Pete Donnelly: Wheelchair Training — Unlocking an Inaccessible World | Bouncing Back #46

In this episode, host Joahanna Wickramaratne is joined by Pete Donnelly who is, an individual who has been using a wheelchair for 17 years

This podcast episode explores the significance of wheelchair skills training in providing independence and confidence for wheelchair users. It also discusses the concept of social entrepreneurship and how empowering disabled individuals can help them overcome barriers and achieve their goals.

Meet Pete Donnelly

Pete Donnelly has been using a wheelchair for 17 years and has been teaching wheelchair skills for 15 years. After gaining extensive experience in program management within various charities focused on supporting disabled individuals, Pete recognized the need for change in the lives of wheelchair users. He founded The Wheelchair Skills College and was motivated by the belief that every wheelchair user should have the opportunity to learn essential wheelchair skills.

Pete considers accessible wheelchair skills training to be more than just a desirable service—it is a fundamental human right. Through his social enterprise, Pete has gained insights into the challenges faced by disabled innovators. He has joined the GDI Hub incubator program, collaborating with other disabled innovators to develop ideas and challenge existing norms and practices.

About the episode

In this episode, Pete shares his personal journey of learning wheelchair skills, which allowed him to pursue sports and education even after his injury. But here’s the thing—many others don’t have access to that kind of training. That’s why Pete founded Wheelchair Skills College: to make sure others get the same opportunities he did.

Let’s talk about why wheelchair skills training is so crucial. Pete discusses this topic during the podcast. He emphasizes that wheelchair skills training helps build resilience and independence. When someone’s adjusting to life in a wheelchair, it can be tough. But with the right skills and a supportive community, those challenges can be overcome. 

Pete also touches on how wheelchair skills like curbing, transfers, and wheeling techniques enhance accessibility. They open doors (literally and figuratively!) and allow individuals to fully participate in different aspects of life. These skills give people the power to navigate their environment and overcome obstacles. 

And let’s not forget about resilience and problem-solving. Wheelchair skills training fosters self-reliance and confidence, empowering individuals to find solutions to the challenges posed by an inaccessible world. Plus, it helps reduce stigma. By normalizing wheelchair skills in public settings, people can challenge misconceptions about disability.

For all you new wheelchair users out there, Pete has some fantastic tips to share. First and foremost, it’s crucial to take things slowly. Learning wheelchair skills requires patience, so give yourself time to develop new abilities at your own pace. 

Seeking peer support can make a world of difference. Connecting with peer support groups, whether online or in-person, can provide valuable insights and advice from individuals who have gone through similar experiences. They can offer guidance and understanding that can be incredibly helpful on your journey.

Embrace mistakes as part of the learning process. Everyone makes mistakes, and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to try new skills, and accept that errors may happen along the way. Having a spotter for safety when attempting new skills can provide an added layer of security and reassurance. Start with the basics. Mastering fundamental skills such as pushing, stopping, and turning is essential before progressing to more advanced maneuvers like curbs or wheelies. 

More of Pete’s  fantastic tips:

  • Consider a lightweight wheelchair: Using a lightweight wheelchair can enhance maneuverability compared to bulkier models, making it easier to perform various skills.
  • Allow for grieving and growth: It’s important to acknowledge and grieve any losses experienced while also maintaining a growth mindset. 
  • Be patient and avoid comparisons: Every individual’s journey is unique. Be patient with yourself throughout the adjustment period and avoid comparing your progress to others. 
  • Utilize online resources: Take advantage of online resources to research techniques, safety guidelines, and connect with broader communities. Online platforms can provide ongoing motivation, support, and information for your wheelchair skills journey.

In conclusion

This episode serves as a reminder of the importance of inclusivity and accessibility for individuals with physical disabilities. It encourages people to support initiatives that promote wheelchair skills training and empower wheelchair users to lead fulfilling lives.

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