Hi - My name is Carol, and I am the founder and director of BeFree.kiwi. Here’s my story.
I was born, and grew up, in England (Portsmouth, a large naval city on the south coast). After school, I went to University of Warwick to gain my teaching degree. In 1996, I began teaching at the local special school, my dream job and what I had wanted to do since about age 5. In 1998, I met my future husband, Lee, and by 2003, we were married with two children.
“Our family adventure”
October 2006 was a big change for us, as we moved to Auckland. I was lucky enough to secure a teaching position in a special school, and Lee looked after our youngest, whilst freelancing as a website designer. Life was good - we kept some things the same, in order to keep the children settled (swimming and karate lessons), but we also embraced the kiwi way of life, with more outdoor activities for the family, the reason we moved to the other side of the world.
“What is wrong with me?”
While working in a physically demanding classroom, and training and instructing karate, I didn’t think much of the injuries I encountered - I would start limping if I walked for more than half an hour, my stances in karate were becoming less stable, I would feel super fatigued if I overheated (eg in the hot tub), feeling an itch in my hand I couldn’t scratch. Anyway, long story short, I was diagnosed with Progressive Multiple Sclerosis.
I was fortunate with work. I was already working only 3 days a week in the classroom, and working the other 2 days a week as the school’s IT support. School altered my duties to fulltime IT, a role more suited to my deteriorating physical capabilities.
“The ‘new’ me”
It wasn’t long before I was in need of a power wheelchair full time. I had the advantage of having been through this system with some of my students. Knowing the processes, people, terminology, and what was available, definitely helped me get the best outcome. I purchased a unique car, and more recently, I have a Mobility Assistance Dog. Both of these have given me some degree of my independence back.
“My new venture to future-proof my working life”
Recently I changed my working week to 4 days; great for fatigue management, but I need stimulation. One evening, while talking with Lee, we came up with the idea of selling disability aids online. We were ideally situated; Lee could build my website and help with social media marketing, and I could identify gaps in the NZ disability market and also source cheaper products. (For 2 years, I had been complaining about the lack of bags suitable for wheelchairs, and also about the exorbitant amount that is charged for daily living aids just because they are disability focussed.) Within 48 hours, we had the company name, domain name, social media handles, logo, and were registered with Companies House.
Be Free Kiwi was born !