Richard Corbett has lived through some pretty dark times. Today, he’s working through the power of social media to prevent others from going as low as he did.
Corbett—who injured his spinal cord in an accident almost a decade ago—has set out to become a wheelchair influencer, sharing his experiences on YouTube, Instagram and other social media platforms to encourage young people who may be going through something similar. It’s working—he has more than 5 million views and 60,000 subscribers on YouTube, about 100,000 fans on TikTok and more than 13,000 followers on Instagram. On all platforms, he estimates, he reaches some 190,000 people on a regular basis.
“My whole goal is to catch people in that first year so they don’t do anything that I did,” Corbett said.
His target audience is men aged 18-34 using wheelchairs, especially active paraplegics. After all, that’s who he is, as he was just a week shy of his 21st birthday when he fell into an open vent while jogging, plummeting 50 feet into an underground parking garage. His two legs snapped, his elbow was crushed, his pectoral muscles were pulled from his sternum—and a spinal cord injury at his L2 vertebra left him using a wheelchair.
“Life changed forever,” he said. “It was harder to deal with it mentally than it was physically.”
Indeed, it was after his physical recovery that he hit rock bottom. He was depressed, addicted to painkillers, living alone in a basement and eventually slid into a level of drug-induced psychosis that required him to be institutionalized. A terrifying moment, but one that led to clarity and sobriety.
It also made him realize he wanted to share his experiences beyond the circles of rehab and group therapy.
“I think deep down I knew I had a lot to say, but I had nowhere to say it,” said Corbett, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Corbett started to tell his story on Instagram, but had only a few dozen followers. Then a friend connected him with Andrew Deitsch, who hosts a popular interview podcast. Corbett agreed to sit down with Deitsch—and the recording went viral.
Now the two are partners in Wheels2Walking, an organization that creates videos and other content for people who use wheelchairs—and to expand the understanding of those who don’t. In one, Corbett sits on the sidewalk in Venice Beach, Californina, with a sign that says “Curious about wheelchairs? Ask me anything,” then fields strangers’ queries. In others, he skydives, tries adaptive motorsports and works out—an activity that led to the photo on the cover of November 2019’s HomeCare magazine, which also won the annual Wheels UP! accessible travel photo contest hosted by SPORTS ’N SPOKES, Abilities Expo and Cure Medical.
Going forward, Corbett said, he’s looking to further increase his reach and is looking for companies to partner with—as long as it’s a true collaboration and not just advertising around his videos.
“Wheels2Walking is something I created for myself. Not my current self, but for my past self,” he writes in an introductory email to site visitors. “That 20-year-old kid who had his entire future taken away from him. The kid who didn’t know how to live life in a wheelchair, who was constantly confused and constantly failing … Wheels2Walking is for him and everyone else going through the exact same thing.”