Meet the kids who’ve just qualified to tackle any barriers Irish streets may throw at them.
They are among the first to complete the first wheelchair skills and training course of its kind, run at the Crann Centre based in Ovens, in Co Cork.
The centre, just west of Ballincollig, provides a range of programmes and supports designed and informed by people living with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, with input from their families.
Its new Turas Saol wheelchair course, which translates as ‘life’s journey’, was designed to help children and adult wheelchair users to get the most from their chair, to help them travel around safely, and to take part in leisure and sports activity.
Course creator, Paul Ryan, the national operations manager with Irish Wheelchair Association - Sport, said while great strides have been made to make the world more accessible, there will always be barriers.
“And they’re not always physical. This course is designed to help people who use wheelchairs to overcome those things that can be seen as a challenge, to overcome those barriers,” he said.
“We have to accept that the world will never be fully accessible - the ‘great outdoors’ for example. This course gives the kids the capacity to navigate the world as they find it.
But it also tries to instil a sense of adventure in them too. We all face barriers in life. The question is how do we build the confidence to attack those kinds of barriers - to see them in different ways and to expand their sense of what’s achievable, what’s possible.
The centre has built a special training area which simulates stairs, inclines, unlevel ground, gravel, cobbles, broken pavements and other obstacles that wheelchair users encounter every day in the built environment.
The six-week programme also includes wheelchair maintenance, stretching techniques, to build flexibility and strength, the safe transfer from a seat to the chair, ascending and descending even the most difficult sets of stairs, and how to carry items, such as drinks while using the chair.
Mary Keane-Horgan’s son, Cian, 15, from Listowel, who was among the first to complete the course, said while he has always had an independent streak, the course really boosted his confidence.
“He had been doing the everyday tasks in his chair, but he had been doing them the hard way," she said.
"The course allows him now to do those everyday things easier. It has given him great confidence knowing that he is able to do all these things."
Mr Ryan described the course as a “life-changer” for someone who uses a chair.
“It helps them to see their chair as a gateway to endless possibilities,” he said.
As somebody who spends my life around people in wheelchairs, I know the difference that being confident in your chair and being able to take on what can be challenging situations can bring.
It is hoped that up to 30 people will have undergone the training at Crann before the end of the year. But Mr Ryan said he hopes the training can be rolled out nationwide.
Crann CEO Padraig Mallon said it has been “inspirational” to see the growth in skills and confidence in the children who completed the course, and to see what it means for their parents.
“Paul has also trained four instructors in how to deliver Turas Saol training so we have increased our capacity to train more children and adults,” he said.
Crann Centre founder, Kate Jarvey, said the support of the Tomar Trust for the pilot phase of the programme was vital.
“Turas Saol is only the beginning at Crann. We have a model of care which is unique to Ireland, and which is fully focused on enabling families to live the best life they want”.
Details on the wheelchair skills programme are available at cranncentre.ie.