As Perrin Nicolson was riding to the airport to go home for Christmas in 2017, the car he was in hit black ice and crashed. After being rushed to the ICU, he was diagnosed with a T8 Asia A complete spinal cord injury (SCI) and was uncertain what his future held as a husband, father and welder.
Three years later, Perrin recently celebrated the Christmas holiday with his wife and 4-year-old daughter, and he's been back full-time at work for over two years.
Perrin had been working as a welder for almost four years before his accident, and he received unwavering support from his boss while he was completing SCI rehabilitation at Craig. His supervisor told Perrin that he wanted him back at the workshop, whatever that looked like. Starting with two half days a week at the welding bench, Perrin steadily worked his way back to full-time after five months.
Because of the nature of Perrin's work, he uses a "beater" wheelchair for his workplace that can withstand a few bumps and bruises. Navigating a busy industrial workspace is challenging for anyone, but doing it in a wheelchair takes even more concentration and care. Perrin credits the wheelchair skills classes that he had at Craig for preparing him to be able to go "off-roading while inside" to get around his workplace.
Outside of work, Perrin is many things, including a father, a husband and an advocate. "I'm really back to a fairly normal life," says Perrin. "Just from a seated position." And while Perrin sent his daughter to her first day of preschool in 2020 and he's back to his beloved hobbies of hunting and fishing, he's still not allowed to do the laundry. ("But that was true even before my accident," Perrin shares with a wink.)
Perrin's advocacy for people with disabilities stems from his desire to share his SCI education and the real-life "hacks" he's learned to help him be independent in the community. He was surprised at how little some people in SCI online chat groups knew about activities of daily living (ADL) with spinal cord injury because "learning how to live from a wheelchair is what Craig teaches," Perrin says. With his Facebook page, "Positive Wheelchair Guy," Perrin shares his practical knowledge as well as his sense of humor by turning difficult situations into jokes so that people can deal with challenges by laughing instead of crying.
Not only were his eyes opened to how valuable knowledge is for someone's long-term stability and happiness when living with a disability, but Perrin also has developed a new appreciation for ADA design accessibility standards. His work for commercial or residential clients has always needed to comply with regulations about spacing and height, but now he is so grateful for details like an edge on a metal ramp or the 36 inches of turning room at the top of the ramp. "Way too many bathrooms in people's homes aren't large enough," Perrin says, and so he is glad that some of his work helps improve building accessibility for wheelchair users.
Perrin is also an advocate for outdoor accessibility for people with disabilities. He volunteers with a veterans mental health support group, and he plans on organizing local outdoor adventure trips for people with mobility issues. Perrin has already helped people discover the accessible parks, trails, lakes and more that are in their communities.
Sometimes, as Perrin says he learned during his time at Craig, all you have to do is ask for help. Perrin is determined to be the guy who people can turn to for help and advice in the SCI community. By sharing his own life experiences, he hopes that others with spinal cord injuries can see the wealth of possibilities out there for themselves.