Rowena was very active before and after her spinal cord injury with a particular love of the outdoors. Paralysed from the chest down, she relied on her wheelchair to get around which restricted her accessibility to countryside walks. This limitation sparked her interest in issues surrounding disabled access. Rowena studied Accessibility and Inclusive Design through ‘distance learning’ for her masters whilst working in student support at a university in Essex on access auditing and consultancy work on disabled access. Rowena centred her dissertation during that degree on ‘The use of Photography as Information in facilitating Disabled People’s Access to the Countryside’. During this process, her own access to the countryside was restricted as she was doing it all in her own light-weight day-chair.

An initiative grew up alongside her dissertation; Rowena created an organisation called Walk Colchester. It was about mapping the walking environment in and around Colchester. The aim was to provide the kind of information that many walkers need to make informed decisions about accessing the countryside. One of the projects she initiated, as a part of Walk Colchester, was a bid to raise funds for an all-terrain chair available for community use in their country park. They won an initial public vote grant from Natwest Community Fund Award in 2012 and committed to buying a Boma made by Molten Rock. That is now run as a project and was her first access to the country in an all-terrain chair. “I absolutely loved watching what it did to those people using it. It was a game changer for so many people. Their attitudes were boosted and it brought so much fun.”

“I absolutely loved watching what it did to those people using it. It was a game changer for so many people. Their attitudes were boosted and it brought so much fun.”

Rowena started looking for an all-terrain chair for herself so that it was immediately available to her from home. She applied for an Aspire Grant and was successful in her application for a Strycker Powered Hand Bike.

She says: “I’ve never looked back. I mean the Boma was fantastic, but this has just changed everything. It really is amazing. It’s funny, I’ve found that the world seems to be divided between people who look at me in the Strycker and go “Oh that must be fantastic; that must really make a difference”, “I bet she can get out and about now”. Where other people just look at it and say “That’s a really great machine”. Which it is, but I feel like they don’t understand just how much difference it makes to people’s lives, rather they just recognise it as a good bit of machinery. I try to get across to people that it’s not just about access, it means that I can have fun again.”

"I try to get across to people that it’s not just about access, it means that I can have fun again.”

Rowena has even found that her chronic pain subsides when she’s out on her hand bike. “I’ve tried drugs and all sorts to minimise the pain but there has been no cure for me. I have found distraction, personally, to be my best weapon and nothing distracts me more than being out on my Strycker hand bike.

“This powered hand bike has really been a great part in my distraction. It’s given me back some fun and the capacity to get out into the fresh air again. I’ve got Aspire to thank for that.”

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