Posted on: January 23, 2020 at 7:00 pm
Last updated: June 4, 2020 at 8:40 am

Bill and Glad Forward’s love story was one for the ages. The pair met when they were young children, grew up together, fell in love at the tender age of sixteen, and the rest is history. 

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Bill would ride his bike to her house every Saturday afternoon and the two would ride around town together. After they were married, they continued their cycling tradition, fixing a baby seat onto the front of their bikes, allowing them to take their children with them on their excursions. Their relationship was something out of a fairy tale- one that most people only ever dream of having. Everything was perfect until Glad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2004 [1].

The Bike Chair

As Glad’s condition gradually worsened, her mobility became more and more limited. Bill, who had taken on complete responsibility for his wife and become her primary caregiver, did not want her to miss out on their favorite past time – cycling.

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Bill designed a special bicycle – tricycle hybrid with a special chair attached to the front where Glad could sit and began peddling her all-around their neighborhood on the sunshine coast. The sight of the two of them riding around on this unique contraption quickly gained the attention of locals, and a video was made telling their story. It was posted to YouTube and has now received over 2.5 million views [1,2].

Their story has now been featured in various other media outlets, including a feature story on 60 Minutes. They even have a Facebook page [2].

The Benefits of Getting Outdoors For People With Disabilities

While Bill’s main motivation to build his special bike was so that he could continue participating in his favorite activity with his wife, he was actually benefiting her in many ways.

There are countless physical and mental health benefits of getting outside and enjoying some fresh air. It can help to relieve stress, vitamin D from the sunshine can boost our mood increase bone strength, and of course, exercise can improve our physical health, help us to maintain a healthy weight, and even improve our self-esteem [3].

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For people who have Alzheimers, Dementia, or who have limited mobility due to a disability, getting outside is not always easy or feasible. Too often these people end up stuck indoors all day, with no one to take them out, or no safe outdoor space for them to go to [3].

The reality is, even if someone isn’t able to do much outdoors, the simple act of being outside in nature can have a positive impact on their mental and physical health. Being in a natural setting with fresh air and sunshine can provide a significant mood boost, and studies have even shown that for people suffering from Alzheimers or Dementia, the effect of bright light alone can help to slow down cognitive decline [4,5]. Sunshine, in effect, is good for your brain.

Depression Among People With Disabilities

For a variety of reasons, people with Dementia and Alzheimers, as well as those with other physical disabilities tend to have higher rates of depression. Researchers believe that the incidence of depression among people with either Dementia or Alzheimer’s ranges from thirty to forty percent [6].

Depression is also the most common secondary condition associated with a disability. This is most likely because having a disability exposes a person to higher rates of economic, environmental, interpersonal, health, and vocational problems than the rates found in the nondisabled population [7].

People with disabilities often experience social isolation as well, causing negative self-esteem, low self-confidence, loneliness, and conflicts with friends and families. Because of this, the likelihood that a disables person will attempt to take their own life is much higher [8]. Getting outside gives disabled people an opportunity to get fresh air and to have social interactions. According to a study at Stanford University, getting outside could be the best thing anyone can do to improve their mental health [9].

Making the Outdoors Accessible to Everyone

Bill made the outdoors accessible for his wife. She may no longer be able to ride a bicycle, but with his ingenious contraption, she can still go out and feel the sunshine on her shoulders and the wind in her hair. This is the most valuable gift Bill could have possibly given her.

According to wheelchairtravelling.com, approximately 560 thousand people with disabilities don’t leave their homes because of transportation issues [10]. We now must look to urban planners, landscape designers, and public policymakers to ensure that our outdoor spaces are designed with accessibility at the top of mind. 

Not all of us may be as inventive as Bill, but we can be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves, and advocate for better accessibility in all of our public spaces.

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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