Wheels give kids chance to move forward

By Mike Peters ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-11-14 09:34:10

Wheels give kids chance to move forward

Wheels Plus Wings co-founder Stuart James introduces artist Wang Mengxing at her gallery show. Bruno Maestrini / China Daily

Stuart James has never been one for pity parties.

Born with Osteogenesis imperfecter, more commonly called brittle-bone disease, James has been confined to a wheelchair since he was small, but never defined by it.

"If you think about yourself that way, you live your life as a victim," says James. The 20-year veteran of sports and entertainment marketing had a different image of himself.

Wheels give kids chance to move forward
Aspirational artist

The native New Yorker concedes he was lucky to reach the age of 5 in the very year that the Americans With Disabilities Act went into effect. That meant public schools had to take him in, though they weren't always completely ready. But James had the confidence to cope with any obstacles, he says. Despite his wheelchair and small stature, even bullying was never a real problem.

"But when he came to China," says his British friend Ian Charles Stuart, who manages China's America's Cup sailing team with James, "he found that there were very few people like him - people in wheelchairs that were living ordinary lives, that were going to university, going to work, doing all the things that he took for granted".

Accessibility was just one issue. "There were concerns and doubts about how easily people could integrate into life here," Stuart says.

Changing those perceptions often means shifting the mindset of the child, the parents and the community - starting with the wheelchair.

"One day I went to speak to a group of people with different disabilities," James says, "and as the auditorium filled up I was amazed to see people literally carrying in children. 'Where are the wheelchairs?' I asked."

Wheelchairs in China, he soon found, were big, clumsy and expensive. Most were hospital-style models, "designed to make it easy for someone else to push them around", he says.

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