Hi, this was a write up that appeared in the Cyprus Sunday Mail on the 22/12/2002. Please be patient for it takes a few seconds to load!!
The wheelchair warrior
By Jill Campbell Mackay
IF YOU phone Christo Neophytou, don't be put off by the fact he sounds like a full blown drunk - he is in fact as sober as the proverbial judge.
Chris's slurred speech is a symptom of Friedreich`s Ataxia, a disease that attacks the central nervous system, wasting away the nerves and muscles.
But despite being confined to a wheelchair for the past 12 years, Chris never sank into a well of despondency and self-pity.
Now aged 40, he has turned his disability to good use, creating the first holiday complex specially designed for those in wheelchairs and their carers.
In a sleepy Polis backwater, the C and A apartments are not only testament to Chris's indomitable spirit, they are a perfect example of what can be done to create a normal and welcoming environment for those not blessed with full physical and mental abilities.
But why did he and his family go to the trouble and effort to set up such a complex? “I knew from grim experience,” explained Chris, “how difficult it was for those in wheelchairs to find a place they could go to for a holiday, a place where they felt safe and where they had a sense of freedom away from their rather confined day-to-day lives.
“I then used my own experience and knowledge as a disabled person to create the perfect holiday place: that's the key really, giving people pleasure, but within a safe and friendly environment.”
By the poolside there is a purpose built hoist that helps lower guests into the water, there are wide walkways, and everywhere there are ramps to allow a constant traffic of wheelchairs to and from the self catering apartments.
Of these, Chris is especially proud, and as he leads us into the rather splendid 'wheel in' shower stall, he demonstrates how a guest can then to take a shower without needing a carer in attendance.
Chris's enthusiasm is in no way diminished by his encroaching disease.
“Everything you see here has been designed to make life that bit easier for those in a wheelchair: we even have inter-connecting doors between each bedroom, which means that the able-bodied carers are still close by but both have their privacy.
“Overall, the area is much bigger than you would find in a normal holiday apartment, with extras such as a roll-up space beneath the kitchen sink to allow a guest to prepare a meal, and wash up the dishes. Everywhere there are support rails, with each toilet designed to give maximum aid to those with limited arm strength, so they can haul themselves out of the wheelchair with some sense of security, knowing they are supported by well designed and sturdy body supports.”
Over a splendid lunch prepared by his mother and sister, I asked Chris why it was you saw so few people in wheelchairs around the streets in Cyprus. Was it because there was a sense of shame about being disabled?
“Well, that is one factor, but the key is the dreadful state of the pavements. It's difficult enough to walk safely on some of the streets, so imagine trying to manoeuvre them in a wheelchair; but here in Polis it's OK to wheel along on the road as there are so few cars, plus we also have good pedestrians only areas here.”
Chris put down people's sometimes distressing attitudes to lack of awareness rather than malice. “In the main, people do not mean to be cruel or unfeeling, 99 per cent of the time it's ignorance that makes the girl at the supermarket checkout look to my wife when it comes to paying the bill, ignoring the fact that I have the money ready in my hand.
“I admit to feeling angry sometimes: just because I'm in a wheelchair and my muscles don't work, it doesn't mean to say my brain is dead. But that's the way it goes and like many others in the same situation we just have to grin and bear it and get on with our lives as best we can.”
Chris's has recently taken on another battle on behalf of the disabled; he is vigorously campaigning for a special ramp to be constructed at the CTO camp site in Polis.
This would then allow wheelchair users to cross the sand with relative ease, opening up to them for the first time the pleasure of swimming in the sea.
The CTO are still to decide on the issue, but having seen Chris Neophytou at work, I am confident that come summer that special ramp will be firmly in place.
For more information on the C and A Holiday apartments, call 00357 26321881
C & A Apartments, No.3 Megalou Alexandrou Street, P.O.Box 66258, Polis 8831, Cyprus
Those wishing to rent equipment for the disabled can access Chris's specialist site on www.paraquip.com.cy
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