On September 30th, the renowned PR and businesswoman will join others to help raise awareness and much-needed funds for Spinal Injuries Ireland by spending the day in a wheelchair and learning just a little bit about what daily life is like for countless others
Motivated by the stories of the 2,200+ people around Ireland with a spinal cord injury (SCI), PR and businesswoman Valerie Roe has decided to sign up to join in this year’s A Day in My Wheels Challenge on September 30th, when for 24 hours, she will spend the day in a wheelchair, taking part in ordinary, everyday tasks but without the use of her legs. The whole experience will be to raise much-needed funds for Spinal Injuries Ireland so that the charity can continue to support people with spinal cord injuries as well as their families, plus awareness of the constant challenges people with an SCI in Ireland face on a day-to-day basis.
“The vast majority of us are fortunate to not face day to day challenges with a disability, be it navigating around the city, getting on a bus, cross at a light, use public toilets, or simply get to school or work or into a shop while coping with limited physical abilities .So many of us, myself included, take for granted the ease with which we can get around safely, get dressed, and get access to all the many everyday essentials that life necessitates. As an able bodied individual, I don’t have an insight into the countless challenges someone in a wheelchair might face on any given day. That’s why I’ve decided to take part in this year’s A Day in My Wheels Challenge on September 30th in aid of Spinal Injuries Ireland. For just one day, I’ll experience a small handful of the accessibility issues faced by someone in a wheelchair, and hopefully take away some really valuable lessons and gain a whole new perspective. Please join me in supporting this very important cause.”
Valerie will have invaluable help and advice on the day from her friend Olan McGowan, who following an accident in 1995 has been confined to a wheelchair. “Having Olan by my side on the day advising me will be crucial – I don’t know what to expect or how I’ll manage it, but Olan’s support and encouragement will make all the difference and remind me just what this is all for.”
Olan McGowan shares his own experience of living with a spinal cord injury: “In 1995, I was a 28- year-old record company executive with Sony Music, working in a job I loved, in an industry I loved – a job that involved getting around the whole island of Ireland, working with artists, going to music venues, recording studios, and travelling internationally. All that changed in a split second on the afternoon of July 31, 1995, when I broke my neck following a diving accident into the sea in South Dublin. The eight months I spent in the rehabilitation hospital in Dun Laoghaire were surreal. No matter how much you understand, in medical or clinical terms, how utterly changed your body is, and your physical capabilities are, nothing can prepare you for the emotional reaction to these realities. My initial reaction was bizarrely pragmatic, but living in the protected environment of a hospital, with all its accessibility and staff on hand, does not prepare you for the big bad world that awaits when you leave. When that happened, in March 1996, following my discharge from hospital, it was pretty horrific.
The support I relied on in the hospital was gone, and I had to navigate my way back to a new reality. I was lucky, having a great family and network of friends, and a supportive employer, to help manage the transition out of hospital and back to some kind of life. I had a career that didn’t rely on physical exertion, so I returned to my job, but the majority of music venues and recording studios I frequented were completely inaccessible at the time, and travel needed months of planning because of the personal assistant support I needed. Reality dawned within the first year that this career was no longer workable for me and so, like anybody who goes through an accident like mine, you find that you now have to construct a new reality for yourself. Internally, mentally and emotionally, you have to accept the reality of your condition and create new pathways in life.
Since making the decision, in 1999, to leave music, I’ve worked in television, in the NGO sector (for the Irish Wheelchair Association, as advocacy and media manager) and for RTÉ Radio 1. In making all of those transitions, and as time went on, it became clear to me that my own hang ups about my condition, which had weighed me down in the early years following my accident, were not shared by everybody around me. The new colleagues and friends I met in subsequent years just took me at face value, viewing the wheelchair and disability as largely irrelevant.
Of course, as society has opened up to diversity in all respects, inclusion of disabled people has become more the norm, but there is always more work to be done. Dublin, in my experience, is easily one of the most accessible cities in Europe. I would, however, like to see business owners constructively and actively engage with their customers, their employees and disability groups to help improve access. Temple Bar with its cobblestones that were installed in 1979, can be dangerous. In Galway, there are pavements that are simply too narrow for any wheelchair, forcing wheelchair users onto the roads, dodging the cars that pass. Pedestrianisation is the way forward.
Certainly, as a wheelchair user, it will be a gift.”
Olan’s story is just one example of the many lives that have drastically changed following a spinal cord injury, which can happen to anyone at any time. Spinal Injuries Ireland provides one-to-one support for people with a spinal cord injury and their families, from the moment they are admitted to hospital and for as long as it’s needed. The funds raised from this challenge will help them continue to provide this essential service.
This year’s annual A Day in My Wheels Challenge runs on September 30th. Valerie Roe is looking to raise €5,000 from the challenge. To sponsor her, visit www.idonate.ie/valerieroe672
To find out more about how you can support Spinal Injuries Ireland, visit spinalinjuries.ie.