Save the space

Handicapped parking spaces.  This seems to be a never-ending topic in the disabled world.  There seems to be four types of people who park in these spaces: 1) People who are not handicapped but are using someone else’s placard; 2) People who had an injury and had a temporary need for it, no longer need it, but still use it; 3) People with legitimate injuries or disabilities who technically are able to use it, but are able enough to park in a regular spot (read: don’t use wheelchairs, etc.); and 4) People who 100% need the space to get mobility devices in and out.

The first two categories are obvious violators.  You should know better than to use a disabled space.  They are not meant for convenience.  They are not just closer parking.  They serve real purposes, which you should know because a) you’re a rational human being; and b) you or someone close to you had the need for a space and know how hard they are to come by.

Number 3 is tricky.  I always hear people justify their use of disabled spaces because they have an inner disability you can’t necessarily see, so they are entitled to the space.  I get that.  I was like that before becoming paralyzed.  Toward the end (meaning, before my surgery) I could barely shuffle 3 steps without falling down.  It was bad.  So I would use handicapped spaces if there weren’t any close open regular spots.  But if there were non-handicapped spots close to the door, I would use that.  All too often I go places where there are plenty of open regular spaces, but people without mobility assisting devices jump out. If there are open spaces, please use them instead of the handicapped parking.

Number 4 is obvious.  Seriously.  If you need more clarification, then you probably should not be driving in general.

Let me explain something else: the sheer terror that I feel when all the handicapped spots are taken.  I need space to get my wheelchair out of my car.  If I’m with the hubs (or someone else), then a regular spot is fine, because they can pull the car out to give me room to get in and out and for them to take my chair apart.  The hubs has had to do this many, many times.  And that’s fine.  But if I am by myself, I can’t do that.  Even if I park in a regular space and give plenty of room, there’s no assurance that that car won’t leave and a new one will park in it’s place taking up my carefully planned room.  Then I’m stuck.  It’s not like I can ask a perfect stranger to move my car for me to get in and out.  I also can’t park on most streets, because there isn’t enough room to be able to open my door fully and assemble my wheelchair.  Call me crazy but I’d rather not end up roadkill.  The fear of not being able to park my car is overwhelming.

Just yesterday, I had to park 3 block away from the courthouse, because all of the spots were taken.  And oddly, I didn’t see one person in a wheelchair or walker.  I had to call the courtroom and explain to the clerk that I was probably going to be late because I had to park so far away and roll uphill to get to the courthouse.  Having to park 3 blocks away meant I had to cross two very busy streets several times.  That’s always a worry, because I am low to the ground.  And people are careless.  I’ve almost been hit several times.  Now a non-wheelchair person may say they had to park 3 blocks away and walk and that’s tough for them.  However, there were still plenty of regular spots available where they could have parked.  The spots at this particular place were way too narrow for me to park, and the court was busy enough that I couldn’t take up 2 spots.  Sometimes I end up doing that: parking far in the back of a given parking lot and taking up 2 spots.  I hang my disabled placard hoping that someone won’t think I just want to take up unnecessary room.  But that still makes me uneasy too.  I know people in wheelchairs who purposely park at the far end of parking lots in 2 spaces so they get the added exercise.  That is all fine and dandy, but again I worry that I will get hit and that’s not a chance I love to take, especially now that I’m rolling with a baby.

There’s all this talk about changing the signs to take off the wheelchair guy because you don’t have to be in a wheelchair to be handicapped.  So true.  However!  If you look at the spacing between the spots, it is designed for wheelchairs.  The van parking is designed for ramps and lifts.  Wheelchairs need clearance!  We need to be able to get our chairs in and out of our cars.  It’s not just about being close to the doors, even though I joke about that all the time.

I can’t emphasize enough how overwhelming it is to worry about something so trivial as a parking space.  But, when it comes to being a disabled person, it’s usually the trivial things that end up mattering the most.  Please, please, please don’t take parking for granted.  And please don’t park in a handicapped space unless you 100% with no other options need to.

Wheelchair Gardening

I was never huge into gardening, even before I became paralyzed.  It was fun, but not something I would choose to do on my own.  As a kid, one of my chores was to prune the rose bushes.  That was fun because I got to make a bouquet and brightly colored, pretty smelling flowers.  It was positive reinforcement for my duties.  That lasted until I was about 13 and we moved.  Then I took a gardening hiatus until the hubs and I started dating.  He lived in a condo which had a patio with a few potted plants and a couple of trees.  About once a month we would tend to the plants.  The potted plants were my designated duty and he pruned the trees.  We would pick oranges off the tree and make fresh squeezed orange juice.  (Side story:  we once had so many oranges that we thought we could juice them and freeze them for later use.  Good idea, right?  We juiced them and poured them into bags and placed them in the slots on the door.  Oh.  Wait.  Frozen liquid freezes in the shape it’s in.  So if you put it in a door that has a little space on the bottom and the bag with liquid squeezes into crevices, it will freeze that way.  We found that out when we went to thaw the juice.  It was rock hard stuck in the freezer door.  We had to pour hot water and use blow dryers to get the juice out.  By that point we were so pissed that we threw it away.)

When we moved into our new house, it had the perfect area for a garden.  There is a slight slope on one side of the house where we built a small decorative wall to reinforce the hill.  Then we filled it in with more dirt to level out the remaining space.  Our gardener put in sprinklers.  And, voila!  A garden.  This past weekend we picked up a few plants: strawberry, tomato, parsley, cilantro and a couple variations of jalapeno.  (Yes, I have visions of salsa in 50-70 days running through my head!)

Where we planted those plants is next to dirt.  No path.  That part of the backyard has been off limits to my wheelchair since we moved here 2.5 years ago.  We thought about having our concrete guy come back to pour a path.  But, at the Abilities Expo 2 weeks ago, I picked up a FreeWheel.  This turns my wheelchair into a tripod by lifting the 2 small caster wheels. Those 2 small wheels are the ones that get stuck on the dirt and other small things in the way.  The FreeWheel is amazing!  It opened up my backyard to me!  I was able to go over to the garden area and actually plant the strawberries and cilantro at the sprinklers which were closest to the wall.  Those are my plants!  The hubs still had to plant the rest of the plants, but he loves any kind of outdoor activity like that.  While I didn’t really love gardening before, the ability to do it now when I didn’t think I would be able to, makes me so happy.  And very protective of my little baby plants.

gardening

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abilities Expo 2016 (Los Angeles)

This past weekend was the Abilities Expo at the Convention Center in downtown Los Angeles.  This was my first year going, though to be fair, I’m not really sure if there were any before.  I’m assuming there were by the way people were talking.  But either way, it was my first time going.  I’m glad I did.

The hubs, the little mister and I went.  This was the first time taking the baby on any sort of road trip and excursion.  He did well, which was a huge plus!  Parking at the convention center was a nightmare.  There was a designated lot for the Abilities Expo.  However, there weren’t any additional handicapped parking spaces.  Doesn’t it seem like common sense to increase the number of wheelchair spaces when there is a convention aimed at people in wheelchairs?  We were lucky enough to find a space on the opposite end of the elevator that was next to another empty space.  So, at least I was able to get out of the car OK.

The other downside was that the configuration needed a little work.  Checking in, there were long tables and two rows on the pre-registered side and three rows on the on-site registration side.  The tables were next to each other.  The entrances were on the opposite ends of the tables.  So, if you were on any of the inside rows, you had to backtrack and cut through the lines of people.  This was super hectic for us, with me being in a wheelchair and the hubs pushing the stroller.  And, given that a majority of the people were in wheelchairs or with wheelchairs, it was hectic.  The aisles inside the convention were fairly narrow too.  For a normal convention, I’m sure they were fine.  But, again, factor in the amount of wheelchairs, and it was jammed.  There were tons of traffic jams on the inside.

Ok, those were the negatives.  Now for the positives.  It was amazing to see so many people in wheelchairs in one place.  All ages and walks of life.  All different levels of functionality.  It was pretty cool.  I overheard people who were friends on Facebook meeting in real life.  That was pretty cool, and a testament to the benefit that the community groups on Facebook provides.

I had gone looking to talk to a representative of Tilite, the wheelchair company that I currently use, as I want to order a new wheelchair.  But, then I met a representative from Colours, another wheelchair maker.  I’d heard of them, but didn’t know much about their chairs.  Within seconds of my going up there, the man identified the 3 main things that I hate about my wheelchair and told me how they would fix it on a new wheelchair.  An added benefit is that they are manufactured about 45 minutes from my house, so I can go there to get measured and have it repaired if it gets fixed.  So, that was a huge benefit of going to the Abilities Expo!  Opened my horizons, for sure!

I picked up a FreeWheel, which I’d been thinking about for quite a while.  I’d already bought the Dragonfly wheelchair attachment, which turns my wheelchair into a handcycle.  That was a pretty great investment!  If a person is looking for a great way to exercise, I recommend this!  I’d been looking to add the FreeWheel to my collection which will be amazing for my trips to Wyoming.  It’s going to open up more outdoor areas: grass, dirt roads, etc.  And I’m looking to use it in my own backyard so I can finally start a garden!  I was stoked that they were selling these at the Abilities Expo and can’t wait to try it out!

The coolest part of the Abilities Expo may have been the bikes.  There was an exhibitor showcasing their bikes which had been specifically designed for people with disabilities.  The pedals were held up in the front, which is huge for a person with drop foot, like myself.  (In the video, you can see at the end how my feet are inclined to point down.)  The bikes had a handle on the back so an able bodied person can help give you a push if needed, or a stop, I suppose if you’re picking up too much speed.  The bikes are custom made in Canada, and built to the individual’s specifications.  They told me to jump on, but I was reluctant.  After the hubs gave me some encouragement, I decided to give it a try.  I am so glad that I did!  I actually pedaled two small laps!  Being an incomplete paraplegic, I do have some functionality in my legs.  My hips have managed to come back pretty strong, which allows for the pedaling.  My left quads are fairly strong (not like pre-paralysis strong, but compared to no movement, they’re strong) which allowed my left leg to pedal pretty well.  My right quads are kind of there but not as strong.  The problem was with bringing the leg back up and around.  So, I just use my hand to help my right leg along and was able to go!  It was exhilarating!!  I always say that not being able to ride my bike anymore is the biggest hardship from being paralyzed.  This gave me that joy back.  And sweat.  It gave me a lot of sweat.  I’m not sure that I will pick one up, as it was on the pricey side, and I live in a hilly area.  If I lived in the flat lands, I would pay for it without even second guessing!  But for now I have the video of my adventure.

 

I am so glad that I went to the Abilities Expo!  I didn’t attend any of the workshops or panels.  And I didn’t see the dancing girls or participate in the world’s largest wheelchair painting.  But I made the most of the exhibits that I did want to see.  I got better access to my backyard by purchasing my FreeWheel.  And I can’t wait to make use of it in Wyoming!  And I found my new wheelchair, which I hope to get in the works in the next few days.  And I got to experience the joy of riding a bike again.  I would consider all of that a win!