Sue Austin: Deep sea diving adventures in a power wheelchair

Like reading a poem, Sue Austin’s presentation on ‘TED talks’, brings about a sense of humility and accomplishment, her experience as a wheelchair user is presented in a bright light as she challenges the idea of disability as a personal detriment.

Austin is the founder of Freewheeling, an organization aiming to further develop the community of Disability Artists. In 2012, Sue Austin was asked to do a series of live art and video of an underwater wheelchair, it was shown as part of the Cultural Olympiad in England, a celebration of the arts that takes place before the Olympics and Paralympic Games.

 

It is empowering to wheelchair users everywhere, to hear Ms. Austin share with the world that her power wheelchair brought her more freedom, and helped her become independent. Ms. Austin’s disability restricted her from the world, and now her power chair has freed her from the shackles. Sue Austin tries to abolish the idea or misconception that a power wheelchair restricts you from living independently, the large frame design and the weight of the electric wheelchair makes this seem plausible, but it is only a spectator’s opinion.

 

Sue Austin suffered an illness that damaged her ability to walk, this is when she started using a wheelchair. She explains how she was very optimistic when she started using her chair, the idea of being able to roam and travel independently, brought about a sense of excitement for her. Ms. Austin explains how she felt when she began to use her chair, but she also explains how others treated her when she became a wheelchair user, “people’s reaction completely changed towards me. It was as if they couldn’t see me anymore, as if an invisibility cloak had descended.”

 

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She began asking people what their word association was with a wheelchair, and they used words like ‘limitation’, ‘fear’, ‘pity’, and ‘restriction’.

This reaction from people lead Ms. Austin to look at herself as other people were seeing her, she changed her belief in herself because of what people were saying about her. This led her to be an activist on the subject, she needed to find herself again, and she decided to do so through sharing her experience, and finding new narratives to reclaim her confidence.

One way she did this was by working with a team to create a self-propelled wheelchair that works underwater, allowing Sue to scuba without leaving her chair.

I realized that scuba gear extends your range of activity in just the same way that a wheelchair does,” she says in her talk, “but the associations attached to scuba gear are ones of excitement and adventure — completely different to people’s responses to the wheelchair. So I thought, ‘I wonder what will happen if I put the two together?’

At first, the goal seemed impossible: “When we started talking to people about it, engineers were saying it wouldn’t work, the wheelchair would go into a spin, it was not designed to go through water — but I was sure it would,” Austin told the BBC. But things worked out, and the results are quite spectacular. “If you just put a thruster under the chair all the thrust is below the center of gravity so you rotate,” she said. “It was certainly much more acrobatic than I anticipated.” Tedx Blog News

 

Karman Healthcare will always support the development and progression of the wheelchair community, we are fans of people like Sue Austin, who share their experiences to help further the understanding of freedom in a wheelchair. As always, we are dedicated to helping wheelchair users find the perfect wheelchair for their lifestyle, we encourage you to contact us regarding any type of wheelchair solutions or problems you may have. We cannot thank Sue Austin enough for the hard work and dedication she has put towards the betterment and understanding of the wheelchair community.

Maurice Smith