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Skills for life

Today is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day !

Not a lot of folk know that ! but yes Friday the 20th of May is SCI day and this year it sees the launch of a new web site aimed at increasing awareness of spinal injuries.

Back Up, the well known support organisation for people with spinal injuries has teamed up with Spinal Injuries Scotland and Spinal research to mark the day and the new web site which points out the frequency of serious spinal injuries which is three a day on average, thus the name.

Back Up is a phenomenal organisation aimed at assisting SCI victims and getting them back on the road as soon as possible after their accidents. They are now running wheelchair skills courses to help wheelchair users to gain more independence - according to Tim Rushby-Smith, of the Back Up Trust "Life in a wheelchair isn't as limiting as you'd expect, once you've learned the moves"

Tim’s story isn’t uncommon. He tells of his first time in a wheelchair and describes it as being euphoric having spent over a month in bed reflecting on how different things were going to be following his accident when he fell from a tree. Tim’s first wheelchair skills course was at Stoke Mandeville hospital, where he met trainer David Ball who was planning a fundraising push up Helvellyn, a 950–metre peak in the Lake District. Tim remembers that David was both relaxed and assured in his wheelchair and gave great inspiration to all who were on the wheelchair skills course.

Five years on and Tim is now one of 28 Back Up Wheelchair instructors aiming hi to give that essential confidence boost to other generally new wheelchair users. The programme will be taken to all 13 spinal injury units in the coming weeks starting this month May. The wheelchair skills covered include the basics of a self propelled wheelchair including pushing forwards, backwards and turning. But also more complex moves such as pushing with one hand - a very useful skill and negotiating ramps and kerbs, going down and even up steps. This last one is not for all wheelchair users but does go to show what can be achieved by the younger stronger wheelchair users.

As Tim comments he is relatively lucky in that he was active before his accident and already had the muscles required for good wheelchair control, he just lacked the skills that you need to manoeuvre easily in a wheelchair initially. Its estimated that one in five people with spinal-cord injury undergo rehabilitation in general hospitals and don’t always get specialist spinal rehabilitation or peer support. Back Up often send in trainers to boost the support victims get and provide intensive 3 hour wheelchair skills courses aimed at giving back as much independence as possible.

Of course accidents happen to folk of all ages and Tim tells of the eldest attending one wheelchair course as being 96 years old whilst Kitty was just eight years old and attended in a very specialist children’s wheelchair to learn the basics and soon progressed to being a very agile wheelchair user.

Numerous studies have shown the value of an active life to the long-term physical health of wheelchair users, but there are also important psychological implications to the role of confidence building. Developing independence is surely the first step towards rejoining wider society, and going back to work.

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