone’s life.

Based in Plumstead, the organisation manufactures and supplies posture support wheelchairs, mobility equipment and positioning devices. It also provides a range of services including assessment, customised fittings, reviews and training to support the use of these products.

Over tea and snacks, each staff member spoke of their experiences using wheelchairs.

As a child, Ralph Williams crawled everywhere like a tortoise and at 16 he got his first wheelchair. “It changed my whole life, now my clothes would last and I could move around in the rainy weather. When I was 21, I started to play sport and that was when I realised what a wheelchair should be,” says Ralph.

He says his wheelchair means that he can be part of his family, to move around with his wife and play with his children. “I am able. With this wheelchair, I can do whatever I want. So I don’t feel disabled.”

For Frank Stofberg, having a wheelchair also changed his life.

“I could go wherever I wanted to. I could go to a mainstream school and I had many friends because the kids loved to push me around. The only problem I had was that public transport could not accommodate me. If you didn’t have access to a private car, then you stayed at home.”

When Nolan Jacobs was small, wheelchairs were not as nice as they are now. “They were too big and heavy. I can only imagine how difficult and heavy that wheelchair was for mom who had to push me around because I couldn’t reach the wheels,” says Nolan.

It was hard getting somewhere because he could not get into a taxi with a wheelchair and the drivers never stopped for him.

“You become so used to the obstacles in your life that they become normal and you don’t even realise that they are obstacles,” he says.

Anda Nyoka uses his crutches at home because his house is too small to move around in and the ground outside is uneven.

“Using crutches makes me more tired and slow but I use a wheelchair at work and it means that I can move around easily, do my job well and make the best use of my time,” says Anda.

He loves his job at Shonaquip. “When you build the wheelchair it is for a person similar to you – you build it properly and with care because you don’t want them to struggle with it,” he says.

The wheelchair stood in for Derick Smart’s legs because he struggled to get up kerbs and pavements and had a bad fall once.

Karl Braaf says that when you initially sit in a wheelchair you feel lower than other people in more way than one. “I had to accept what had happened to me and this wheelchair has made a change for the better in my life. I can go to the beach, to the mall with my wife and I am a person who moves alone and I don’t get so tired with this wheelchair, so I can spend more time with my friends,” says Karl.

Desmond Mitchell says he can get to places faster and do more with his wheelchair. “But the best part is that I can do sport and it keeps me fit and active.

“The only problem is with public transport as buses and trains are not accessible and taxis either don’t stop for me or they make me pay extra,” he says.

Founder of the organisation, Shona McDonald, says the aims of International Wheelchair Day are:

To enable wheelchair users to celebrate the positive impact a wheelchair has on their lives.

To celebrate the great work of the many millions of people who provide wheelchairs, who provide support and care for wheelchair users and who make the world a better and more accessible place for people with mobility issues.

To acknowledge and react constructively to the fact that there are many tens of millions of people in the world who need a wheelchair but are unable to acquire one.

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