A DEDICATED local councillor is determined his disability will enable him to help the most vulnerable members of the community he loves to serve. Despite a recent life-changing health diagnosis, Independent Ray McKimm is already looking forward to the challenge of the 2023 local council elections with an inspiring resilience. Just last August, Ray was told the sensation in one of his legs may never return, but undeterred he used a wheelchair to canvas around 43,000 homes in the run up to the Stormont elections. With amputation of his leg now a possibility, the Bangor central councillor is still determined to return to office to give a voice to the most vulnerable and improve our under-pressure health service. After sustaining a serious back injury when he was helping to move a piano as an 18 year-old student, Ray lived with chronic back pain throughout his adult life. Four years ago his condition worsened to such a degree that surgery was his only option, and after having his operation cancelled no less than five times, Ray eventually went under the knife. The surgery was hailed a success, as Ray regained the feeling in both his legs and the movement of his foot. However, on August 4 last year, Ray’s life would change utterly and result in a 10 week hospital stay. He recalled the moment he learned that he would be unable to walk fully again, saying: “He [the consultant] said there was no sensation below the knee and he did not believe it was going to come back. So it was going to be about adapting.” Ray has met those challenges head on, both physically and mentally, from adjusting to using a wheelchair, to having to sell his three storey home that he shares with his husband Pol, with a planned move to a bungalow. Having worked extensively as a psychotherapist, Ray emphasised the importance of resilience and good mental health, tapping his forehead as he said: “Life is what happens in here, it is what you do with it out there, it creates the life you want to have.” His adjustment is an ongoing process as he recalled leaving the consultant’s office saying: “I was going to bawl my eyes out, I realised I would not be able to walk my three dogs on the beach. “All through the 10 weeks of hospital, I had thought when I got home, we would take the dogs to the beach and throw them the ball. That is what kept me going, but there would be no dogs on the beach.” He said: “The mind is really interesting, it doesn’t give you all the consequences all at once. It wasn’t until later, when I was back at home, going through a drawer and I came across my big woolly socks and I asked Pol to put them with my Councillor shares story of life-changing health diagnosis Ray’s disability enables him to help community’s most vulnerable walking boots. “Then I realised that I am never going to use them again. There have been lots of moments like that. If you are kind to your mind then it is kind to you back again.” Moving forward, Ray decided to focus on what he could be grateful for saying: “I am articulate, I can share with people what it’s like, I can be seen in a wheelchair. It is about making that visibility and raising awareness.” He praised his 60 strong team of supporters that rallied behind him as he canvassed for the most recent assembly elections: “I had decided that I would stand as a candidate before this happened. When Pol asked me was that all off, I asked him ‘why would it be?” Ray embraced the campaign with gusto: “I was out canvassing at the last election in my wheelchair, and at the end of the six weeks I had to get a new one, I had worn out the wheels. We had canvassed 43,000 houses, knocking on doors. I had a great team of 60 supporters helping me.” Front doors with steps proved to be a challenge as Ray explained: “You find ways round things. I was able to ring doorbells using my litter picker, [also known as a grab stick] or I could use it to put leaflets through the letterbox, there are lots of ways to adapt.” Another challenge Ray hopes to overcome is sitting his driving test in a specially adapted car. He said: “I realised the other day that I was nervous about the driving lessons, there is lots of new learning. “I will be doing a driving assessment to get me back on the road, and it will be footless driving from now on. If I don’t get it, I will do it again until I do get it.” As he adjusts to becoming a wheelchair user, Ray has become aware of potential dangers as he navigates dropped kerbs and reduced height road surfaces as well as parked cars on pavements. He said: “I can wheel myself in flat areas but if the road has been resurfaced to two inches below the dropped kerb I could be stuck on the road. You think the road is flat but there is camber and you could run into the traffic.” Ray appealed to drivers not to park their cars on pavements as it blocked wheelchair access, often forcing wheelchair users onto the road. “However, unless there is a dropped kerb, we can’t get on the road. Please drivers, if it is prams or wheelchairs, please don’t park on the footpath,” he pleaded. The councillor hopes to use first hand experience of living with a disability, waiting lists and receiving care in the community to campaign for others in a similar position. Said Ray: “There is a joint working group between the council and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and one of the things I am doing for the local group is giving a deputation about what it is like to receive care in the community.” He is keen to work with council officers to increase disability access saying: “I have chatted with Disability Action about asking senior officers in the council to go shopping with me in Bangor in a wheelchair. “To go to the library, to go to a café, to go to a public toilet and then have a debrief about they got on.” Looking to the future Ray said: “I am better at what I do now that I am in the (wheel) chair, I understand what some people are going through. I understand how we need our town centre to be, with better dropped kerbs and parked cars not blocking the pavements for wheelchair users. “I may be technically disabled but I am more enabled to help the community. I love Bangor and I love what I do. I gave up my full time job, council is my full time job and I love it. “Whether my leg is there or whether they lop it off, I will enable people to live well. “