photos: Kirsten Sharp suffered a spinal cord injury when she was 14 years old. Today, she works to build awareness of the many resources available to people with similar afflicitions through Spinal Cord Injury BC. Photo: Katie Hyslop.

Spinal Cord Injury BC presents new horizons beyond disability

A web initiative articulates new horizons for people with spinal cord injuries.

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Spinal Cord Injury BC TV is a new initiative aiming to show what’s possible for people with spinal cord injuries. Called SCI BC TV for short, it’s a web series that aims to demonstrate the wide, exciting range of things people with spinal cord injuries can do.

The series, hosted by Spinal Cord Injury BC's Kirsten Sharp, is produced by the province-wide non-profit to prove that living with a spinal cord injury doesn't need to be debilitating. One video introduces audiences to wheelchair Motocross, a combination of motorbike racing and skateboarding using a wheelchair.

Another chronicles the history and current state of wheelchair rugby, also known as “murder ball.” Yet another demonstrates a robotic exoskeleton that people with spinal cord injuries can wear to help improve bone density, elimination problems, and other injury-related health issues.

Sharp emphasizes SCI BC doesn’t discriminate based on income status, offering their services to peoplewith spinal cord injuries regardless of whether they’re working, on disability, or supported by family.

And many of the supports andservices SCI BC offers benefit people who have little or no disposable income. They work from the perspective that regardless of your economic background, a spinal cord injury can have devastating impacts on your financial stability.

SCI BC estimates the lifetime cost of a spinal cord injury to be $1.6 to $3 million per person.

“When you’re injured, you have a tonof medical needs,” Sharp says. She was 14 when she was injured, so her parents’ health insurance covered 80 per cent of her costs. But not everyone shares her circumstances.

Almost 50 per cent of people with spinal cord injuries in Canada are 60 or older. That close to retirement, it can be difficult to start over in a new, accessible job. Sometimes working isn’t possible at any age, and many people end up on disability.
“To live on disability you have to have no money,” Sharp says. A single person on disability in B.C. received $906.42 a month. “How do you live off of that?”

Disability coverage and private health insurance help cover some of the cost. But if you have neither, the full cost of living with a spinal cord injury—including but not limited to wheelchairs ranging from $4,000 to $15,000—can be financially devastating.
Employment levels are also low for Canadians with disabilities. In 2011, only 49 per cent of people with disabilitiesin Canada had jobs, compared to 79per cent of the general population.

“Unemployment is huge,” says Sharp, adding lack of motivation, depression, and simply believing you can’t work are huge barriers to working. “Which we do try to change as an organization: we try to get people to go back to work, we try to show them that it is possible.” A social worker accessible by the organization’s resource line can also help people locate outside services and supports if they’re struggling financially, physically, or mentally after their injury.

“There’s support groups that happen here in Victoria and on the Island that we call Coffee Groups,” says Scott Heron, peer support specialist for SPI BC in Victoria. There are women’s groups; groups dealing with aneurysm and stroke aftermath;and groups offered in multiple languages to ensure a wide range of people have access to community and supports.

Free events also help introduce members to people with similar injuries. They provide free and accessible entertainment, such as spa days for women, sunset dinner cruises on BC Ferries, or dinner and a hockey game.

“We socialize together and get people out of their houses,” Heron says. Eventually Sharp hopes SCI BC TV can release one video a month; episodes on ballroom dancing and bungee jumping are already in the works.

“We have a million more we want to shoot,” she says. “A lot of what we do is try to lead by example and show people living their life, no matter how much loss of function their injury has given them.”

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