University of Canberra student Paul Jenkins walks on stage and graduates in exoskeleton
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University of Canberra student Paul Jenkins walks on stage and graduates in exoskeleton

Graduating university represents the culmination of years of hard work for most, but for Canberra man and paraplegic Paul Jenkins it marked something much more.

Mr Jenkins has spent the past six months training in an exoskeleton device and on Tuesday realised his dream of walking on stage at Parliament House and accepting his two bachelor degrees from the University of Canberra.

Mr Jenkins was the first Australian approved by the National Disability Insurance Scheme for training in the device, aptly named the ReWalk, which has a built-in motor that allows people with paralysis to walk using crutches.

On Tuesday the 27-year-old honours student received thunderous applause from the 600-strong crowd.

Canberra man and paraplegic Paul Jenkins accepts his degree from University of Canberra Deputy Chancellor Dr Sarah Ryan.

Canberra man and paraplegic Paul Jenkins accepts his degree from University of Canberra Deputy Chancellor Dr Sarah Ryan.

Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong
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"I was concentrating pretty hard but I took a moment to take it all in and it was pretty amazing looking out at the crowd," Mr Jenkins said.

"I don't think I've ever been in front of an audience that big and I don't think I've ever had anyone applaud like that.

"I never thought I would graduate, I really just took it up to get my brain working and to help me concentrate on my physiotherapy."

Graduating with commerce and economics degrees, Mr Jenkins is now undertaking his honours studying altruism and conspicuous consumption.

Mr Jenkins was the first Australian approved by the NDIS for training in the ReWalk device, which has a built-in motor that allows people with paralysis to walk using crutches.

Mr Jenkins was the first Australian approved by the NDIS for training in the ReWalk device, which has a built-in motor that allows people with paralysis to walk using crutches.

Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

"I originally wanted to be a clearance diver for the Navy, but after my accident I had to work out what else I could do. I always liked business so I enrolled in one unit and kept coming back," Mr Jenkins said.

A motorcycle accident left Mr Jenkins wheelchair-bound in 2006, but the Canberran believes the exoskeleton will revolutionise spinal injury recovery.

Paul Jenkins spent months learning to walk with bionic legs with exercise physiologist Jim Barrett.

Paul Jenkins spent months learning to walk with bionic legs with exercise physiologist Jim Barrett.

Photo: Rohan Thomson

The device has powered hip and knee motion which allows the wearer to walk and Mr Jenkins is Australia's trailblazer for the newly-approved Israeli technology.

"Think Forrest Gump crossed with an Ipad," Mr Jenkins said.

"The chair is so short some people don't know you are even there, but with the ReWalk I can look people in the eye and walk on different surfaces.

"It's a real game-changer but my ultimate goal is to walk independently without the exoskeleton."

Mr Jenkins has completed advanced training in the ReWalk with Queensland exercise physiologist Jim Barrett.

"Paul has done exceptionally well in his training, he's one of Australia's best ReWalkers," Mr Barrett said.

"He can easily stand, walk up stairs and was the first person to walk on sand using the device in Australia. There are also psychosocial benefits like walking into a room and looking people in the eye, that's a big one.

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"This technology could transform spinal cord injury recovery across Australia, but there has to be an early take up now or the next generation of powered orthotics is not going to get off the ground."

Mr Jenkins will recommence training in June and is working with the NDIS to secure groundbreaking funding for his own $80,000 ReWalk.