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Paralympic Champion Mark Colbourne MBE on disability access

Friday, March 10th, 2017 | Blog

Disabled Access Day is all about encouraging people that are living with disabilities to leave the house and visit somewhere new. Although this may sound easy, this isn’t always the case, as too many establishments aren’t adequately equipped to host someone with a disability. The misunderstanding shown by the general public can often be off-putting for many as well. These are just two of many reasons why some disabled people can shy away from visiting new places, because without the adequate preparation, most experiences would be a negative one.


This could be anything from poor to non-existent entry points for someone who might have trouble going up the stairs, to simply not even providing disability friendly toilets that offer maneuverability. This is a common issue among many smaller, individual stores or establishments compared to the larger chains that often have the facility to host someone with a disability.


The truth is, people should never let their disabilities define or limit them from living their life. There aren’t many people that embody this message more than Mark Colbourne MBE; a Welsh Paralympian that took home the gold in the Individual Pursuit cycling event at the London 2012 Paralympics. Despite the fact that Mark is now an ambassador for paralympic sports, he wasn’t initially born with a disability. In 2009 Mark was in a paragliding accident that left him with lower leg paralysis.


After 6 months of grueling rehabilitation, Mark found himself having to approach life in a different way. Limited in movement, Mark could no longer continue the incredibly active and sporty lifestyle he had previously led. Fortunately, not long after leaving the hospital, Mark realised that with a special support that locked his trainers into the pedals he would once again be able to cycle - something he enjoyed from a young age.


Experiencing life both before and after being diagnosed as disabled, we recently caught up with Mark to highlight some of the plights disabled people can experience on a day-to-day basis, that able-bodied people perhaps never even notice.


“The most difficult thing for me was dealing with the embarrassment of losing such a basic ability”, Mark explained.


“The functionality of not having your legs working plays with your mind. Your body tries to function like it used to, but it can’t. Dealing with this embarrassment made me angry, I just wanted to scream.


“Coming from hospital, and moving out of the controlled environment I had been in for six months meant I now had to learn to dress, shower and walk again. It completely shook my confidence, something I was never short of before I was in the accident.”


The detrimental effect on mental health is one of the most overlooked aspects when considering those living with a physical disability, and in Mark’s case, the burden is even heavier as it is something that has come from an accident - meaning a level of acceptance must also be reached. It’s in these moments that the strength and courage of Mark, along with many other people living with a disability, shines through.


To help those suffering with a disability overcome their own mental health challenges, even just a little bit of empathy might just make the world of difference to someone having a bad day.


We asked Mark if businesses and the general public need to be a little more conscious of the difficulties faced by the physically or mentally impaired, to which he had no doubts about: “Yes, 100%. People look at me and the first thing they say is, ‘Nice to meet you, what’s wrong with you? Why are you parked in a disabled bay?’ From a distance it doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with me at all, but when I start walking it becomes more obvious.


“People should be a little more informed and maybe do their own research, but they also shouldn’t be afraid to open a dialogue. Ask questions, it might feel a little bit awkward but as long as you ask in a polite and respectful manner you’ll find that most people are open to having a discussion.”


On Disabled Access Day 2017 it is important to remember two very important things. If you are disabled you should never let yourself be limited, chase your goals and live your life to the full. If you aren’t disabled, please be a little bit more mindful of the difficulties faced by those with physical impairments, but also don’t be afraid to start a dialogue - the more we talk, the more understanding there will be.


One last thing, if you get the chance please visit https://www.disabledaccessday.com and also https://www.euansguide.com/, a website dedicated to providing a comprehensive rating system for establishments providing disabled facilities across the United Kingdom.

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