Up the hill: Michelle's AT journey
27 October 2023
WA is known for its beautiful natural landscapes, and there is nothing like exploring gorgeous outdoors – the rolling hills, birds chirping from the gumtrees, the trickle of a stream or gentle waterfall.
At Indigo, we love helping our clients achieve their goals and dreams, so when nature-loving Michelle came to us three years ago, our staff were eager to help her find the right tech and get her up in the hills.
Michelle is bold, funny, and full of presence, with a wicked sense of humour and an infectious laugh – but she is also a solemn and serious person who knows what she wants and will go out and take it. Growing up in rural WA, she’s been surrounded by nature her whole life, and loves to be outdoors, so when NDIS opened up their assistive technology (AT) funding options for her, she knew exactly what she wanted – a piece of AT that would make it easier for her to use her wheelchair out in nature. Michelle wanted to explore, either by herself, or with her family: her husband, George and her son, Joe. She wanted to be able to go enjoy the trails at John Forrest, head down to the beach to enjoy the waves, or just make going to her local shops easier.
“She had a vision, that she would like to be able to get to the beach and come up to the bush,” Indigo Occupational Therapist Evana said, “And she came to us, and together we thought long and hard about what the right options for her would be.”
Michelle uses a wheelchair and has used mobility aids for most of her life. She grew up on an isolated farm, with her parents and brothers, and when she was just over two years old, she became injured in a farming accident that damaged her spine and left her unable to walk. Part of her journey with Indigo included getting a new wheelchair and modifications to her home, but being able to get out into nature was especially important to Michelle.
“I love the peaceful sounds, the birds, and the freedom,” Michelle said, “I just love nature.”
Together with Evana, they began to look at and trial a vast array of equipment for Michelle to use, particularly power assisted handbikes that could easily attach to her wheelchair. This part of the process was essential for both Michelle and Evana, and it was important that they took their time to find something that would work for Michelle’s goals, but also consider her needs and abilities.
“The big goal was to be able to just throw [the power assisted handbike] in the car and head off herself,” Evana said, “But we both decided against that because it was just too much – her current handbike works for where she is at right now.”
Michelle eventually decided on the power add on Batec Mini 2 Handbike – it was powerful enough to allow her to get around, whether on hiking trails, or to her local shops, as well as customised tires that can traverse uneven and gravelly terrain. During the decision process, Michelle decided to focus on getting out to the bush, rather than the beach, as the power assisted handbikes would be easier to use and set up.
“Even though we could get a piece of equipment that would do everything,” Evana said, “It would be quite complicated, and [the set up] needs to be done with assistance from someone else. Picking something that would work with whoever is coming out to the bush was really important.”
Considering who would be going with Michelle when she is out on the hiking trails was also important for Evana and Michelle to consider when discussing their options. Michelle’s husband George is an avid hiker and loves to be out in nature with his wife – and the Batec Mini 2 Handbike is easy for him to set up with Michelle’s help. They head out to Garvey Park or John Forrest when they can and are hoping to explore Bells Rapids and eventually trek some of the Bibbulman Track.
“Using [the Batec Mini 2 Handbike] is good, cause I can go with Joe on more walks,” Michelle said, “I love being able to do this with George too, we love exploring and going to places we’ve never seen before.”
The Batec Mini 2 gives Michelle the freedom to be able to explore and immerse herself in nature, in a way that she wasn’t able to do as a child – especially now that Michelle has a family of her own. “When I was a kid,” she said, “and I was on crutches, my family would go up to Bluff Knoll, and I’d always have to wait at Base Camp. I’d walk around on my crutches, or I’d sit in the car and read a book, but I used to hate that I couldn’t go with them, that I had to miss out.”
It doesn’t just help Michelle when she is out in the bush; she uses it in her everyday life, like going to the shops with her son, Joe, and this was something that she and Evana considered when choosing the type of assistive technology for her wheelchair – a product that would not only help with her goal of exploring nature, but also assist in her daily activities, particularly as Michelle gets older.
“For a lot of people, they’ve had their injury or disability or condition for such a long time, and what they are like in their 20’s is vastly different to what they are like in their 40’s or 50’s,” Evana said, “Michelle has spent 50 years pushing herself from her shoulders, and our shoulders aren’t designed to support our weight like that, so she’s had years of wear and tear, and that needs to be considered when we help her choose the right equipment.”
“Once upon a time, I would have pushed all the way to the shops in my manual wheelchair,” Michelle said, “And in fact, I used to make myself do it, because people would say back then, ‘Why don’t you use an electric wheelchair?’ But when you’re younger, you want to keep your fitness up, and I wanted to use my manual wheelchair for as long as I could but using [the Batec Mini 2 Handbike] allows me to have the best of both worlds.”
Michelle continues to go out to the bush to explore the beautiful landscapes of WA’s national parks, occasionally with her husband and son in tow. She’s looking forward to exploring new places, and continuing her journey with Indigo, to see what the future brings when it comes to assistive technology, and how far it might take her – to the bush and beyond.
To learn more about our occupational therapy and assistive technology services, and how our experienced allied health staff can help you, visit our NDIS services page.