At Briometrix, we’re lucky to have some truly heavy hitting support within the wheelchair community. The personalities of our Brio Pilots are wide and varied. But they bring all kinds of special punch to the mix.
We recently had the opportunity to get wheels up with Mark Tomkins, a former World ranked Para Archer and tireless campaigner for disability. He’s part of our selected top 7 testers for the Brio Pilot program. In non-Brio terms, it means Mark has been with us from the early stages of development and has been pushing the envelope (and anything else he could find) since he started.
Mark is usually leading the charge in all kinds of weird and wonderful Brio tests. We grabbed him for a rare moment of reflection and conversation on life as a Brio Pilot and to chat about disability issues.
How limiting beliefs put our blinkers on
Mark not only has the lived experience of disability through cerebral palsy, he’s also working on the coal face of disability in Australia. As a retired elite athlete, he also has a unique perspective on how fitness, sporting prowess and opportunity collide to make for a stronger wheelchair community. His aim is to demonstrate the disconnect between what wheelchair accessibility means on paper and what it translates into in real life.
Take for example International Day of People with Disability. While the value to highlight achievement in the community is there and it’s important to talk about the challenges facing the community, Mark believes that much of what is undertaken on the day is a missed opportunity. Instantly, you get a deep sense that this is a person that turns over the world, examining for possibility and looking for ways to create a stronger and more uplifting approach to disability.
“I’ve been speaking on disability for 15 years. Sometimes, it can feel like we celebrate one day of the year before disappearing back into the shadows. Other times, we’ve got moments such as the aftermath of the Black Saturday fires. Here was a tragic event giving the ability to redesign our approaches not only to people’s safety, but also the towns in which they lived with disability and inclusion in mind. Looking for the ways to disrupt the system, to rebuild and come back stronger, it’s far more powerful than a small moment or patchwork approach,” explained Mark.
He also believes that because 80% of barriers are non-visual, the conversation surrounding disability could do with an overhaul. Here is someone that sees the gaps in the street or the system as a place where opportunity can thrive. So, it’s no wonder he’s one of our favourite (and most cheeky) of Brio Pilot testers.
Briometrix and Mark intersect
Mark works out of the Goulburn Valley in Victoria, was at a leadership program and came across Brio when Natalie was presenting. Struck by the idea of monitoring wheelchair fitness and reporting on outcomes, he was curious.
“Briometrix was looking at things such as inclines, cross falls and mobility maps- all the things I was already investigating for myself,” says Mark.
Looking at extra measurements and being able to deliver mobility maps with hard data that explained the impediments to success often faced by wheelchair users in the built environment peaked Mark’s interest. The common issue of the wibbly, wobbly definition of accessibility to those in councils, town planning or architecture could be challenged, tested and re-qualified by supplying data from the very community that needed it. The sports person and the wheelchair advocate were nodding in tandem and picturing the possibilities.
As a curious person that is completely unafraid of testing limits, Mark was also interested in the potential for poking holes in Brio. This made him infinitely appealing as a top Brio Pilot because his insatiable curiosity and scepticism married well with a cheeky and adventurous take on early testing.
“I looked for any opportunity I could find to test Brio and spot false readings. I used it to try and use wheelchair hoists on the backs of taxis and other features in the environment to recreate strange readings. I even used to get a friend to tow at 8 kilometres an hour in their electric wheelchair to see if the data logger could tell if I was pushing the wheelchair or it was being moved by another source of motive power. That way, we could see if that would monkey with the stroke collection data. I think my friends were getting a little sick of the calls to come and put me back on four wheels as I tested Brio in skate parks and anywhere else I could find.”
The interesting outcome that developed from Mark’s desire to ‘break’ Brio meant that Mark was streaking ahead in the useful data we could use in development. Plus, we could see that no matter the circumstances, the accuracy we chased was upheld.
For Brio, this meant understanding that our greatest strengths are in the additional data points that maintain the accuracy.
In short, if Mark couldn’t trip the metre, we knew we were onto something.
Creating your own space of “can do”
Mark was already kicking serious arse with his wheelchair well before Brio rolled into the picture. What strikes you about Mark is he’s the kind of person you’d want mentoring your kid about life on wheels and/or speaking to people with newly acquired spinal cord injuries. The cheekiness, the maverick and the deep thinker combine to create an inspiring leader.
One of the issues that the wheelchair community can face is opposition from those that mean well. Parents that don’t want to see broken kids or occupational therapists, doctors and rehab specialists that are worried about risk. This is understandable because injury and increased risk of complications and illness can create some monumental setbacks in recovery plans and create stress on body and family alike.
Yet Mark says it quite plainly – “You’re not going to know what you can or can’t do until you try it.”
It’s about making choices and recognising the bad ideas through understanding where your own personal limits are.
One of the things we’re proud of at Brio is that we’re using data to help people make a case for their own adventures. And to also calm down the mini mavericks out there that might be placing themselves at risk through a taste for adventure without realising it. By tracking your fitness levels in tandem with the wheelchair workouts you complete or the places you roam, it’s much easier for everyone concerned to make informed choices.
While Mark is eagerly awaiting the Brio smash metre, so he can hit the rugby fields and see how hard and fast he can play, Brio is redoubling our efforts to ensure the wheelchair app and fitness tracker are as accurate as possible to help you train.
Mark is quipping about us adding a ‘phone a friend’ option to the app to ensure the daredevils among the Brio Pilot scheme can get back on four wheels after a spill. He’s also seeing the value in creating community, ending social isolation and adding the “how can I do this safely?” factor to exercise, fitness, challenges and adventure for all kinds of wheelchair users.
Having someone like Mark champion for true accessibility and creating opportunity as a Brio Pilot is exciting.