Luca Pezzillo on life as a teenage wheelchair user in 2020 | Enable Ireland

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Luca Pezzillo on life as a teenage wheelchair user in 2020

Boy wearing school uniform in wheelchair

Hello, my name is Luca and I would like to tell you what it is like to be a teenage wheelchair user in 2020. I am currently 16 years of age and I am attending Presentation College Bray. When I'm in school, I typically use a motorised wheelchair. This is a great tool as it gives me a huge amount of independence to get me from A to B without the need for any assistance. I would also like to talk about the challenges I may face daily as a wheelchair user such as inaccessible footpaths and narrow doors all the way to people being generally uneducated about disability as a whole.

Sometimes I feel people can get very awkward around a person who uses a wheelchair. One of the main reasons for this is the height difference between me who is sitting in the chair and the other person who is most likely standing. This usually causes the other person to come down to my level either by bending over or by completely squatting down. Although I do understand this is done out of respect, it can sometimes come across as patronising to the person using the chair. I feel a more appropriate approach might be to stay in the same position and just look down slightly, this way is more natural and there is no awkwardness involved. 

Another thing that I feel people get confused about often is helping a person in a wheelchair either by opening a door or grabbing something from a high shelf. Of course, you should ask first but that kind of help is always welcomed. 

When I'm in school I have an SNA to help me with daily tasks. This person helps me in between classes such as getting books from my locker or giving me assistance on school trips and class retreats. Once a month, I go to Silver Pines, which is respite for young people with disabilities. When I'm attending, we often go shopping or to the cinema to catch a film. I enjoy this because we are treated like normal teenagers not just people who need extra care. Many of the buildings we go to are fairly new and easily accessible but older buildings are a different story. They are often impossible to access as they have steps all over the place and the accessible entrances are at the back or hidden in some way. Also, when I am out I often come across people parking carelessly and blocking footpaths and access to footpaths. This makes it very dangerous for wheelchair users as we have to go onto the road into traffic to get around the parked cars.

When I took part in transition year in school, I felt it was not very inclusive for people with physical disabilities as most of the trips away  involved physical activities such as paddle boarding and mountain biking. That gave me the idea to spread disability awareness in an interactive way in my school. My plan was each day for a week, three of my teachers would have to use a wheelchair for a whole working day - this way they would face the challenges I face on a daily basis. The whole school got interested in this and the week was a lot of fun. Everyone learned a lot about wheelchair access and understood that there are challenges that they never even thought of.

All in all, I think that things are improving but there is still work to do both in educating people about disability and in changing the environment to make it more accessible.