Ian Mackay

Image provided by Ian Mackay

In his home state of Washington, United Spinal member Ian Mackay passionately advocates for greater accessibility of bike paths and multi-use trails for wheelchair users and other people living with disabilities.

Ian will be attending United Spinal’s 7th Annual Roll on Capitol Hill, June 24-27 in Washington, D.C., to speak directly with legislators on issues that affect the independence and quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries or disorders.

“Maintaining and expanding national, state and city parks, while making sure that they are inclusive to all, is something I’m extremely passionate about,” said Mackay, a power wheelchair user.

In 2016, Mackay rode his wheelchair across Washington State to advocate for more accessible trails for wheelchairs users. He then began hosting peer support groups for local wheelchair users.

Last year, Mackay rode over 4,700 miles in four different states and won the national bike challenge in his area.

“The outdoors is what ultimately helped me overcome my post injury funk and depression. I live by the motto: nature is the best medicine,” he said.

Mackay’s advocacy led to a meeting with Governor Jay Inslee, where he discussed some of the problems with Washington State bike paths and multi-use trails.

“He was quite receptive and invited me to come and speak on behalf of outdoor accessibility when the subject came to the state Senate floor,” said Mackay.

Mackay now runs a nonprofit to continue this advocacy called Ian’s Ride, to raise public awareness of accessibility issues in his state.

In addition to accessibility issues, health care priorities and air travel for protections for passengers with disabilities, he will be voicing concerns to his representatives on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Education and Reform Act, which he believes will make it easier for businesses to continue to be non-ADA compliant.

“It really removes the ‘teeth’ from the ADA by making it more difficult for us to take a business that does not have proper access to court. We have removed any incentive for the business to make the necessary changes,” Mackay explained.

Mackay believes people with disabilities should be provided the same access to businesses as everyone else.

“Inclusivity and equal rights for all is pivotal to our national identity, we must do whatever we can to preserve this,” he added.

Mackay was spinal cord injured in 2008, while riding his bicycle home from college at UC Santa Cruz, where he was studying for a degree in Biology. He spent the next three months at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center learning how to live as a C-2 quadriplegic.

“I was on a ventilator for the first 12 months of my injury and moved to Washington State to be with family. The first three years were dark times,” he said.

That changed when Mackay began exploring the outdoors around his home, including the nearby Olympic Discovery Trail. He received care and support from his mother, Teena Woodward, who assisted with his rehab and motivated him to pursue his goals despite his injury.

Mackay lives in the Pacific Northwest where there is a large spinal cord injury population who demonstrated that he could pursue an independent and healthy lifestyle with high-level paralysis.

“To see someone with a similar injury who is happy, successful, and independent made me realize that I had a future ahead of me,” he said.

“I found something that really helped in my recovery — trails and the outdoors. I wanted to share this with others and I wanted them to have access to the same healing infrastructure that I’ve been fortunate to have,” said Mackay.

He has also participated in power wheelchair bowling, mouth painting, adaptive kayaking, and power wheelchair soccer.

If there’s one message Mackay tries to stress through his advocacy work, it’s that “It’s easy to just see the wheelchair, but it’s best when people see the person seated in it.”