Erla O’Byrne once played football for her native country, Iceland, so she has plenty of experience of sports injuries. She also has a working lifetime’s experience of helping disabled people lead active lives with artificial limbs. Now she is combining her two areas of expertise in one shop, called Ability Matters.

As you enter the shop at 332 Abingdon Road, your attention is drawn to the left, where Eddie the mechanical runner (pictured far left) is kitted up with the latest protective devices for joint injuries. He is flanked by a brightly-coloured cyberbike, where children can develop their own exercise programme while playing a linked video game.

Meanwhile, on the right is a battalion of mobility scooters, plus an electric riser-recliner chair ready to be tried out by an elderly relative.

It’s an unusual juxtaposition of goods, but one that has been carefully thought through by Ability Matters’s parent company, Opcare, part of the Ortho group, based in Abingdon.

Mrs O’Byrne said: “It is all geared around the positive. We want to take away the stigma. We are catering for active people of different abilities. We all get older and need help. There are all sorts of ingenious things on the market.”

The Ortho group supplies products used for the manufacture of artificial legs, artificial arms and orthoses — insoles, splints, braces and special footwear. It is best known for the award-winning Ultimate Knee and employs 350 people nationwide. It was started in 1988 as the brainchild of Mrs O’Byrne’s husband, Michael, whom she met when she worked for an Icelandic prosthetics company.

She said: “It’s the first time we have tried the retail side, and we couldn’t have chosen a worse time economically, but we feel the need is there.”

She is also hoping to benefit from a change in the way the NHS supplies help to people at home. An experimental voucher system is being tried out by some health trusts. Following an assessment, people are advised what kind of wheelchair they need, for example, and they can top up if they want something more expensive.

The Ortho group employs many specialists including occupational therapists and physiotherapists, and supplies many NHS trusts.

The new shop will have a firm philosophy of working closely with health services. Mrs O’Byrne is also keen to change the image of the mobility products market. She said: “We train our staff to recognise their limits. If there is any doubt, we will refer you to a specialist. We believe you should be advised properly.”

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