Regina Colistro, GF Strong physiotherapist, puts her wheelchair skills to the test.

Wheeling a mile in someone else’s shoes

After Diane Ward underwent ankle surgery, she needed to use a wheelchair to get around.

“I didn’t realize how hard it was,” says the GF Strong administrative secretary. “Then I thought about how I work in a rehab centre and how important it is for us to have an understanding of what it’s like for our clients who are learning to use a wheelchair for the first time.”

That germ of an idea turned into a teambuilding exercise that brought together a wide cross-section of GF Strong staff over lunch hour on June 6. Diane recruited her colleague, physiotherapist Ian Denison, to devise a wheelchair skills competition that challenged staff to test their abilities to operate a wheelchair.

A new appreciation for the challenges clients face

The friendly competition involved a variety of activities, including assembling a wheelchair, a safety relay, an obstacle course, backward wheeling and providing directions to a blindfolded attendant.

In a ‘blind’ test, Tessa Donnelly, recreation therapist, directs Jason Cheung, assistive technologist, pushing the wheelchair.

“It went really well; we were in hysterics a lot of the time,” says Ian, who also emceed the event. “I teach clients how to use wheelchairs and it was really good for me to see how difficult these activities were for able-bodied people. I realized how many things I’d started taking for granted. Wheeling is a lot harder than I thought and this was a great lesson in how unintuitive using a wheelchair can be.”

Physiotherapist Rhonda Johnston had used a wheelchair during her university training and has worked with clients who use wheelchairs for almost 20 years. She was curious to know how it felt to be in a chair.

“I was surprised how tiring it was to use your arms as legs,” she says. “It’s a form of exercise that definitely requires training to do for an extended period of time. Something as simple as the lip of a mat can be very challenging to get over. It gave me an appreciation of all the new skills our clients are learning.”

Spin-off benefits for the team

Designed primarily as a learning tool, the wheelchair skills competition had the added advantage of being a great teambuilding exercise.

The BC Rehab Foundation, which likes to support GF Strong employees as well as clients, came on board by sponsoring lunch.

“It was great to see staff having fun and supporting each other,” says Trynka Gogal, the BC Rehab’s client services and administrative coordinator.

“There were people on teams who’d never spoken before and who were laughing their socks off,” adds Ian. “Now they’re friendly when they see each other in the halls. Events like these help make GF Strong a great place to work.”

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