My name is Matthew King, 23, and I am currently studying the Legal Practice Course at the University of Hertfordshire Law School, having graduated last year with an Honours Law Degree.
In 2004, at the age of 17, I was playing in my first professional rugby match and following a tackle early in the game, I broke my neck leaving me paralysed from the neck down and dependent on a ventilator to breathe. Looking back, I am totally unaware of how the damage to my neck was caused, but I knew immediately that my life was never going to be the same again. That split second on the pitch, when the accident occurred, has completely changed my life. Prior to my accident I had always been very active and had applied to join the RAF following the completion of my ‘A’-levels; however, given the extent of my disability and physical limitations, I quickly had to re-evaluate my goals and identify a career that was still possible for me to pursue.
During my nine month stay in hospital, I became very low, despondent and lonely, but that time also gave me the opportunity to think through my options. Originally, I thought that journalism, and particularly sports journalism, would be a suitable career choice, but the more I began to think about things, the more a career in law seemed most suited to me. I am no longer able to move any part of my body below my neck, and although this is obviously a great limitation, the ability to have use of my hands is not a prerequisite for a legal career, compared to a job like carpentry casino where it would have been. I have been able to overcome my physical limitations with the help of a scribe who comes to university with me and who I dictate my lecture notes and examinations to.
I also use voice recognition technology on my computer to to prepare my own work. I’m currently in my final year of university, and will begin a training contract with Stewarts Law in London in September 2011. I’m also working part-time as a peer adviser for the Spinal Injuries Association in the spinal unit at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, speaking with newly injured patients who have suffered a spinal cord injury and their families, trying to provide them with support, advice and maybe a little bit of hope regarding their future plans and aspirations. Although a cliché, if by sharing my own experiences I am able to make a small difference in the lives of others who have suffered a spinal cord injury similar to myself, it will definitely be worthwhile.
When I first sustained my injury in 2004 and became aware of the extent of my disability, I truly thought that it would not be possible for me to return to education and attempt to build a career for myself. However, if I concentrated on the things that I could still achieve, rather than dwelling on the things that I couldn’t, there was no reason why I still couldn’t build a meaningful life for myself. If my experiences have taught me one thing, it would be that, regardless of the extent of somebody’s disability, there are always options and support available, which will allow that person to continue to lead a fulfilling life and build a successful career for themselves.