Wheels turn for charity

Nelson woman Shala Rashidi Kouchi has set up a new charitable trust to help fill in the gaps of support for people who are in wheelchairs.

The trust, named Let's Wheel the Wheels, will focus on raising awareness for people who use wheelchairs permanently.

It was launched at Tahunanui Playing Fields on Friday with a "wheelchair walk" and plenty of baked goods.

Ms Rashidi Kouchi said major issues with wheelchair access prevented many wheelchair users from fully integrating with the community, so she wanted to hold a day where everybody could get together and promote understanding.

She said it was difficult for wheelchair users to navigate the different service providers and services available: "You probably don't really know what's out there and who can help you with what."

Her son Amir Ayoub Kadeh, 25, lives with an intellectual disability which mimics autism. Originally from Iran, the family was living in Dubai when Mr Ayoub Kadeh fell ill with a fever that left him with brain damage at 9 months old.

A former school nurse, Ms Rashidi Kouchi said she "left everything" to care for her son.

This led her into pursuing care work for other disabled people, and for the last four years she has concentrated on taking care of people who are in wheelchairs.

She wanted to recognise the efforts of other care workers through her charity, saying carers deserved respect.

"It is not [just] a job, it is a passion. It is something we all are happy to do."

Ms Rashidi Kouchi said that looking after a disabled person like her son was a task that involved many people, and dozens of caregivers had contributed to helping him grow into a happy and comfortable adult. She hoped that one day he would be able to have a job.

Support workers Delia Elford and Jill Gardiner were at the event with clients Reuben Dean and Jessie Gatward-Smith.

Ms Elford said she hoped the trust would make a huge difference by educating members of the public.

"People just don't have any idea what it's like to be in a wheelchair."

Ms Gardiner said many people in wheelchairs had other disabilities that stopped them talking, so it was harder for them to advocate on their own behalf for access to help them carry out activities like going to the beach.

She said she knew of a disabled man at the event who had been able to put his feet in the ocean for the first time ever that day.