Stuart Jenkinson, Australia

02_08_spina_bifida-stuart.jpgMy name is Stuart Jenkinson, a 33 year-old proud Western Australian, who lives in a suburb of Perth.  I live with my wife of 6 years in a 3 bedroom unit that has a small courtyard.  I work for a government-funded organisation with a staff of 5. We provide information, advocacy and support to people with any type of disability.  Having spina bifida myself has, no doubt, given me an insight into some of the needs of our clients.

My background is very different to the life I now lead.  I was born the youngest of 3 sons in York, a small town in the Avon Valley. It is a picturesque area 100kms inland from Perth.  My family owns, lives on and farms a property 20kms out of York.  My childhood was similar to my peers except that I wore a small caliper, walked with a gait and had frequent trips to Perth's Children's Hospital for medical appointments.  I was fortunate not to need many spells in hospital and was able to walk reasonably well until my teenage years.

After some resistance, I was allowed to attend the local kindergarten and school following my parents' interviews and meetings with administrators.  I travelled with my brothers on the regular school bus and had no special teachers or aides.  I enjoyed playing cricket at primary school and now enjoy watching cricket and Australian Rules Football. 

When I was 9 my parents began taking me to Perth at weekends for wheelchair sports training field events.  This enabled me to compete in Junior National Wheelchair Games and gave me lots of experiences of interstate competition and air travel, plus contact with many interesting people.  The big adventure, which followed as a 17year old, was a trip in the Australian Junior Squad, when we visited and competed in sporting events in Tennessee USA - such a long way but a great experience.

Fortunately, my parents joined the Spina Bifida Association of Western Australia when I was a baby.  This introduced my family to others in similar situations. It helped us all to learn and grow.  We always had a seaside summer holiday with other members of the Association away from the heat of the inland. The annual Spina Bifida Association camps became part of our regular summer routine.  During these times as a child I made strong friendships with other children with spina bifida - bonds which have endured and brought us together as adults.  Together with spouses, we now meet frequently socially and enjoy lots of different activities together- sharing good and bad times.

Growing up on a farm meant I enjoyed lots of space and freedom - catching yabbies (small shellfish) in farm dams, having tractor and truck rides, picking mushrooms in winter, playing in the creek, having pet lambs, chooks, cats and dogs etc. When I was 14 my father bought me a 4-wheel motorbike, which allowed me to drive myself around the farm and to and from the school bus - great fun.  I now enjoy fishing as a hobby and like the sense of peace and freedom it brings.

For my last 2 years of schooling I had to go to a bigger town with a bigger school.  It meant a 55km trip each way, and with 2 flights of stairs to some classrooms, my legs and knees began to weaken more.  After finishing school, I worked as a junior clerk in the local government office.  Following that, and a period of adjustment to life with crutches and then a wheelchair, I worked at a call centre at the bigger town where I finished my schooling - a 55km trip each way again.  I then rented a small flat having moved out of my comfort zone of life at home on the farm, and gradually learned to look after myself.

Although I greatly value my independence, I have learnt the wisdom of asking for help when needed.  My move away from the space of country Australia to live and work in the city brought several big adjustments for me, but with the support of my wife I now feel comfortable and competent in my new surroundings.  It has given me wider opportunities for employment and social and recreation activities, and I have become more involved with the Spina Bifida Association and it's activities, having been on the management committee for several years.

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