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Independence after disability: Josh’s story

After a spinal cord injury, Josh Marshbanks helps U-M study the benefits of video games for youth with disabilities and starts transportation business for others like him

When I think about where I was before my accident, I doubt I’d be where I am today without one thing – a positive attitude. Life gets better and you can still enjoy much of what you loved before your disability.

Josh Marshbanks tests out U-M developed video game SCI Hard, intended to serve as a learning tool for young people with disabilities. Photo Credit: Susan Ayers

Josh Marshbanks tests out U-M developed video game SCI Hard, intended to serve as a learning tool for young people with disabilities. Photo Credit: Susan Ayers

Four years ago, at age 22, a diving accident at my family’s pool injured my spinal cord and I was paralyzed chest down. I left the hospital in a wheelchair, anxious about how I’d get around, be independent or still enjoy life the way I had before.

There were definitely challenges – immense challenges. But I knew to move forward I had to stay involved with the people and activities I enjoyed, get back into the community and of course keep that positive perspective – which was not always easy.

When I was in rehab at the University of Michigan’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation unit, I spoke quite a bit about my admiration of video games. A few months later, U-M researchers asked me to help test a video game they were developing that would serve as a learning tool for those newly injured. U-M recently received a $4.5 million grant to continue researching how the game (now called SCI HARD) as well as other methods, such as smartphone apps and mobile devices, can help young people with disabilities.

Josh Marshbanks inside a vehicle for Fare to Freedom, which transports people with disabilities. He helped start the business after experiencing challenges getting to therapy sessions.

Josh Marshbanks inside a vehicle for Fare to Freedom, which transports people with disabilities. He helped start the business after experiencing challenges getting to therapy sessions.

For me, serving on the advisory board for SCI HARD was an opportunity to not only be engaged with the community again but to have a role in helping research that could one day help others in similar situations. How did I get that chance? By staying positive and being open to new opportunities.

Having a can-do attitude continued to be important when I was out of rehab and continuing physical therapy. I soon discovered how tricky the logistics could be in simply getting to all of my sessions. I realized that transportation was a huge issue not just for me but for many individuals with disabilities.

I knew that if you want something to change sometimes you have to do it yourself, and Fare to Freedom was born. I proposed the idea to my brother, Zac and he agreed that it was a great need in our community. So, with the help of Polly Swingle and Charlie Parkhill at The Recovery Project, I started my own wheelchair transportation company. Fast forward a year and we have had such success we had to acquire another vehicle.

Many people think of a disability as the end of the road, that you can no longer do things on your own or that you always have to rely on others. While the new limitations can be incredibly overwhelming at first and many challenges may test you along the way, you can also find opportunities to take control of your own health, quality of life and happiness. You don’t have to live on the sidelines of society – in fact, your voice and contributions are especially valuable.

I have realized lately that things happen for a reason, and with a positive outlook, support and some good old fashioned will power, you can create your own path.

For me, my new perspectives following my accident allowed me to engage with my community in new ways. I took my love of video games and helped U-M scientists better understand how to create a game that could maybe help others become independent in their own lives too. I took my need for transportation and transformed that into a thriving new transportation company.  These examples prove that having a disability – or facing other circumstances that don’t put you in the greatest situation in life –doesn’t mean life is over.

I used my situation as fuel for a second chance on life, and I’m only getting started.

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BlogJosh3.Josh Marshbanks, 26, of Canton, was a patient in University of Michigan’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation unit after a diving accident in 2009. He is the vice president and co-owner of Fare to Freedom and also serves on an advisory board for U-M-developed devices intended to help youth with disabilities

 

 

new_logos_180x1806Many of the nation’s most well-known and accomplished rehabilitation professionals manage and staff programs run by the UMHS Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Department. Learn more about our PM & R programs here.