Actor David Proud, who was born with spina bifida, has appeared in a number of BBC TV series, such as EastEnders, Desperados and Siblings, as well as four films, including ‘Special People’ (2007) and ‘iWitness’ (2014). Here he shares his blog post on fears and hopes around growing older if you have a disability.
As a 35-year-old man, I am sure that my fear of getting old is not uncommon. But for me, because I have spina bifida, that fear goes deeper.
I have no problem with finding the odd grey hair or having an excuse to be a little grumpier. What worries me is that I use a wheelchair and, while my condition allows me to function reasonably well at the moment, I might one day become more limited.
As someone who played wheelchair basketball for more than 20 years, I am pretty handy in a wheelchair. But I worry that my mobility will become increasingly impaired. At the moment I get by. But I am noticing changes. Things are starting to take their toll – longer distances in my wheelchair, steep inclines and rough pavements.
The greatest impact is on my energy. Even basic, day-to-day movement, requires a tremendous amount of stamina. I liken it a non-disabled person trying to walk through treacle. I am pushing my entire weight, and the weight of my wheelchair, through each and every movement. And this makes me selective in the activities I decide are worth that effort.
As a married man and a father, I know that my family have to assist me more than someone without a disability. For my wife, there are tasks that are never ‘my turn’. It is always her who puts out the bins, lifts heavy objects and builds the flat-pack furniture.
I know that I bring other strengths to my family. But there is no avoiding that a disability is never an individual diagnosis – it is always a family that deals with a disability. So, it’s not just my own ageing that I have to consider; as my wife grows older her responsibilities will inevitably become more challenging too.
A brighter future for disabled people
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. I am immensely proud of my disability. It has made me ambitious and driven. It is both my superpower and my kryptonite. My delight in proving doctors wrong for the past 35 years has helped me to keep going. In fact, proving them wrong has become a hobby of mine. Recent advances in medicine and technology have also allowed me a glimpse of a brighter future.