Sarah Howard, 42 from Greenwich lives with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). She continues to pioneer accessibility and ‘arts for all’ at the world famous Sadler’s Wells dance theatre in central London, thanks to a Balder F280 powerchair from Etac.


Sarah’s powerchair is the second Balder model she has owned and believes her successful career could not have been possible without them. She is currently being assessed for a new, state-of-the-art Etac E800 series powerchair, which will provide even greater functionality and independence at home and within the working environment. Sarah has SMA, which is a progressive, neuromuscular condition that results in the need for high levels of assistance. The F280 powerchair she owns provides reliable, comfortable and safe mobility on a daily basis through high levels of functionality and manoeuvrability. As with all Etac powerchairs, it is compatible for travel in an accessible vehicle with the addition of an Automatic Tie-down System. This pioneering, drive-from-wheelchair technology is essential for Sarah, as she has to independently drive into central London everyday from Greenwich.

Sarah is Access Officer for the Sadler’s Wells dance theatre, which is the world famous performing arts venue located in Islington and originally opened in 1683. The current building is the sixth on the present day site and has a capacity for 1,568 people. Outside of work Sarah is a keen sailor at ‘The AHOY’ Sailability Centre in Deptford and had the honour of being the first person in London to carry the Olympic torch through Greenwich’s streets last year.

When working at Sadler’s Wells, she is able to efficiently move between the office annex, back stage, auditorium and front-of-house using her F280 powerchair. All Balder models from Etac easily fit through doorways, allow positioning under desks and seat raise and tilt functionality delivers a multitude of benefits. These include the ability to access high shelves and engage with people at eye level.

Sarah explained: “I have been so lucky to own two fantastic Etac powerchairs, with a new E880 model potentially on the way, thanks to the Government’s Access to Work scheme. Without these superb Etac powerchairs, I would never have been able to achieve so much in the last 10 years as I fully depend on them day in day out. As Access Officer for Sadler’s Wells I need to be on the move continually supporting members of the audience, performers and staff whilst working with most departments throughout the theatre. My Balder allows me to quickly access pretty much all parts of the building through the ‘rabbit warren’ of corridors below stage. I have even been up in the lighting rig in my Balder! Having the ability to turn in tight spaces, quickly access lifts and use my car independently is so important for me, hence why I have a Balder.”

Sarah has had a passion for the arts from an early age. She became involved with The Bob Hope Theatre in Eltham whilst still living with her parents. Over the years she has acted, stage-managed, directed and is currently a pro-active committee member focused on developing young talent through the ‘New Stagers’ youth group.

From a career point of view, Sarah has solely worked in the arts since graduating from Middlesex University in 1992 with a 2.1 Degree in Performing Arts. This qualification was achieved pre the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) that resulted in Sarah having to study and ‘keep up’ with able-bodied students irrespective of her condition. Despite these challenges, she was able to complete the course with honours and then immediately began an apprenticeship at The Stage weekly newspaper. This role was the ideal introduction to the commercial world of the arts and subsequently led to Sarah working for the London Disability Arts Forum and undertaking two Arts Council apprenticeships. Her career then progressed to joining arts companies such as the highly acclaimed Candoco Dance Company and eventually taking the position of Sadler’s Well Access Officer in 2006.

Sarah continues: “I am responsible for all aspects of access here at Sadler’s Wells, which can range from meeting the needs of disabled artists to developing innovative performances for disabled audiences. We are currently working on audio descriptive dance productions for blind and partially sighted patrons, which is really exciting. My role is so varied everyday and I enjoy every aspect. It fills me with pride to represent one of the most disability-conscious theatres in the UK both in terms of employee demographics and building accessibility.”

Sarah concludes: “I have had so many special times here it’s difficult for me to highlight one particular event that has been made possible by my Balder. Saying that, carrying the Olympic torch last year in my powerchair has to be one of my all time unique memories. I was so lucky to be nominated by a work colleague and following successful selection by the local council, I ended up being the very first person to carry the torch as it entered London. Carrying the flame at 7am from the Naval College in Greenwich to the Cutty Sark, surrounded by such large crowds in my home town, was absolutely awe-inspiring. Since the Games, I have found members of the community more positive towards my Balder powerchair with a greater willing to engage with me – all very encouraging for the future of disabled people.”