Businesses are being called on to recognise the value of being accessible to people with restricted mobility during Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week, which begins today.
The theme of the week is ‘good access = good business’ with businesses and venues encouraged to create enough space in kitchens and bathrooms for wheelchair access, install ramps and have handrails in toilets or showers to make the experience of customers with spinal cord injuries a positive one.
About 20,000 Australians are currently living with a spinal cord injury, causing them to have restricted mobility but in many cases not affecting their interest in attending events, shopping at businesses or travelling.
Injuries can occur from a range of incidents, with events involving vehicles and falls the most common and covering almost 80 percent of injuries.
However injuries can also be caused by incidents on sporting fields or with horses, diving into water and falling objects.
Charles Brice was 19 when he broke his neck in a motorbike accident and became a quadriplegic, his life changing dramatically.
“Essentially I’ve got no feeling or movement from below my armpits,” he says.
“I had my accident while I was living in the Riverland near Loxton (in South Australia) and working on a farm.
“In an instant I went from being a fit, spontaneous 19-year-old to not being able to move any part of my body, having to learn how to live with a spinal cord injury and also having to rely on other people for the simplest of tasks.”
More than 10 years on, Charles lives independently in Adelaide, working as a journalist.
Awareness about the different ways a Spinal Cord Injury can affect an individual’s mobility and the support they need to access activities or places is also important to Charles, who says every injury is “so uniquely different”.
“I’ve experienced a lot of people looking at me and just assuming I have so much more function than what I do have because maybe they’ve seen someone else in a wheelchair on TV who can get themselves out of the car independently,” he says.
“I have help to get in and out of bed every day and for those sorts of tasks.”
To Charles, Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week is about the community understanding what impact the injury can have on any person’s life.
“I feel like spinal cord injuries can sort of be overseen a little bit in the community,” Charles says.
“Certainly when I had my accident I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what a spinal cord injury was or what the results of that would be, so getting that awareness out there to every demographic I feel is so important because spinal cord injuries don’t discriminate.
“They can happen to anyone and that can be from a serious car crash or simply falling over in the backyard.”
Charles will be spending this week preparing for a 300km bike ride around the South East region of South Australia which raises funds for Spinal Cord Injury research, called the Wheel to Walk.
The riders aim to raise $100,000 for the Wings for Life Foundation and Charles will participate in the bike ride by hand cycling in a reclined tricycle.
“There’s no known cure out there at the moment and research is expensive as well so if I can contribute in any way to that to help the 400 people who acquire a spinal cord injury every year in Australia I’ll try my hardest to do that,” he says.
Spinal Life Australia has also put together a list of tips for businesses and venues to make them more accessible.