Website founder goes from accident to advocate for people in wheelchairs and their families

Published: April 3, 2013  |  Source: greenfieldreporter.com
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FRANKLIN, Indiana — After Nancy Cotterill’s husband broke his neck in 2001, she became his primary caregiver.

Unsure of what to do or how to proceed, she searched online for information about disability and tips on care. Frustratingly, she realized it was difficult for people using wheelchairs and their caretakers to find useful information if they had questions.

She was lost after her husband was paralyzed and couldn’t find a reliable place to get answers to everyday questions. So she decided to do something about it.

People On Wheels, an Indianapolis nonprofit organization, was founded to serve as a clearinghouse of information for people in wheelchairs and their families. The website features medical updates on spinal injury research, news about legislation affecting the disabled and inspiring stories of achievements by people who use wheelchairs.

More than 6 million people in the U.S. have medical conditions that require the use of wheelchairs, Nancy Cotterill said. That number is increasing every year.

“It’s because of medical advancements — because we keep babies with cerebral palsy alive that otherwise would not have survived, because we bring military guys back from the front who otherwise would have died,” she said. “It sounds crazy that because of medical advancements we have more people in wheelchairs, but that’s exactly what it is.”

Cotterill and her husband, Jim, were on vacation when their lives were irreversibly changed. They were vacationing on Mackinac Island in 2001. While riding his bicycle, Jim Cotterill was thrown over his handlebars. He broke his neck in two places.

Doctors initially were unsure if he would regain the use of his hands and legs.

The family went searching for information about life in a wheelchair. But they were discouraged by the lack of resources available.

“We realized there was nothing. I was appalled. There is nowhere to see stories about those in wheelchairs. Where are the issues? Where is the research?” she told the Daily Journal (http://bit.ly/YSi8f6 ).

Though the conditions that cause people to be in a wheelchair vary, people who use them often have common experiences and problems. They’re always sitting, which can cause health issues, such as back pain.

Nancy Cotterill envisioned a common place where all people who use wheelchairs could go.

She has a successful background in business and news. She was the initial editor for the Indianapolis Business Journal and was editorial director for the Baltimore Business Journal, Cincinnati Business Journal and Pittsburgh Business Journal.

For five years, she was co-host on the local PBS series “Indiana Business Weekly.”

For some who use wheelchairs, the Internet is often the only lifeline to the outside world, so she decided a website would be the most logical and impactful option. People on Wheels was launched in 2005.

Through intense rehabilitation, Jim Cotterill has been able to regain the use of his arms and legs and no longer needs a wheelchair. But the Cotterills have continued to grow People on Wheels.

Recent stories include analysis of unmet therapy needs for neurological conditions, new insight into research reversing spinal cord injuries and a profile on the Junior Wheelchair Basketball Championship.

People on Wheels also has taken over the Ms. Wheelchair Indiana program, which allows women in wheelchairs to show the world their talents, ambitions and plans to improve their communities.

Past winners have used the title to travel the state, working with those with disabilities and spreading the word about their causes.

Though a small organization, Cotterill sees their work making an impact every day. The hope is to see it keep growing, she said.

By RYAN TRARES Daily Journal