Believe it or not, it took me the best part of seven years to learn and be able to walk on my own. I spent many years shuffling and crawling around our home, occasionally using the furniture we had as makeshift aids for support. This was over thirty years ago now. Although I was using professional disability aids and apparatus such as parallel bars and walking aids during my physiotherapy sessions, my parents could not afford to buy me these professional disabled aids to use at home.
I am thirty-nine now, but let me take you back all those years for a second. There's no doubt that disability aids and apparatus played an essential role in getting me to walk. The support, the sense of security you get when using this equipment is enormous. Training your brain to start working weak muscles can be life-changing. So much, I can get around unaided most of the time now. It has given me the joy of living a mostly independent life. Disability aids and apparatus are expensive. They were all those years ago, so my father, a carpenter, bought me a wooden box with little wooden play building blocks inside. It was a toy for kids. He then fixed four little plastic wheels to this box along with an upright handle. He replaced the wooden play building blocks inside the box with a few house bricks to add weight to my newly adapted 'homemade walker.' It took me some time to work out that this walker was an aid to help me learn to walk, but eventually, I started to use it, firstly just standing on my two feet, holding the bar, finding my balance. My mother would kneel behind me, now and again moving my feet forward, setting the rhythm, showing me what to do, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. As time went by, I learnt how to walk. It took me a long time, but I did it, and as time went on, my dad would remove a house brick one by one, decreasing the weight I was pushing against and lessening the weight as I got better at walking. As time went by, my confidence in my balance became more robust, and at the age of seven, I took my first steps unaided, and since then, I have never looked back.
Recently, I met Mark Dickinson, an ex-serviceman who now lives in Birmingham. His Granddaughter Nathelene, who also has cerebral palsy, now lives in the same village as me, a tiny village called Pentwynmawr nestled in the heart of the south-east Wales valleys. Mark, along with his daughter Katie has set up and now run a charity called 'Nathalene & Katie's Cerebral Palsy Foundation.' Mark now handmakes disability aids and apparatus with just donations alone, which is just an incredible thing to do. However, it saddens me to think that the expense to buy this equipment is still off the scale after all these years.
I asked Mark, 'What made you want to start making disability aids and apparatus for disabled children, and what was the reason you set up 'Nathalene & Katie's Cerebral Palsy Foundation?
He told me, 'When my granddaughter was having private treatment, she used a Pikler Triangle. My daughter mentioned buying one to use at home so Nathalene could carry on using it as a therapy aid. She told me how expensive these Pikler Triangles were, so I said I would make one. I decided to start the charity when I found out that funding for this aid and some other equipment is not available through the NHS and is very expensive. My granddaughter Nathalene is my inspiration, and seeing how she benefits hugely from using her Piker Triangle. I feel that other children will also benefit by having home therapy equipment too.'
After having a lovely face to face meeting with Mark and finding out about the incredible work and craftmanship skills he does by making this type of equipment himself by just receiving donations. I knew that I wanted to help him on his way. Recently, Clare and I have been looking to offer some charities a helping hand. Now I have found 'Nathalene and Katie's Cerebral Palsy Foundation,' I feel that a perfect match has us found with myself also having cerebral palsy. Having used the same equipment that Nathalene is using now, it is like going back in time and walking down memory lane. So, we have decided that we will be donating a percentage of any direct sales of my children's book 'Max And The Magic Wish' taken during the second half of 2021 to the foundation.
To be told that such the simplest of equipment like disabled aids and apparatus are still so expensive for the average person to buy is so disappointing and makes me sad. So to know and see someone like Mark leading the way and making his services available is heartwarming, albeit by now, I think that our NHS should be leading the way in the provision of disabled aids and apparatus. Equipment like this is vital to so many disabled people and is a pivotal part of the process of being able to learn to walk. Well done Mark, your charity will be an essential shining light to so many disabled children, and I wish you every success.
All the best,