Tag Archives: wheelchair hobbies

Voices of Hope: Technology Supports Hobbies And Adventures After Injury

Susan “Suz” Welch had been living with severe arthritis for years when falls related to the condition caused her spinal cord to collapse in 2014. She is paralyzed from the waist down and continues to pursue rehabilitation to improve her mobility and maintain her independence. Suz explains how wheelchair photography and adaptive technology have had an impact on her life.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

Suz continues to grow her love of photography through technology


I am 75. I have been involved with technology on some level since I was a kid. My father was a body and fender professional and I spent a lot of time at his auto shop. When I was 11 or 12 I used a table saw at school and cut off my finger and damaged three others–that’s when I got my first experience with therapy, to get my fingers working again. I learned to type with three fingers and became just as fast as anyone else in the class on an old manual typewriter.

As an adult, I was the executive director of a local not-for-profit organization for many years. I directed a year-round camp facility in which we did darkroom photography and, later, digital photography. I also participated in a technology workshop in which I helped to teach young people and their parents how to use tablets and smartphones to learn more about the outdoors–for example: using Audubon identification books on tablets to identify birds in the wild.

After I retired in 2005, I directed three different camps where we used digital cameras and small printers. I found that some kids with behavioral challenges could focus better after learning how to use cameras. We saw great results.

Since I had been active for many years as a camper, counselor and camp director, it was very hard to accept becoming a paraplegic. Until my last fall, I was always able to get up and continue doing things. But the last fall crushed my spine. I was not willing to accept it at all. I thought I would get better and be able to walk again. I bet I asked four or five times every day why I could not do what I used to do. It was explained to me over and over again. I think I still have problems accepting my condition.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

“It was very hard to accept becoming a paraplegic.”

2010 was my last summer moderating camps. I pursued surgery to build a curve in my spine to enable my back to support me the way it should. Additional procedures helped to reinforce my spine so it could not bend and crush my spinal cord. Before the surgery, I could not stand, walk or sit for longer than 5 minutes because the pain was too severe. Immediately following surgery, I had no feeling from my chest through my legs. I was in an acute rehab program for six weeks in 2014, and that’s when I learned how to operate a power chair.

After I was released from the acute rehab unit, I went to a therapist, Kimbra Korte in Des Moines, Iowa. Kimbra challenged me every time I was there. I went two times a week, because everyone told me there was no way to know what I might get back. I started learning to do things again, but it was very slow progress.

I rode an FES bike in Des Moines and then I got an FES bike for my home. I ride two days a week, then walk with a walker one day, then do two more days on the bike and increase the resistance every five sessions. My walk is not like everyone else’s: I have to look at my feet when I walk, because I cannot tell where they are.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

“It was very slow progress” when Suz first entered rehab

In the beginning, I had to use a lift to get from my bed to my chair. Now, I can get to the side of the bed, use a belt and a walker and transfer to my chair. I reverse it in the evening. I can walk from one wall in our living room to a regular chair 15 feet away. I can walk about 60 feet outside, too.

My caregiver, Carolyn, was my camp nurse from 1998 to 2010. She and her four kids moved in with me. She is now retired.

Since I have been using the power chair, wheelchair photography has been a great outlet for me. I treat my chair like a four-wheeler and go to the pasture and down a dirt road every day. I have been taking pictures all my life, and I have always done photography with a darkroom. Since my injury, I had to give up the darkroom since it was in the basement. I donated my equipment to a local school and hunted all over for some sort of adaptive tech for my chair since a tripod or monopod would not work.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

“I am so happy with the equipment that it is my pleasure to share my story.”

BlueSky Designs is a company that creates multiple adaptive devices that can be attached to a wheelchair:  someone who uses a wheelchair, like me, can add a tray, computer, laptop, phone or camera plate to their chair. I was able to get an adapted camera component for my chair from BlueSky Designs. The component attaches to my chair so I can take photographs from my chair with the camera directly in front of me.

When I went to a local camera shop, all of the employees and the owner came out to see my device. They were so excited–they had been trying to help other people with wheelchairs to adapt their cameras and this was a brand new solution.

Susan Welch HelpHOPELive

An adaptive device allows Suz to take pictures from her chair

I will continue to rely on fundraising with HelpHOPELive to help me cover the cost of adaptive equipment. My fundraising has mostly happened with just a few close friends, some of whom were campers of mine during 1961 and ’62. I am so happy with the equipment I have benefited from that it is my pleasure to share my story. I entered three pictures into a local contest [pictures below], and one of them is now hanging in the local gallery for six weeks! I am making photo cards that I hope to sell at local farmer’s markets.

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I would love to be able to drive again and have my four-wheeler adapted so I can use it. I have gotten stuck in the mud with my chair three or four times (I am currently forbidden from going in any mud!). I live in the country, and I donated 16 acres of my land to Camp Hantesa so they could continue a riding program I had started in the 70s. Now they lease the horses so I can still use the 16 acres, and Ledges State Park is in my backyard, so I get to see birds, deer, raccoons, opossums, skunks and more. There are a lot of places I’d like to visit with the four-wheeler.


Suz fundraises with HelpHOPELive for out-of-pocket expenses including caregiver costs and rehabilitation to improve leg circulation and muscle strength. Would additional access to mobility technology improve your daily life? Start a fundraising campaign with our nonprofit at helphopelive.org.

What Can Spinal Cord Injury Therapy Do For Me?

As Mobility Awareness Month continues, we look at how physical therapy can help to boost your body and mind following a spinal cord injury.

Robert Mudge became a C5/C6 quadriplegic after an accident in 2001. Physical therapy and adaptive athletics have helped Robert to maintain a positive mindset and keep his body strong.

Robert Mudge quadriplegic rugby adaptive athletics

Robert, did your injury influence your interests and hobbies?

Growing up, I tried any sport or activity that grabbed my interest thanks to my supportive parents, including baseball, football, working out, bowling, BMX racing, surfing and fishing.

After my injury, I thought all of these hobbies and others were lost to me. However, over the years I’ve learned that I can still take part in similar sports and activities, just in a different manner. It wasn’t until 2007 that I discovered I could play a team sport again: quad rugby, with the Brooks Bandits in Jacksonville, Florida. In order to surf, instead of standing on the board I can lie on my stomach on the board, propped up on my elbows.

There are countless sports that can be played with a little adaptation: playing pool, swimming, table tennis, tennis, fishing, cycling, bowling, basketball, hockey…the list goes on.

Robert Mudge surf quadriplegic wheelchair surfing

Were you hesitant to get involved in adaptive athletics?

I was a little apprehensive at first when I gave these new activities a try, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to engage at the same caliber I was used to. I tried not to let that fear limit me or prevent the growth that I could experience by participating.

What helps you maintain your peace-of-mind?

Hope and faith both help me keep my sanity: hope that I can get better, and faith that I will. There are no guarantees that either will happen, but I believe both of those forces are very powerful. Combining those elements with relentless effort, goals, support from family and friends and a determination never to give up helped me get to where I am today.

How do you cope with injury anniversaries?

When I am faced with injury anniversaries or times when I feel like my progress is stagnant, I reflect back on how far I’ve come and celebrate the things I CAN do rather than harping on the things I still can’t do.

Robert Mudge walk stand quadriplegic

What did physical therapy do for you?

Thanks to a HelpHOPELive fundraiser, I was able to afford my first trip to Project Walk in Carlsbad, California. I realized I had found what I was looking for. It was so refreshing to be treated as a ‘normal’ person and to be moved and rehabilitated outside of my wheelchair.

[Project Walk] had me doing things I knew I couldn’t do, and that approach was frustrating at first. The staff recognized that one day, with repetitive training, I could get there. That’s exactly what happened over the years. I’ve continued working on rehabilitation in my home gym and at Project Walk Orlando year-round.

Do you find your hobbies therapeutic?

I think moving in general is therapeutic. Whether you’re engaging your mind or your body, staying active and in motion is a great thing. Just like they say, things in motion stay in motion.


Brian Keeter was left paralyzed from the waist down after a near-fatal car accident. Brian works out and advocates for spinal cord injury research to stay perpetually engaged in recovery.

Brian Keeter advocacy spinal cord injury SCI

Brian, did your injury change your participation in sports?

I played sports my entire life, and even played basketball in college. Leading up the accident, I had been playing in recreational league game with my friends and I played basketball several times every week, including Saturday mornings at 7 am. I have spent a lot of time working with exercise specialists to get stronger, stay fit and maximize my physical functioning. I’ve stayed on top of the research being done to find cures or improve rehabilitative therapies. I started my own foundation to identify and support spinal cord injury research.

Walk On Foundation spinal cord injury research tech rehab physical therapy

What do you like about working out?

I try to do all I can do to maximize what I have and prepare my body for the treatments and therapies that will be available in the future. Working out is therapeutic: you get to see that there are others dealing with the same or similar circumstances and, in some cases, worse circumstances. When I work out, I feel like I am physically working to do something about my physical limitations.

I have gotten stronger, particularly in my upper body and core, and I have gained movement in my hip flexors and gluts. My body feels better after working out because the exercises loosen me up and let me stretch out. When I have been traveling or have otherwise been unable to work out for a few days, I experience more pain, most likely because of increased tightness in my body.

Celebrate Mobility Awareness Month with us! Share your story on Facebook or on Twitter.

Pursuing Your Passions After A Spinal Cord Injury

In honor of Mobility Awareness Month, we are exploring how a spinal cord injury can impact your passions and your perspective on life.

Kirk Williams is an avid explorer who sustained a C5 spinal cord injury in a mountain biking accident in 2009. Kirk continues to seek out new experiences and stretch his limits every day.

spinal cord injury Kirk Williams travel photography barn adventure

Kirk, how did your injury influence your thirst for adventure?

My injury did influence my hobbies post-accident but I haven’t stopped doing what I love. I still do photography, camp, mountain bike and various other things. I’ve also learned how to do new hobbies like wheelchair rugby, scuba diving and hand cycling. I love travel, and I was not reluctant at all to travel after my injury. I got back into my adventure lifestyle.

Kirk Williams spinal cord injury HelpHOPELive service dog mountains river adventure

Are there any hobbies that help you to stay positive?

Writing on my blog was beneficial, especially being able to look back and see the things that used to trouble me that I have since overcome. I usually use every anniversary as a day to look back and see just how far I’ve progressed, and I remind myself that anything is possible.

Kirk Williams travel mountain snow view wheelchair

What do you like about travel?

What I love most about travel is getting out of my comfort zone and experiencing new things. I’ve always loved to check out new spots. Now, being a quadriplegic just adds a little more preparation into making it possible. Life is short, so why not try to experience it to the fullest!?


Rachael Short is a photographer who became a quadriplegic after a spinal cord injury in 2010. Rachael hasn’t let her injury slow down her passionate pursuit of the perfect shot.

Rachael Short photography HelpHOPELive rose black and white

Rachel, did your passion for photography change after your injury?

I always knew that I would continue photography in one way or another. I didn’t take a single photograph for a year after my accident: I didn’t even have enough strength in my arms to hold a camera. I started using an iPhone to take photos, making digital negatives from the images and platinum printing in the darkroom with help from a good friend.

The iPhone has aided in my healing process by allowing me to continue taking photos. The challenge has been making the device work for me in a way that other ‘professional’ cameras did before my accident.

Rachael Short photograph black and white silhouette

What keeps you positive as you recover?

Every year, I get stronger and life gets a little easier. I have always been a hard worker and I maintain that attitude within my daily rehabilitation. In my greenhouse-turned-gym at home, I put up a quote from Confucius: ‘It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.’

Rachael Short photography lake black and white

What is your favorite thing about photography?

What I like most about photography is being able to share my vision of the world, with the world. Art is very therapeutic. Taking photos slows me down and makes me really appreciate the beauty around me, like the sun through the trees or clouds in the sky.

Celebrate Mobility Awareness Month with us! Share your story on Facebook or on Twitter.