When I applied to become an adopter, it was recommended that I was approved for a physically able and active child as we were such an active family. With a background in working with children with special needs and disabilities, that wasn’t my plan!
Over a year later, we saw the advert for Parrot and knew straight away that he was meant to be part of our nest. He wasn’t the child that we were approved for in the first stages, but somehow his social workers agreed that Pigeon and I were the right family for him. He had a rare, degenerative genetic condition that can cause increasing levels of physical disability. His balance was terrible, he had very stiff and malformed joints, and he could walk less than a hundred metres.
There is still an assumption across much of society that anyone with a physical disability or medical condition cannot access the great outdoors or be active. This is not a view I share. One of the first things that I did after having him placed with us, was to use his DLA (Disability Living Allowance) to fund an off-road wheelchair. People that knew us assumed that we would just go to places like the park with it. But that would be too ‘normal’ for us; we like to do things differently!
We are very blessed to live near and have family that live near stunning countryside locations. So we set out to explore them and widen Parrot’s horizons. We didn’t just widen his horizons; I think we nearly blew his mind during the first year that he lived in our nest! Nearly five years on, Parrot has been up Brown Willy in Cornwall and up to the top of Sheepstor, and many other lovely Dartmoor locations in Devon. He and his chair have been up rocky paths to cliff-side ruined castles and through forded streams; which he thinks is hilarious, especially when Pigeon pushes him at a run through the water! The wild coastal paths of Northumberland and their runied castles have not been denied to him. Woodland paths all over the UK have allowed him to learn to recognise various birds and their calls. Beaches are a little trickier, but with some determination and pulling the chair backwards through the sand, we have got him there.
Parrot came to us with no knowledge of the natural world, hardly able to walk, no idea even of how to stand up on muddy ground. He used to have tantrums about any mud getting near him or his wheelchair. He would refuse to walk even on dry, flat ground, screaming his protests for everyone in the vicinity to hear. Fast forward to this morning and we have a completely different child. We went out to woodland near us for a walk between rain showers. There was no tantrum about putting his waterproofs and boots on; in fact, he got dressed quickly and demanded that I give him his walking sticks. He willingly walked up the majority of a steep, muddy path, rejecting the offer of sitting in his wheelchair. Pigeon stamped in some lake-like puddles and Parrot gleefully followed suit. Robins took turns to sing to us, hopping from tree to tree as we moved through the wood. Instead of shouting, “Go away bird!”, as he would have done a few years ago, he cheerfully greeted them with, “Hello ditdit”. (Ditdit is our nickname for the robin that considers our allotment to be his territory, so now all robins have become known as ditdits.) We even saw a deer in the distance.
Why should people with medical conditions and disabilities be excluded from the adventures and connection with nature that bring joy to so many? There is a phrase about there being no such thing as bad weather, it is just the clothing that is wrong. Perhaps, we could consider a similar thought of there aren’t many truely inaccessible places, just the wrong equipment and mindset. Our next adventure awaits!
Note: the little figure in green in the wheelchair is not Parrot! It is his favourite doll that regularly accompanies him on adventures.