An inspiring story of resilience, independence and exceptional design.

Powered wheelchairs available on the market weren’t good enough for Alex Papanikolaou. So he designed one himself so he can travel first class around the world, longer, faster, safer.


When Alex Papanikolaou was born in Athens, Greece, doctors at the hospital raced to cut the umbilical cord trapped around his neck. He was choking, unable to breathe.
The Greek doctors successfully cut the cord. But they failed to tell Alex’s parents of the lasting damage being starved of oxygen in those first few moments of life would have on Alex’s health.
It was only months later when his parents realised something was wrong. Alex couldn’t sit up. They took him to doctors who eventually told Mr and Mrs Papanikolaou that their son had been born with cerebral palsy.

During his early childhood and despite limited mobility, Alex and his parents were determined that he should live as normal a life as possible.

He took the bus to the various schools he attended as a child. At one of those schools, he was accepted by the teacher and allowed to join in with the other children. He formed friendships.
But teachers at a subsequent school ordered him to sit in a corner where he was told to draw while his classmates took lessons.
This was Alex’s first real taste of discrimination.

Alex enjoying a full life in his native Greece.

At 12 years old and still at school, he received his first powered wheelchair. As a powerchair user himself, Alex began to understand how it feels when a powerchair fails to live up to your needs and expectations. He has been dissatisfied with their failings ever since.

Despite the limitations of his first powerchair and the ones that followed, and being fiercely independent, Alex ignored those who told him he had to stay at home.

They said inclusivity was good in theory but not in practice.
That his condition meant he would not be able to see the world he lived in. Fortunately, Alex was not only independently minded.
He was also as stubborn as a mule.

He ignored their advice that he should adhere to what they perceived to be his limitations. He got a job in PC World and, by the time he was aged 18, had saved enough cash to travel to New York where the hostel he had booked said they couldn’t take him because of his chair. He was a fire risk. Unperturbed, Alex persuaded them to put him up and enjoyed the first of many trips of a lifetime, often in charge of industry standard powerchairs that were not fit for purpose. He had caught the travel bug.

As he continued his travels, powerchairs broke down, bits fell off. The batteries packed in on countless occasions leaving him stranded and alone and relying on the kindness of strangers. Repairs took weeks, sometimes months. Parts had to be sent abroad for. If he complained about customer service, he was told to take it or leave it.

Mounting frustration and disappointment with powerchairs that failed to meet not just his needs but the needs of other powerchair users he knew gave Alex an idea. He was inspired to begin work on creating a superior powerchair of his own.
After a series of prototypes, the Freedom One Life Series 5 powerchair was born.

“We think you’ll agree it is one of the most robust, comfortable and overtly desirable powerchairs ever created.”

Alex spent years researching and developing Freedom One Life powerchair prototypes.

He road-tested them over 10,000 km in real world conditions. Real world because he travelled the world, from his home in Scotland to North and South Korea, to China, Australia, America, to Europe and beyond, living his life and at the same time improving his designs for a powerchair that would excel in comfort, functionality and reliability.

People told him he was foolish to think he could do better than the multi-national firms who churn out powerchairs without so much as a backward glance.

Some powerchair users thought he was crazy. They criticised him for even trying, but it was his experiences that enabled him to make a series of often tiny, sometimes major and occasionally groundbreaking improvements to the design features, technology and functionality.

To prove the Freedom One Life concept, Alex has travelled to dozens of countries around the world, experiencing the ups and downs of travel for a powerchair user, fighting for his rights and your rights along the way. Refusing second class treatment.

Alex in Dubai

A prototype of the latest and more advanced Freedom One Life powerchair took him into local corner shops and across continents. Alex won awards.

He assembled a crack Freedom One Life team of designers and engineers, specialists who surveyed and listened carefully to powerchair users, to their needs and wants, as the Series 5 went from design concept to production.

The Freedom One Life surveys revealed a litany of frustrations and disappointments powerchair users had been forced to accept as the industry standard. Their old powerchairs weren’t fit for purpose.

Throughout the development stage, Alex repeatedly drew on his adventures as a solo traveller and feedback from other powerchair users.

The result is one of the most robust yet comfortable, compact and economical, reliable and practical yet overtly desirable powerchairs ever created.

“Each step of the way, the Freedom One Life Series 5 has been designed and manufactured to put you in the driving seat so you can go where you want when you want with the ultimate in peace of mind.That’s because your independence is at the heart of everything we do. So that you can enjoy and live the life you want to safe in the knowledge that the Freedom One Life Series 5 will take you there and back again without complaint.With the Freedom One Life Series 5 you’ll no longer need to hide behind the wheels of an inferior product.Instead, you can be out front and centre, travelling first class and proudly independent once more. Longer, faster, safer.”  Alex Papanikolaou.

Share this blog post with your network