Using a wheelchair hasn’t stopped Merle Bradley going snorkelling or getting out into the rugged West Coast bush.
[Story originally published at Mental Health Awareness Week 21-27 September 2020]
The 60-year-old nature-lover was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2014 but that hasn’t stopped her going into nature and doing what she loves.
“I’m still doing something I love. I thought my mental health would go downhill after my diagnosis, but it hasn’t because I can get out and about,” she says.
People with chronic physical conditions generally do experience a higher prevalence of mental disorders compared with people without physical conditions. So Merle is thankful she can counter that with her outdoor activities.
Important to get out and about
Central to her ability to get out in nature is her specially designed all-terrain wheelchair.
“I was so excited when I got it because I knew it would revolutionise my life. It meant I could get out and about every week and be able to go out into rough terrain.”
The wheelchair, designed by Greytown engineer Peter Thompson, allows Merle to tackle just about any terrain, including the Abel Tasman Coast Track.
Earlier this year, Merle traversed the track for two days as part of a trial by the Department of Conservation to make tracks more accessible for the disabled. She completed two days of the track, with help from family and friends, who used harnesses and ropes to assist her through the more difficult parts.
Merle, who lives in Hokitika but is originally from South Africa, says it’s important when you are disabled not to be cooped up in a room or institution watching TV.
“Just to be outside listening to the birds, having a sense of achievement and the fun of tramping is an incredible feeling. I’m still doing something I love. My life can continue, I can still see the trees and watch the birds.”
After her diagnosis, Merle was told she had between two and 10 years to live. So the former primary school teacher and her husband embarked on a six-month holiday around the world.
Being in nature exciting
“I wanted to go travelling while I could still walk, before I knew I would be confined to a wheelchair.”
After she returned, she got her all-terrain wheelchair and has never looked back.
While on holiday in Rarotonga this year, Merle was able to get onto the beach thanks to her special wheelchair.
“I put on bigger tyres so I could get over the beach. I could go up to the water’s edge, then stand up with the help of my husband and then go snorkelling. To get out into nature like that was so exciting.”
She is keen to spread the word to other people with disabilities about the benefits of all-terrain wheelchairs to the disabled.
“Before I got my all-terrain wheelchair I thought I would never be able to do things like going to the beach, but I actually can.’’
Story originally published at Mental Health Awareness Week 21-27 September 2020.
This is my access story, it is one of many. I'm sharing it because I want a law that puts accessibility at the heart of an inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.