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Walking in the air

17 May 2017

Hear how Mencap support 60 year old Philip to fulfil his ambition of paragliding

Alexandra Horsfield

Philip is nearly 60 and has been supported by Mencap since 1989.

Service manager Lorraine says that in spite of his age, having cerebral palsy, and using a wheelchair he is "a bit of daredevil and loves thrills".

The team supporting Philip have learned to recognise how he communicates his preferences and enjoyment. So when they saw his response to seeing someone leaping off a cliff on a glider, and said 'I bet you'd like to do that', he laughed enthusiastically.

The team could have left it there and continued with the daily routine, but they recognised that Philip was expressing a preference. So they began researching if it would be possible for him to try the paragliding experience for himself.

They found an instructor in Wales who already had lots of experience of supporting people with disabilities to enjoy paragliding. So they contacted the instructor and discussed the practicalities of working with Philip's abilities and needs.

The team worked closely with the instructor to complete what Lorraine called "the biggest risk assessment ever seen". They also checked and double checked Philip's understanding of the activity by supporting him to regularly watch videos on the website and observed for his response. Lorraine says each time he saw the video he got even more excited.

Finally, the team spoke about the activity and the costs with Philip's advocate who had known him for many years. They had no hesitation agreeing that it would be a good idea. In fact, they expressed surprise that Philip had never done this before.

Once they had supported him to transfer into the harness they reminded the instructor about how Philip communicates his joy and excitement, and suggested that he may need to cover his ears. They were not wrong. From the moment that Philip left the hilltop, until he returned 30 minutes later, having gently circled like a bird high above the fields below, he screamed and laughed with pure pleasure. The staff said it was an extremely moving experience to witness.

Lorraine says if there were any doubts about how much Philip had enjoyed the experience the fact that, when they landed, he tried to keep the harness on so he could go straight back up again was worth a thousand words.

The staff said Philip was jigging about with excitement and smiling with pride all the way home in the car as they talked with him about what he had just done. 

It should not be forgotten that if the team had not been alert to Philip's communications the moment would have been lost forever, and none of this would have happened.

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