Luca Paiardi and Danilo Ragona's friendship began 20 years ago in the Spinal Unit of Turin’s Orthopedic Trauma Centre in northern Italy. Separate road accidents had left the boys in wheelchairs and unable to use their legs.
But for them, their disability marked a new beginning. The beginning of a new life and a deep desire to show others, who face the same difficulties every day, that they can still enjoy a full, exhilarating life despite their physical barriers.
Four years ago, the Italians launched ‘Journey to Italy’, a travel project which invites disabled people filled with adrenaline to take part in (sometimes) extreme sports — at home and abroad.
“We’ve been to Fuerteventura last year, Rio this year and we are planning to go as far as Ladakh, a northern region of India, and South Africa,” says Luca, who works as an architect and musician by day.
He continues: “What we really would like to show is the possibility for disabled people to travel and live their everyday life being able to do sports, to travel around and play an active role within our society.”
The pair’s latest exploit was to conquer Italy's highest climbing wall. But Danilo says the real challenges are not always the things that look the most difficult.
"Going to work, going out to do sport is not difficult because these locations are inaccessible, but simply because it is hard to get to them, simply to get out of your house,” he says.
“Your house is already a place with its own barriers so living your everyday life is already the hardest part."
In an effort to make life more accessible for others like him, Danilo founded Able To Enjoy, an online retailer of wheelchair accessories, spare parts, and even wheelchair-friendly camping products.
The entrepreneur had also designed and patented a super-light and compact wheelchair that could be taken on board a plane as carry-on luggage, or adapted for off-road or sports activities. In 2016, his innovative and stylish product featured on a Milan runway during Fashion Week, and will again star on a catwalk in Rome on June 15.
“You need to make a lot of changes to suit your body change,” says Danilo, who believes more companies should work with and invest in products for the disabled.
“There is a need to build a business focused on allowing people to go out of their houses, and travel and live free of barriers.”