William Guillum-Scott has fulfilled his dream of raising awareness on disability by paragliding off Signal Hill in Cape Town on 14 November 2013. For Will this was a life-long dream that had been unreachable until now. 

Will was preparing for the World Championships in trampolining when he had an accident during training.  He injured his spinal cord and the accident left him a quadriplegic with little, or no mobility below the shoulders. Up until that point in his life, everything he did had been aimed at and following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a surgeon. “In an instant, every plan I had ever made was turned on its head and I had to begin looking for a proverbial "plan B".”  He was only 16 years old at that time. 

His journey since the accident has not been easy. Will believes that no one is tested beyond their capability to endure. Ultimately, the choice belongs to the individual and after the choice is made, one question remains; “how badly do you want it?” 

Unfortunately, nothing prepared Will for the way the world views persons with disabilities. “People’s attitudes towards persons living with disabilities is the greatest barrier to their living an independent and fulfilling life,” he states. 

These attitudes did not deter Will from reaching his dream: living independently and inspiring others while doing so.  He took on the mantra ‘Impossible is Nothing’ and it was under this mantra that he decided to take on paragliding. “There comes a time in everyone’s life where you find yourself thinking “is this all there is?”

In July this year, Will turned 40 years old. He has spent 24 years in a wheelchair, never daring to push the limits of his abilities but, rather, living according to the advice of others who, although meaning well, haven’t got the foggiest idea of the challenges I face on a daily basis, or the extent to which I’m able to overcome them. 

Up and away 

Most companies were not prepared to take the risks associated with taking a quadriplegic on a tandem jump, but Jan de Jager of Para-Taxi Paragliding had no such fears. After several failed attempts due to inclement weather the day dawned overcast and windy – ideal for paragliding! As with most people with disabilities, the question is not whether or not they are able to accomplish something, but rather how it will be done. Suiting up in the harness required a little extra assistance, as well as eventually connecting to the paraglide and his pilot Jan. 

At last he was off, and as the wind filled the paraglide and took off, Will yelled with joy and delight. How incredible to see someone who is unable to walk, given the chance to fly! 

Over the next 30 minutes, Will flew over Signal Hill, Lion’s Head and out to sea, at times rising above the clouds, before coming in to land on the Sea Point promenade. Altogether, we were in the air for about 40 minutes but it felt like we could have stayed up there all day. “Having never had the opportunity to climb Table Mountain I got quite a kick out of circling the summit, looking down at people who were standing on the lookout point. As a guy with little or no mobility below the shoulders, I never imagined I’d ever see the top of this majestic peak up close. The descent was quite a thrill in itself, passing over the blocks of flats on Sea Point’s promenade,” he explains. Friends, family and colleagues rushed to greet him. “The landing itself proved a bit problematic as I broke my leg, but the next I jump, I’ll make a point of securing my knees and ankles.” 

Taking control 

“Looking back, I would advise anyone with a disability to be cautious in who they look to for guidance. Take control of your life and don't let anyone make your decisions for you. Many people mean well but their attitudes and perceptions are limiting,” he warns.

He currently works for two non-profit organisations, the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve, and the Western Cape Association for Persons with Disabilities. Will has never let his body, and his lack of mobility, define him.  He works from home, for the most part lying flat on his back. With a few devices added to his impressive home PC system, he is able to work productively and efficiently. 

Will advises other persons with disabilities to educate themselves using the Internet, to the point where you are employable. In many instances, this is free of charge. “The time for excuses is over. Ultimately, it comes down to desire.” 

“As much as I would say to an able-bodied individual not to judge a person with a disability by their appearance, I will also tell a person with a disability not to underestimate their own abilities, or their responsibilities to show the world a better way of living,” he concludes.

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