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Flight is freedom in its purest form,
To dance with the clouds which follow a storm;

To roll and glide, to wheel and spin,
To feel the joy that swells within;

To leave the earth with its troubles and fly,
And know the warmth of a clear spring sky

— Gary Claud Stokor

I’ve been there.  I’ve done that.  I’ve climbed out into a sunrise and have felt the freedom of flight.

I earned my private pilot’s license in the late 1970s, a few years before I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I haven’t flown in a long time, though, because I quickly learned that I couldn’t fly frequently enough to stay sharp enough to stay safe. But I’ve never lost the love of flying. And my eyes turn skyward every time I hear a light aircraft pass overhead.

So, I was very interested to read an article on The Telegraph (U.K.) website about eleven disabled people in the U.K. who have recently learned to fly. They all received no-cost lessons that were sponsored by a U.K. group called Flying Scholarships for Disabled People. Since 1983, more than 400 people have taken flying lessons from FSDP. Most of them have flown solo, or solo with an instructor, by the end of the program. Some have even continued on to get their private pilot’s “ticket.” And, yes, some of those students had MS.

Another organization in the U.K. that puts disabled folks in the pilot’s seat is Aerobility. Like FSDP, it provides lessons at no cost and is run by volunteers. Similar organizations exist elsewhere.  Among them, Able Flight in the U.S. and Wheelies with Wings in Australia.

Medical certification is required for a pilot’s license no matter what the country. Here in the U.S., a diagnosis of MS means an extra neuropsychological evaluation, adding an extra hurdle over which to jump. But it can be done.

Dierdre Dacey was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 16 and by the time she was in college, she had to begin using a wheelchair. Through the Able Flight program she earned her Sport Pilot’s License. Her words on the Able Flight website, should give you all the encouragement you need:

“Able Flight has changed my life.  I always wanted to fly but was told it would never happen. Able Flight took me out of that box and told me to go fly and be free. Even though it was completely new to me and I had had no former experience, everyone was supportive and positive and certain I would be able to do this…and I did! I will never be able to say, ‘Thank You!’ enough!”

(I hope you’ll follow me here on Multiple Sclerosis News Today, and also check out some other posts on my personal blog:

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Multiple Sclerosis. 

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Ed Tobias is a retired broadcast journalist. Most of his 40+ year career was spent as a manager with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. Tobias was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980 but he continued to work, full-time, meeting interesting people and traveling to interesting places, until retiring at the end of 2012.
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