We were all hit at the beginning of the year with this pandemic. Things “locked down” and for disabled and clinically at-risk people, they shut earlier. Sports stopped and physiotherapists – many redeployed – could no longer work as before. We have been locked down longer, with stricter requirements, but we’ve stuck to them. And the downfall is we have lost our voice, as well as our access to therapy. Many have felt no one from the government was listening or supporting this sector. We were not included in updates, at briefings, or in obtaining PPE for those caring in the community, or at home, or indeed in the testing, initially. As a charity we knew from the start that this was going to be difficult for everyone, but for many it was going to be even tougher.
As a charity we started to prepare care packages, sending out dementia muffs and autistic muffs to help with isolation and anxiety. We sent out over 1000 of these and then we started to support with securing grocery delivery slots where many couldn’t, and medication when drugs were not being sent out. We saw many other charities working to supply food and felt this was not our goal but were beginning to hear so many tell us that they could not get the support they’d had in their care and that their physiotherapy and sport had ceased. We began to hear more and more that people’s pain was increasing and that they felt little was being targeted to help them. On top of this, things were then beginning to change for the general public. Golf was allowed, tennis was allowed, people were allowed to meet in parks and gardens, with social distance. But nothing was being offered to support those who needed it. We were advised to stay in and not go out, with little in place to bridge the gaps. We were hearing from parents of children and young adults that they were not able to access the physio from their Education and Health Care (EHC) plans.
People were asking for any help we could offer. They were asking us to be a voice for them too. Our Founder knew how important physiotherapy and activity are, as she had a strict regime before lockdown and knew how quickly her recovery would diminish. We all saw what Joe Wicks and other professionals started offering online – sport at high levels. We applied to the lottery fund for sports funding but decided over a virtual Trustee meeting that we could wait no longer and began the process of putting together a package of free, remote physiotherapy sessions. It was then that Freedom For Wheels contacted, and started to pull something together, with Response Physiotherapy. We wanted to get this right and we wanted to get it sorted as quickly as we could. One of our Trustees contacted Response and launched a service within five days. Then we started to get the calls.
Response started treating individuals and Freedom For Wheels started to receive testimonials that were heartfelt and extremely moving. One of the physiotherapists who immediately built a good rapport with his new disabled clients wrote:
“Upon talking to the clients for the first time through our video session, it was clear that they would be perfect clients for physio, because they were keen to give the exercises a go and progress towards their individual goals. Talking more about their goals, it has been amazing how varied and how different each individual’s targets are; this has meant it has been very enjoyable and interesting for myself. It has also kept me on my toes seeing people with different conditions or modifying exercises so the person could get the most out of the exercise or advice. It is fair to say I have learnt a lot in the last month that I was not very aware of before, and I have increased my knowledge base and toolbox of techniques through the sessions. I am really happy that I have been able to help and make a difference especially during this current time where there have been restrictions on people’s usual activities and the loss of the work they were doing.”
Freedom For Wheels wants to continue as much as we can, to support individuals within these very difficult times. We will continue to try to raise funds for more sessions to be offered and hopefully we will offer the service further afield. Clients have been treated and comments have been plentiful, including:
“Since lockdown started, my physio has not been provided. This was a regular appointment to give me the chance to live independently. It had worried me greatly, especially because I don’t want to end up back in hospital. I was concerned as I have specific needs and I’m shielding. I’m alone and I’m lonely and had increased anxiety and feeling that I could not go on. Pain was increased and I struggled to do simple things. My general fitness levels are nowhere near what they would be normally. I was worried about doing physio online but it was great and really effective. It has given me hope where I was struggling and it has given me at least one person in 13 weeks that showed some care.”
Freedom For wheels wanted to help in any way we could. We will continue to do this during this pandemic and the recovery phase, as funds permit. We have seen how important it is to be proactive in many areas, whilst championing accessibility and activity for disabled individuals. It’s all about inclusion in whatever form it has to be, whilst supporting individuals’ mental and physical health.
Achieving a goal, however small, is empowering. Exercise in whatever form will boost self-confidence and as research says, many disabled individuals would like to be more active but don’t have the opportunities. We will, as a charity, fight on as best we can to secure more funding.
If you are a disabled person in Kent or Sussex, please contact Response on 0330 024 1377 if you wish to book one of these sessions and feel free to contact Freedom For Wheels with any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org