Workshop facilitation and teaching from a wheelchair

I have literally just started presenting and facilitating workshops from my wheelchair. Last year I deliberately didn’t take on much work as I needed time to heal and adjust. I am ready to start taking on more work again and in the last couple of weeks I have gone back to leading workshops, facilitating and presenting.

I had forgotten how much I enjoy it! I guess that’s a result of being a teacher, you can’t really do that job unless you like leading and facilitating people’s learning.

I had been really worried about doing that from my wheelchair. It’s not just vanity and pride, although there is a lot of that in there…

Images from Royal Opera House Bridge - Yolanda King
Images from Royal Opera House Bridge – Yolanda King

When you are leading a group, you need to take control from the beginning, you have to be able to hold the room, create a safe space, create an encouraging and supportive enviornment. It doesn’t sound very nice, but there is a certain amount of commanding the space.. And part of that is standing when everyone else is stiting. That’s not just about being power mad, but it is a basic drama technique of levelling – if you are standing you are the high spot and people will naturally look at you. That’s all taken away when you are leading from a wheelchair.

The other thing is I have never stood still while presenting, I walk around the space, even when I am at the front of the room, I move to tables and to individuals during workshops. That also becomes a lot harder in a chair.

I gesticulate a lot when I am talking and as I found out last week (my first time presenting) that can cause your chair to roll backwards. Most disconcerting. I had to put down the booklet I was referring to and put my brakes on. It wasn’t a big deal, but it threw me and made me lose my place. I am sure as I get used to doing this again I will get into the habit of flicking my brakes on and off again as I want to move around the space, but moving from side to side at will is no longer an option.

Images from Royal Opera House Bridge - Yolanda King
Images from Royal Opera House Bridge – Yolanda King

I know that I will get this all figured out and it will go back to being a really natural part of how I present, speak and facilitate, but right now it is an extra thing to think about and how it affects my work,

The reason I am sharing this is I am really open and honest about my life, and I want other people who have had to start using a wheelchair to know that there are difficulties and things you have to figure out, but you can do it. There is a certain amount of priviliedge in my writing, I work in the arts which is possibly the most accepting sector to work in, I haven’t encountered any discrimination, however I also haven’t applied for any work with NEW clients since this started. All of my work has been from existing clients who know my capabilities and what I can bring to an organisation. I do wonder if this story will change now I am starting to apply for new work. I will, of course, blog about those experiences.

Published by Jen Farrant

Consultant | Writer | Photographer

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8 Comments

  1. I understand that working while you are in a wheelchair is not easy. I know that it can be very difficult. I am very glad that you are brave and you are willing to work and be in a wheelchair at the same time. It shows that you have courage and you still go out and do things. Good for you!

  2. Well done. As someone who used to present at conferences and occasionally lecture and also who is now also a part time wheelchair user I was completely there with you. I too like to walk about when speaking (and when I used to play solos on the horn a long time ago and everyone said that I danced with it!), and my hands seem to have a life of their own when I get excited and very animated. I don’t work in that capacity any more sadly but I can imagine myself doing the same thing and rolling around in the chair. I actually don’t mind when funny things happen when presenting as it relaxes the mood for everyone. I guess that you have to watch for sloping floors as well!

    I don’t think you necessarily need to be higher than others to command the space either. I’ve always had a problem standing for any length of time (probably why I tend to walk around) so with my students we would sit around a table or if in a lecture theatre I’d have a stool as well. It’s more your personality that commands the room and it seems that you have that in spades. Well done for being an inspiration. xx

  3. thanks Cathy! I’m getting more and more confident now that I am doing it all the time…like everything practice makes perfect…or at least better!

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