Using mobility to change attitudes

Ellen is sitting in a wheelchair on the left of the photo facing away from the camera. She is surrounded by three people from her wheelchair service team. They are all looking at her Ellen and talking with her. There are two other empty wheelchairs that can be seen in the picture.

We met Ellen during the recent basic wheelchair service training where she was being fitted for a new wheelchair. At 39 years of age, Ellen is not new to the wheelchair prescription process. Unable to walk since being admitted to hospital as a young woman with an acute onset of arthritis, Ellen has relied on a wheelchair for mobility for many years.

Having access to an appropriate wheelchair allows “Teacher Ellen” to access the classroom where she teaches. With a classroom full of young and curious minds, teaching is no ordinary job for Ellen. She sees it as her opportunity to change attitudes towards disability. While she might only teach the children in her class, Ellen reminds us that her students then go home and teach their parents, causing a shift in the attitudes of the community.

Having mobility also enables Ellen to participate in a variety of disability networks and take every opportunity to ensure her friends with a disability have a voice and are heard. Ellen knows the power of female role models and names a long list of ni-Vanuatu women with disability who have had a significant impact on her life. By leading through example, Ellen hopes she too can help other women and girls with disability to overcome their barriers to access and to discover their own voice.

Ellen is not without her challenges and still encounters barriers every day. Her wheelchair, however, is key to giving her mobility and independence which is a key enabler for her being an advocate for change. It makes a “bigfala difference” to her world and enables her to cut down discrimination, be accepted within her community and enjoy life.

Motivation Australia thanks Ellen for sharing her story with us. We acknowledge the commitment of our Vanuatu partner organisations, Vanuatu Society for People with Disability (VSPD), Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice and Community Services, in providing quality mobility devices in Vanuatu that create a real impact for people with disability and the wider community.

We also thank the Australian Government ANCP program and the LDS Charities for their funding support of the basic wheelchair training in Vanuatu. We also thank the LDS Charities and Wheelchairs for Kids for their donation of quality, appropriate mobility devices across the Pacific; and the Vanuatu Skills Partnership who have also donated appropriate mobility devices in Vanuatu.