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Specialist wheelchair will help student achieve her career dreams

A student from the University of East Anglia (UEA) who has a genetic condition affecting her mobility is fundraising for a specialist wheelchair, so she can achieve her dream of working in the environmental sector.

Gemma Bailey-Smith from Harlington, Bedfordshire was diagnosed in November 2018 with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder causing spasms and dislocations of her joints, affecting her mobility.

“I’ve lost my former active self and I now suffer daily with chronic pain and fatigue,” said Gemma. “But I’m determined not to let my condition hold me back in life, especially in my academic studies and career.

“Coming to terms with having to use a wheelchair at the age of 21 has been really difficult, especially as I was previously really active and sporty. I used to love hiking holidays, I volunteered in Borneo, was an avid gymnast, and even competed with the university Stunt Cheer team, UEA Angels.”

The student, who is completing a masters in Environmental Assessment and Management, needs £12,000 for an all-terrain electric wheelchair which will allow her to collect data while on a fieldwork trip to Devon in April.

She will also be able to pursue her passion for the environment, helping her to gain professional fieldwork skills and the confidence to apply for environmental consultancy jobs, which often involve site visits.

“I recently undertook an internship as an environmental advisor which cemented my career aims and this month I’m starting a part-time research position working on a Highways England project.”

The specialist wheelchair will give Gemma power and stability while tackling environments such as woods, beaches and fields, prevent muscle wastage, reduce inflammation to her ribs caused when she uses crutches, and limit long-term damage to her joints.

She continued: “I’ll be able to go on walks with my family and join my friends on strolls round the UEA broad, which I’ve been missing out on for the last four years I’ve been at University.”

Other students from UEA have been helping Gemma with her fundraising and the UEA Students’ Union Environmental Sciences Society are holding a quiz for students and staff on Monday (28 January).

“Having the support from other students at this challenging time has been overwhelming. It feels like everyone is rooting for me and wants me to succeed in my fundraising goals!”

Visit Gemma’s Fundraising page: https://www.gofundme.com/allterrain-wheelchair-funding