WHEN Christos Neophytou realised the full extent of his growing disability, he turned it into a business idea.
The now wheelchair bound 48-year-old, set up C and A holiday apartments in Polis around 10 years ago along with the help of his family. The apartments are suitable for all guests, but are specially designed for people with a disability. The roomy bedrooms have all the equipment necessary for a less able-bodied person, such as rails on both sides of the toilet. There is a purpose-built hoist by the side of the swimming pool to help lower guests into the water, and even the sun beds are slightly raised so anyone in a wheelchair can slide onto them.
His efforts for a section of society still so poorly catered for was acknowledged last week at an awards ceremony in Nicosia. Organised by the Confederation of the Organisation of the Disabled, he was the only one of four recipients to receive a business award.
Neophytou suffers from Friedreich’s Ataxia, a neurological inherited degenerative disease which attacks the central nervous system and causes movement problems. The disease usually presents itself during a sufferer’s teens or a little later. Neophytou was 18 when he went for tests and was subsequently diagnosed with the disease. One of the main symptoms is a lack of coordination, resulting in the sufferer not being about to walk well.
“Walking somewhere was taking me about three minutes whereas it might take you one minute. I always had to consider where I could hang on to,” he said.
“When I went for the tests the nurse put a wheelchair by my bed and told me to use it if I wanted, but I thought there’s no way I’m going to use it,” said Neophytou. And then he did try and realised getting around was much quicker. But it was not until his later 20s that his mobility deteriorated so much that he could no longer walk. Neophytou has now been in a wheelchair for around 21 years.
“It’s a bitch,” said Neophytou in hushed tones. However, he assures me that he does very well with the help of his family, wife and 12-year-old daughter.
“When people see someone in a wheelchair they think they won’t have any children,” said Neophytou, saying how upsetting it can be when people doubt how the disabled can have a life and be happy.
A major worry, however, is his speech, which has been deteriorating for the last few years. “Sometimes people think I’m rude or shy,” he said.
During the interview we move from the busy, close knit tables in one of the Hilton Park’s conference rooms where the ceremony was held to a quieter area. Only after he has explained, do I realise that’s why we’ve moved.
“You can hear my first and third word so you can work out the rest and it’s easier face to face too, but on the phone for instance it’s harder for people to understand me,” said Neophytou.
Another loss is that he can no longer drive. Until a few years ago he could and he finds this lack of independence a real challenge.
Cyprus still has a lot of headway to make in terms of access for disabled people and Neophytou expressed two main worries. One is the pavements which are never car free, making it difficult and dangerous to get around. The other is the lack of accessible toilets. “In a normal restaurant that is not five star you battle to find a disabled toilet,” he said.
According to the Institute of Genetics and Neurology in Nicosia, people from the area of Paphos have a higher chance of being a carrier of the genetic mutation that causes Friedreich’s Ataxia. If both parents are carriers of the gene there is a 25 per cent chance of them having a child with the disease. If only one of the parents is a carrier then there is no chance.