Bill and Glad are two lovebirds whose story will melt your heart. They met as kids when he was only 8 years old. Growing up in the same neighborhood, Bill got a bike at seventeen which he rode to her house every Saturday afternoon. He would usually pick her up and both would go cycling in the woods. They later got married and have been together ever since.
Even after their wedding, the couple kept their cycling habit as a family tradition. When Glad and Bill had a baby, they fixed a babysit at the front of the bike and still enjoyed their weekly outdoor activity. The love story of this couple is nothing short of a fairy tale that most people would only experience in their dreams. In 2004 however (1), the perfect life of Glad and Bill came to a halt when she was diagnosed with the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease.
The Viral Effect
The medical condition known as Alzheimer’s disease occurs when a person’s brain cells slowly die off without replacement. Bill, who is the primary caretaker watched as the disease stole his wife from him. She became completely dependent on him for everything including moving around. He wanted to make sure they continued their favorite outdoor activity. So, he decided to have a special chair made for her which was then attached to the front of his bike.
Today, the couple regularly goes out for a bike ride along the sunshine coast where they live. The locals who know and admire them soon made a video, sharing their story with the world. The video was uploaded to YouTube and it went viral in a couple of days reaching over two million views.
Bill and Glad’s love story has been retold several times and published by major media outlets including a feature episode on 60 Minutes. They are so popular that they even have a Facebook page (2).
Why People with Disabilities Need to Spend More Time Outdoors?
All Bill wanted was to make sure his wife continues cycling but, he is unknowingly helping to improve her health in numerous ways.
According to evidence (3), being outdoors has both mental and physical health benefits that go beyond the fresh air we enjoy. Staying out in the open relieves stress, improves exposure to sunshine which increases vitamin D absorption, enhances your mood, and strengthens your bones. Doing physical activities also helps you maintain and improve your weight which boosts your overall self-esteem.
Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and other disorders that limit a person’s mobility makes it very difficult and sometimes impossible for them to participate in outdoor activities. The sufferers are forced to remain in their homes as they need help to move around. Sometimes, they live in neighborhoods with no outdoor safe space for the disabled.
Even though physically challenged people can’t do a lot of physical activities, just leaving the house and being in nature can have a tremendous positive impact on their wellbeing. Going outside, breathing the fresh air, and relaxing in the sunshine can help to improve the mood of patients with Alzheimer’s or Dementia (4).
Moreover, studies show that bright light can significantly reduce the cognitive decline progression of Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients (5).
The Link Between Depression and Disability
Being mentally or physically disabled significantly increases one’s risk of depression. In fact, research says that up to 30% to 40% of Dementia or Alzheimer’s patients also have depression as a co-morbidity (6). Many disabled people experience more financial, environmental, social, and health issues (7) which becomes a heavy burden that easily leads to depression.
Physically challenged people are also more likely to be socially isolated, which negatively impacts their self-esteem. Most times they allow their frustration to cause conflict between them and their loved ones, thereby, increasing their feelings of loneliness. This is one of the major reasons disabled people have some of the highest rates of suicide attempts in the country (8).
Therefore, it is important that people with disabilities spend more time outside for stress relief and social interaction. In fact, according to one Stanford University study (9), helping disabled people engage in outdoor activities could be the best way to improve their mental health.
Equality in Outdoor Spaces
Even though Glad can’t cycle anymore, Bill’s special bike still helps her enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. She still gets to soak in some sunshine and feel the wind in her hair because of her husband’s selfless thinking. He has given her one of the best gifts she could ever ask for. Unfortunately for others, they don’t have access to such luxury. Studies show that over 560,000 disabled people cannot leave their homes due to transportation issues (10).
Now is the time to act. We need to let our city planners, landscape designers, and our policymakers know that it’s necessary to make the outdoor spaces accessible to all, including disabled people.
We might not be able to help every person in need out there, but we can offer our voices to those who can’t speak for themselves. Disabled people need to be outside more, and if we join our voices together, we can make the change.