I became a lawyer in 1993. In 2001, I was a newlywed with my own busy legal practice (specialising in commercial law and migration Law). My husband and I were desperately hoping to start a family. However, a life changing event occurred on 9 July 2001. As my husband Rob and I were travelling home early in the morning after a weekend away, we hit black ice and our four-wheel-drive car rolled. On the second roll the roof caved in and hit me on the back of the neck instantly severing my spinal-cord at the C5/6 level. Initially I was paralysed from the neck down. I looked down where my legs landed and in that second new that I would never walk again. Initially I did not realise that my arms were also paralysed I just thought they had both been broken.
In that split-second my life was forever changed.
Despite all the chaos going on around me, my husband flagging down a truck, a helicopter landing in the middle of the road to airlift me to hospital where I would spend the next year, the thought foremost in my mind was whether or not I would still be able to have a child.
I was placed on life support , my left lung collapsed and I had to have an emergency tracheotomy. This meant that for a long long time I could not speak even after I was taken off of life support. My husband and sister would hold up letters of the alphabet and I would blink to spell out words. When I finally could speak, my first question to my doctor was whether or not I would be able to have a child? I was told that it would not be possible given the high level of my injury and the fact that my heart would not take it. My next question was to my new husband was to ask him for a divorce. Thankfully for me, his answer was also no!
I underwent months and months of endless painful physio and occupational therapy. Thankfully I recovered some movement in my arms although my hands and fingers are still paralysed.
It was an exhausting triumph when I was first able to lift an empty Styrofoam cup without help!
I was determined to maximise my strength and I spent many long, frustrating hours in the gym and with the occupational therapist using a special splint to thread beads onto a string. The result of all that hard work is that with the help of an extremely strong right shoulder I am now able to write. Remarkably, my writing is better now than it was before the accident.
Fortunately for me I have an incredibly supportive husband which gave me the strength to keep fighting every step of the way.
On 12 September 2001 it was our 3rd wedding anniversary; it was also the day that I was to sit in a wheelchair for the first time.
Robert wheeled me into a cafe within the hospital grounds. The cafe had a small courtyard and unknown to me my parents were waiting. As Rob wheeled me into the courtyard the music that played on our wedding day bellowed through the hospital speakers. I turned the corner and there was my mum, dad and alter and a priest and in a very emotional ceremony with Robert on bended knee we renewed our wedding vows. The day was September 11 and for a brief time at least there was some reprieve from the horrors on the hospital TV screens.
The next four years were the hardest as I found it really difficult to adjust to my new life, my new body. My career was also at an end, everything I had worked and studied so hard for was gone. When I came home from hospital I was very depressed. It was always the littlest things that would catch me off guard and spiral me into a heap.
I recall vividly the moment Rob opened our front door, the same door he carried me through as his bride only three years earlier.
The sun beamed onto the tiny dents all over our hallway floorboards highlighting my years of devotion to stiletto high heeled shoes, shoes I knew I would never again be able to wear. In those early years after my injury I wore sneakers and tracksuit pants which seemed regulation attire for people in wheelchairs. I suppose it was easier for Carers and Nurses to dress people with disability in this way. I loved fashion before my injury, nothing had changed except the way I looked. Some would argue that people with disability have more important things to worry about, but I take the view that fashion affects our core sense of identity, our confidence and more importantly it impacts the way the outside world perceives and treat us. Imagine going to a job interview in a tracksuit? If nothing ever changes, everything states the same!
Without a doubt the most devastating blow was the knowledge that I would not be able to carry a child. We knew that we had to find a distraction, something to help me cope with the depression and PTSD and once again, my gladiator husband to the rescue.
Robert decided that what I needed was an outlet for my creative spirit. He arrived home one afternoon with a set of paint brushes in one hand and a completed enrolment form for art classes at the local community college in the other. I had never painted before, I thought he was crazy. I attended one class and was treated terribly by the instructor. At that time it was necessary for me to wear a splint on my right arm to enable me to hold a paint brush so I guess between that and the wheelchair I must've looked a bit of a fright! The other students in the class avoided any attempt I made at eye contact.
Sometimes, when people don't know what to do, they do nothing, they mean no harm by it.
The instructor wouldn't look at me, she spoke to Robert, it was as if I wasn't even there, I felt like I was his child, not his wife - ultimately she recommended that perhaps I might be more suited to an abstract style art where I could splash painted the canvas. Needless to say I came home in tears and never returned for the remaining classes.
I found a way to draw, to paint, and to create.
With Rob's support I was determined to find and embrace the beauty in life. I spent years teaching myself from books and DVDs and with the help of Rob's makeshift modifications to brushes. I found a way to draw, to paint, and to create. Initially I concentrated on oil painting before being seduced by the translucency of watercolours.
Art became a form of therapy, a way to cope with the enormous life changes with which I was faced. Art became my yoga.
I went on to study under other noted watercolourists such as John Lovett, Greg Allen and Robert Wade. I now sell my art, and have auctioned it for MS and spinal cure research (PCSRF) and have won many art prizes. I am member of the Watercolour Society of Queensland and the Royal Queensland Art Society. You can see some of my art on Instagram at @carol.taylor.artist or at my website under Artist Gallery . Because I am paralysed it takes a long time to complete a painting.
Though art helped me cope, Robert and I never give up hope of one day having a family. Despite 8 years of IVF and a total of 15 embryo transfers each pregnancy only resulted in miscarriages. It was an incredibly heartbreaking time in our lives. I felt like a failure as a woman and wife. In 2005 we moved from Sydney to the Gold Coast hinterland Queensland. We sought the help of a naturopath. In our minds it was one last very desperate attempt, however one month later we were pregnant the old fashioned way.
I spent a total of 5 months in bed in order to keep my baby until the big day.
All the worry of which melted away when our little miracle son D'arcy was born. It took a team of 12 people to safely bring him into the world. I had to have an epidural to control my heart and I was unfortunate enough to contract a life threatening infection (MRSA) as a result of an epidural which was necessary to control my heart during the delivery. It took three weeks of intensive treatment by infectious disease specialists and a neurosurgeon, but we were finally able to leave hospital and come home as a family, albeit as a very sick mum.
D'arcy is now 12 years old, loves life, loves school.
Parenting with quadriplegia presents very considerable challenges, however being a mum is the best job I have ever had, and it's also the most challenging and the most rewarding.
With D'arcy's increasing independence over the years however I began to miss the intellectual stimulation of my former career and to a lesser extent the sense of professional identity which was lost as a result of my accident. I briefly considered the idea of looking for part time work with a law firm.
I imagined my desire for flexibility coupled with my disability would not be a package met with open arms by any prospective employer. So I decided to set up my own legal practice once more. I wanted to ensure I had complete flexibility to be the best mum I could be and to sustain work life balance. Having waited so long and having endured so much to have a family my concern was that an employment situation may not cater to my needs. Being disabled, I am naturally drawn to technology to assist in my day to day activities. In 2014 my husband brought to my intention the incredible advancements in technology by a company called PEXA (property exchange Australia). This technology was the catalyst for my return to the workforce. The technology has completely revolutionised the way in which property transfers occur throughout Australia. I saw an opportunity despite my disability and I sat the Qld Law Society course orally to regain my legal practicing certificate. In 2015 I established my own law firm once again called Taylor Law & Conveyancing and we made history by becoming the first law firm in the State of Queensland to conduct an electronic simultaneous on-line settlement between two properties 1200 km apart! We practice in what I like to call “wheelchair friendly” law, predominantly Property Law, Wills and Deceased Estates.
Simultaneously I continued with my art, my journey has been a long one and Art was the first step. I have won awards for my art over the years and I was the recipient of the 2018 Access Arts Achievement award which was offered by Access Arts QLD. The award was a $10,000 award.
During my 18 years as a quadriplegic I have been so frustrated with the shopping experience as I was unable to find clothing that would work for me in my wheelchair. Someone that is paralysed suffers a number of complications and I suspect that for most of us in wheelchairs, walking is at the bottom of our wish list. We suffer from a life-threatening condition called autonomic dysreflexia, this essentially means that the thermostat in my brain doesn’t work properly. As a result I am super sensitive to temperature change. I cannot shiver to warm up and I cannot sweat properly to cool down. Even though I live in the tropics my husband lights a log fire at 5:30 AM every morning just so I can be warm and I start the day out in thermal clothing. As the day warms up I need to change into something cooler because if I don’t I will suddenly and without warning faint. For years we have carried around a change of clothes in the car but it is not always convenient if I am caught unawares to race back to the car and hope that we haven’t forgotten to pack a change of clothes and then find a disabled toilet so I can change into something cooler. It is for this reason that I designed my caftans in my collection to assist to overcome these issues.
One of the other complications of being paralysed is that blood circulation does not work properly. This means that we are prone to something called a “pressure sore”. These are very dangerous and an ill placed seam or zip could cause a pressure sore putting a paralysed person in hospital for many months. Some people have even died from them. I took this into consideration also when designing my collection.
Because I couldn’t buy what I wanted in the shops over the years I began designing clothing for myself and engaging a dressmaker to make my designs. I decided when I won this award that I would use the award to put my artwork on fabric and see whether I could create accessible clothing for others with disability. I started initially by approaching 4 male quadriplegics that I knew were going to be Guest Speakers at a formal black tie function. I asked them whether or not they would agree to be my “guinea pigs” and allow me to design waistcoats tailored to their needs. I cautioned them that my artwork is colourful but they all agreed. The main issue I was trying to overcome in this instance is that very often someone in a wheelchair like these gentlemen would need to purchase a waistcoat two sizes bigger than required just so that their Carer could dress them and get the item over their elbows shoulders etc. The problem was that by the time this oversized garment is on the individual it looks so large it’s ridiculous!
I know that as a quadriplegic most people in wheelchairs have what is known as a “quad pod” this is where the paralysed muscles have collapsed over the years and unceremoniously land in one’s lap. I knew it was important to design the waistcoat to cater for this shape and to disguise this issue. Also to make the waistcoat easy to get on and off and to make it fitted. I use magnetic buttons as there is nothing worse than a button to someone with paralysed hands. I also used invisible zips. This was so well received that I was approached by Artisan QLD, and they asked to see some of the garments that I had designed for myself over the years. Next thing I knew one of my waistcoats and half of my wardrobe was on display at a gallery in Brisbane for 2 months. Through Access Arts, I was approached by Mercedes-Benz fashion Festival to see whether I would be interested in designing a collection of 9 pieces of adaptive clothing. I immediately said yes without any concept of what I was doing! Every other designer had one year to organise their collection, I had 12 weeks and all whilst simultaneously running my law firm and juggling my commitments as wife and mum. I discovered that sleep is optional!
The concept of “adapted clothing” is not a new one but in my view most of what is available is “functional” at best, I wanted my collection to be fashionable as well as accessible.
I didn’t know whether this opportunity would lead to any commercial opportunity but I knew that it would shine a well overdue Spotlight on the issue of fashion inclusivity. People with disability have been left out of the fashion conversation and I would like to change that –
I think that inclusive fashion isn’t just a nice charitable thing to do, it’s also really smart business! – In Australia alone 20% of the population have a disability, that’s a really big market share to ignore, and brands that are ignoring the “disability dollar” do so at their own risk! At the end of the day I am still a woman armed with a credit card that wants to go shopping, to buy beautiful things which make me feel beautiful.
In order to feel part of a community we need to see ourselves reflected in it. I asked myself where is that 20% reflected in the fashion industry and mainstream media?- where are the mannequins in wheelchairs, I would like to see more people with disability in shop windows, we need to change the fashion landscape and embrace fashion inclusivity.
The name of my label is called MeQ Designs, The inspiration for the name was born out of frustration. I want to be part of the fashion conversation, when I go shopping I want to shout “me too!” Why aren’t I included? The Q of course stands for quadriplegic. MeQ gives me a voice, my art gives that voice eloquence and my designs, inspired by those excluded from the fashion industry give MeQ its power and its passion.
“I might be on wheels but my fashion moves me forward”
Although my hands and legs are completely paralysed and I have no formal qualifications in art or design, I am the World’s first quadriplegic designer, designing for people with disability and my collection was modelled entirely by persons with disability. I am extremely proud of this achievement. My collection was a World first of its kind.
My models have various disabilities, some are in wheelchairs, some could walk but still suffered from spinal cord injury. One of my models, paralysed from the chest down can walk but can only feel the soles of her feet. What the audience saw in my collection was 9 amazing inspirational people that have already achieved so much in their lives, coming together to wear my designs and showcase MeQ Designs because we all share a passion for inclusiveness, for access, for the individual’s inalienable right to self expression and inclusion. I hope that most people walked away with an understanding of what inclusive fashion really means.
My designs draw inspiration from classic Hollywood screen legends. We must each learn to embrace what we cannot change and celebrate what we can. I use magnets and invisible zips and even magnetic zips sponsored by MagZip in NY, there is a lot of colour in my collection.
I would very much like to launch MeQ Designs. The business woman in me think it would be “smart business” to collaborate with and established designer. I do not have knowledge of the fashion industry, production, pattern making, manufacturing etc. I do however have 18 years “lived experience” as a person with disability. I have the artistic vision and an understanding of many of the issues that need to be overcome to develop an accessible clothing line. I think this is a niche market that has been dramatically under catered for and could well be worth billions of dollars worldwide.