Different Spokes

Unfriendly confinement at the Friendly Confines

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Northwestern hosts Illinois at Wrigley Field this Saturday in the first college football game on the North Side since 1938.  But because of accessibility issues at the Friendly Confines, Dan and I won't be there. In fact, this weekend's spectacle reminds me of an experience I had at Wrigley Field a few years back.
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Northwestern plays Illinois at Wrigley Field on Saturday, a game Chris and Dan won't be attending. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

Anyone who has read our blog profile knows that I am a White Sox fan. In the summer of 2008, I came to further appreciate this fact. I had an unfortunate experience dealing with
the Cubs Accessible Ticket Office. I have no intention of unfairly criticizing the Cubs even though they are a rival of the White Sox. Everything I am about to discuss is real.  

The official capacity of Wrigley Field in 2008 was 41,160 people. Of that number, the ballpark has approximately 120 seats that are accessible to wheelchair users. Overall these seats are very mediocre.  Ensuring that seats are always available for people with disabilities is important to the Cubs organization. The guest in a wheelchair must be present at the time the tickets are picked up. The Cubs will not mail out accessible tickets to guarantee that they are sold only to people who require them. This is all perfectly acceptable given the age of the facility. 

The following is my problem with the way accessible seating is handled at Wrigley Field. I was visiting a friend who lived near Wrigley Field three weeks before I was planning on going to a Cubs game versus the Dodgers. I had already ordered the tickets, and I stopped by the box office. Even though I had my ID and my wheelchair with me, they refused to give me my tickets. They told me that all tickets for the wheelchair seating area are picked up on the day of the game only. This was extremely frustrating! It appeared that the Cubs were creating undue hardship for people with disabilities who wanted to watch a game. It was not important that I showed up in person to get my tickets. 

Why is it that people with disabilities seemingly need to jump through hoops to obtain tickets that they have already ordered and paid for? Is it because the Cubs don't need to be accommodating to get wheelchair users to buy their product? Or could it be that the Cubs do not want people with disabilities to sell their tickets through Stub Hub, a site which has an agreement with Major League Baseball? Whatever the reason, their absurd requirement to pick up the tickets on the day of the game reeks of discrimination. And unfortunately, the Cubs are not the only organization that struggles when it comes to accessible tickets

After my experience, I decided that something needed to be done to rectify the situation.  I contacted Equip for Equality to speak with one of their disability advocacy lawyers.  After checking into the situation, the advocate told me that many people with disabilities are content with the way the Wrigley Field box office handles things. Unfortunately, there are too many people who are unaware that there is a better way to address accessible tickets and seating at ballparks.  I wish that I could do more to change the situation, but I feel that I have exhausted enough options.  I don't mean to hang the Cubs out to dry, but there are too many Chicago area teams that do a better job accommodating the needs and concerns of people with disabilities.  I will pass on the torch to anyone who wants to take up this issue.   

I will never visit Wrigley Field again, even to watch Northwestern face Illinois in football on Saturday.  And I am especially glad that I never need to go there in order to follow my favorite baseball team. The official capacity of U.S. Cellular Field is 38,900 people.  There are over 400 wheelchair accessible spaces. I have been to the old Busch Stadium, Miller Park, and various Spring Training parks. I have been to Schaumburg Flyers and Kane County Cougars minor league games. I have even attended a couple Chicago Bandits professional softball games. Wrigley Field is at the bottom of the list when it comes to accommodating people with disabilities. Dealing with their backwards policy is nothing more than unfriendly confinement.

U.S. Airways tells passenger he's too disabled to fly


Two readers recently sent us this article (in which ABC uses the phrase "wheelchair bound" in the first three words) regarding a U.S. Airways passenger being told that he's too disabled to fly.  The man, who has cerebral palsy, has flown all over the country for his job and had never before reported any problems.

It would be easy to go off on a diatribe against U.S. Air and the pilot who threw him off the plane.  That's the easy reaction.  But that's not the appropriate and productive reaction.  Because, in a way, I understand where the pilot is coming from. 

Photo courtesy of aviationexplorer.com

When he gets on the plane, the pilot's number one priority is to get each and every one of his passengers safely to their destination.  In this situation, the pilot assumed the passenger with cerebral palsy would not be able to assist himself in the case of an emergency, and certainly not be able to assist anyone else.  With that in mind, it would make sense that he would ask for the man to only fly with a companion.

A major problem here, of course, is that the pilot assumed things.  As is pointed out in the article, Johnnie Tuitel says "Nobody asked me what my abilities were.  Nobody asked me what my needs were..."

If a pilot, or any other airline employee is going to assume whether a passenger can help him or herself, then why do they allow the elderly to fly? Why do they allow young children to fly alone?  Does somebody who is obese pose a threat in the case of an emergency?  What about somebody on crutches?  Where do the assumptions, and the discrimination, end? It wouldn't end, and that's why it should never start in the first place.

As this story makes clear, we need to do a better job of educating the general public about disabilities.  I fly on my own all the time.  As does Mr. Tuitel, and thousands of other people with disabilities each day.  It's never a problem.  If we need help, we'll ask, and that should be the end of it. 

And if it's decided that everybody who may struggle in an emergency has to stay at home, we'll start to see a lot of empty airplanes flying the friendly skies...

Lucky to be alive doesn't mean life is always easy...


Dan and Chris use wheelchairs. They're lucky to be alive. They could have been more severely disabled, and both avoided mental disabilities.  Both have attitudes that help people look past their wheelchairs. Both don't mind where they are in life, and know that without a disability, life could be very different.

But please don't confuse gratefulness, optimism, and determination, for easy. Different Spokes makes a point of keeping a positive attitude. We don't want pity, apologies, sympathy, or praise for being who we are. We also don't want you to tell us we're lucky.

It's true that we could be much worse off. Dan avoided having a shunt in his brain like many with Spina Bifida. Chris was given a shorter lease on life, one that he's already passed. Both went to college and had experiences and relationships that they wouldn't have encountered had they been able-bodied and had different choices in life. But does that really mean they're lucky?

Is it lucky to both be on daily medications? To rely on others instead of have the full ability to do everything yourself? To have more doctor and hospital visits than most men their age? Is it lucky to have had to think about your disability before planning to attend events and to turn down opportunities because you need somewhere accessible? What about those people 20 years ago who didn't have the ADA to help them break through boundaries. Are they lucky? Lucky enough that you should think they got the better deal because they have an instant ride on wheels? Do you really think their lives are so easy that they won't mind you treating them like a taxicab? Or an amusement park ride?

In the end, life is what it is.  Dan and Chris live theirs sitting down.  You may live yours standing up.  Neither is particularly lucky or unlucky.  Neither is tremendous, neither is terrible.  But in the end, it's the attitude that each individual brings to their particular condition that determines how that person will perceive life.  And in that case, Chris and Dan are very lucky. 

Buying accessible tickets to...anywhere


Harp teacher, able-bodied, spend my life opening doors for my fiance and pretending to like baseball.

If you use a wheelchair, you know that for any venue, concert, or event, you have to make sure there is accessible seating. We certainly appreciate that these options are out there, but dealing with accessible seating is often limiting and frustrating. Here are some of the problems we've run into:

  • You can only sit with one of your friends or family. Typically accessible seating entails one wheelchair-user and one companion. We went to a musical last week with my mom, who was in town on a visit. Because all three of us couldn't sit together in the wheelchair section, one of us had to sit in a different row. Generally, we don't abuse this rule (you could lie and say you have two wheelchairs) because we know what it's like to run out of room in a wheelchair section due to others lying about the rule. And since we don't have other options in places to sit, we always try to make sure other wheelchair-users don't run into this problem. 

  • Accessible seating is rarely enforced. How many times have you had to find an usher because someone was sitting in your spot? How many times have they told you to just sit anywhere in that section? What if you bought a specific area because you knew it had a better view? Why should you have to adjust because someone else got there first? First come, first serve should not apply to assigned seats, but in wheelchair sections, it often does. Additionally, because we are usually near the front, we have to constantly deal with able-bodied people, often children, standing at the rail blocking our views or invading our personal space. Where are the ushers when their jobs actually need them?

  • You can't order online anywhere but the actual site venue. Ticketmaster, StubHub, and other discount or alternate websites often require that you call the box office in order to get accessible seats. This may mean, in the case of Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, that you have to call during business hours, or several weeks later when the box office starts selling the tickets. Meanwhile, other people are buying up all the tickets online, and it may be sold out by the time you can reach someone.

  • Box offices may have alternate offices for accessibility-and don't always know what it is! I just tried to buy tickets to see Billy Elliot last week. After the main box office listed on the website referred me somewhere else, I left three messages on an answering machine with the accessible ticket office. Receiving no return calls, I talked to the main box office again, which gave me an extension line to add to the phone number I was initially instructed to call. Then I had to be put on hold and press through an automated system before I could finally reach a person and get my tickets figured out. Having to jump through several different sections of automated voices, answering machines, and then having to call the main office twice does not make it easy to buy tickets (major fail Broadway in Chicago)!

  • You have fewer seating options. Many events have limited areas for accessible seating, so you often end up in the way back of a venue. This is particularly annoying if it's a concert or game, where the crowd will often stand up. Suddenly, you can't see anything. 

  • You have fewer price options. At Northwestern University football games, you have one option for accessible seating: the sidelines. These are prime seats, that cost more as we get to more important games. What we end up doing is buying cheaper seats in the stands and exchanging them once we get there, but we have an argument every year (they don't learn from past experiences) over whether we have to pay the price difference. Legally, they have to offer accessible seating in every price range. However they don't offer accessible seating in the end zones, which has cheaper seats. Several talks with a manager later, they usually give in to letting us buy end zone seats while sitting on the sidelines. If they would like us to pay more, we would love for them to give us more seating choices.

The most dominant athlete in the world


Rafael Nadal has nothing on Esther Vergeer.  Neither does Michael Jordan nor LeBron James.  And Tiger Woods hasn't won a golf tournament all year, so he's nowhere close to Vergeer.

But if it weren't for one of our readers, Marley, I would never have even heard of her.  This past weekend, Vergeer won her 5th U.S. Open women's wheelchair tennis title.  And she hasn't lost any tennis match in the past 7 years.  You can read more about Vergeer here.

The 29-year-old Vergeer has won 396 straight matches. Photo courtesy of laureus.com.

Obviously, tennis doesn't get much publicity in the U.S. And wheelchair tennis gets even less.  But Vergeer's streak is remarkable.  And she's doing it in one of the wheelchair community's most popular, and fastest-growing, sports.

I have a feeling Nike may be getting a hold of her soon, and she too will have one of those commercials that send the right message!   


Why Being In a Wheelchair Doesn't Suck


Harp teacher, able-bodied, spend my life opening doors for my fiance and pretending to like baseball.

Part eight in our fully planned out series...

There are a lot of reasons that being in a wheelchair sucks. You can't play footsie with a girl, you can't see when people give standing ovations, and you have to be aggressive to get through crowds.

But one reason being in a wheelchair doesn't suck is that it's a great excuse!

Using a wheelchair is a great excuse for things you don't want to do in life. Don't want to go out? "It's not accessible!" Don't want to wear a suit? "I can't wheel in jackets!" Don't want to babysit? "I can't carry them if they get hurt!" We've mentioned in several posts that no one is going to call you out. Who wants to accuse the wheelchair user of lying about his disability and abilities? Getting away with things and having a ready made excuse will really make your life as a wheelchair user more enjoyable-much to the chagrin of the able-bodied people around you!

Commercials that send the right message


Last week, we showed you a commercial created by MADD, and it made many people, well, mad.  Now we bring you some of the best commercials we have found!

Each of these ads features wheelchair athletes, and each sends a slightly different message.  Two were created by Nike, and two feature U.S. Paralympian Matt Scott, a former high school wheelchair basketball teammate of mine. 

We realize that these are all centered around sports, which is another point we'd like to make.  It was very difficult to find any advertisements featuring a wheelchair-user in other "wheels" of life.

Videos after the jump.

Continue reading...

The worst commercial ever made


We just found this offensive commercial, put together by MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Check it out below:

The message sent by this commercial is horrifying. Apparently, a person who is recently disabled will have his or her life shattered completely.  He can no longer go outside into the sunlight, can no longer have friends, and can no longer be in a committed relationship. His friends and loved ones will abandon him and band together to live life without him.

Aside from the misconceptions portrayed, MADD does not specify whether this wheelchair user is now disabled because he was the drunk driver, or a victim of a drunk driver. Maybe this unfortunate young man was hit by a drunk driver, went through months of extensive surgeries, hospital stays, and physical therapy and his girlfriend was too superficial to look past his disability and stay with him. Maybe they had only been dating a few weeks when the accident happened. Maybe she was driving drunk, and he got the brunt of the hit.

Regardless, MADD is incredibly disrespectful to the disabled community in their portrayal of wheelchair-users. To imply that life in a wheelchair means life in a room while your former life passes you by is ridiculous. Has MADD met anyone in a wheelchair before? Should we parade in front of them showing our own committed relationship, along with many of our friends who are married, engaged, single, dating, parents, friends, children and each one successfully living his or her life despite using a wheelchair?

We respect what MADD stands for, and we acknowledge the horrors that a drunk driving accident can have, whether a victim or a driver. But MADD doesn't need to belittle the disabled community and flat-out insult them to get its message across. There are plenty of other ways to make a difference and have an impact, and we're both disappointed and disgusted that MADD chose to do it in this way.

We'll cheer you up in our next post, with a look at three of the best commercials we've ever seen!

We're technologically advanced!


Believe it or not, we're not just an incredibly interesting blog! Join the Different Spokes page on Facebook to see pictures, videos, and sneak previews of future posts.  Or follow us on Twitter @Diffspokes.

We're everywhere!

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The Different Spokes page on Facebook

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Helping the learning-disabled prepare for college


As we head into mid-August, it's time to start thinking about students heading back to school or heading off to college.  USA Today earlier this week published a tremendous article about "Project Access," a program designed to help those with learning disabilities get prepared for college. 

Nationwide, programs like Project Access are blossoming.  As the article mentions, "the number of such programs has increased tenfold," since 2001. 

That's tremendous, as expectations are beginning to change.  Just because you have a learning disability doesn't mean you can't go on to college.  In fact, in our experience at Northwestern, the highest percentage of students helped by the Office of Services for Students With Disabilities (SSD) were students with learning disabilities.  Much of SSD's efforts were centered around providing extended time on tests, the need for a quieter work environment than the lecture hall, or any other accommodation.

The more comfortable these students feel in asking for help, the more successful they'll be in college and beyond. And that's precisely the goal of programs like "Project Access."

Sidewalk construction: Passing the impassable

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I was in Chicago the other night using the sidewalk. As I got to the end of the block, I noticed that cement was missing from the walkway.  Ah yes, the sidewalk was under construction. Now obviously, maintaining the sidewalk is a completely reasonable goal for any city. However, as happens all too often, I was not able to pass by on the portion that was being repaired. The city did not provide adequate signage to alert me to the obstacle ahead. 
Maybe this was simply an oversight, but it was quite annoying and made it very difficult for people who use wheelchairs.

Quite the path for someone who uses a chair. Photo courtesy of nufase.com.

All that is needed is either a clear warning sign at a visible level or a temporary way for someone in a wheelchair to navigate around the torn-up patches of sidewalk. Perhaps even a wooden ramp or temporary cut-away would be the solution. I am not sure what the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) says regarding sidewalk construction, but I doubt that the patch of construction I encountered would be considered acceptable to anyone who relies on a wheelchair.

If we're looking to make our cities equal and accessible for everybody, we can't simply do so when it's most convenient. After all, we have the right to use streets and sidewalks at any time that we want.

Why Being in a Wheelchair Doesn't Suck


Harp teacher, able-bodied, spend my life opening doors for my fiance and pretending to like baseball.

Part seven in a randomly decided series...

There are a lot of reasons using a wheelchair really sucks. You can't lift the chair during the Horah at a wedding, Dance Dance Revolution is a challenge, and puddles have a whole different meaning for you than for able-bodied people.

But one great reason why being in a wheelchair doesn't suck is that you get away with things. We've spoken before about how it's not always an able-bodied person's fault when we crash into them on the street. But it certainly is a perk that you always think so. We park poorly, hog the sidewalk unnecessarily, crash into people's chairs in restaurants, and charm our way into seating areas that aren't on our tickets.

In our expansive experience, very few people are willing to correct you or tell you no if you're in a wheelchair. They're all too scared that they'll be offensive in some way-funny when you think about it, because we're usually the ones asking for something we probably shouldn't have gotten normally.

So we'd like to tell you to lighten up, don't worry about offending us, and call us out when we're wrong. But that would take a lot of fun out of our lives, so keep on apologizing, and we'll keep taking advantage of it. 

Folic acid is working! Spina bifida rates drop


In my final years as a goodwill ambassador for the March of Dimes, we spent much of our time encouraging pregnant women to make sure they get enough Folic acid each day.  Folic acid, found in orange juice and various other fruits and vegetables, was thought to help prevent birth defects such as Spina bifida (Dan's disability).
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Some vegetables high in Folic acid. Picture courtesy of markmincolla.com.

Now, according to MedPage Today, that belief is coming true!  As this article shows, the rate of Spina bifida dropped annually by a rate of 1.4% from 1991-2002. 

This is a perfect example of how research and outreach came together to form the perfect storm.  Researchers found the link between Folic acid and a lower rate of birth defects, while those involved with the March of Dimes and other organizations spread the word.  Well done on all fronts.  Now ladies, go drink some orange juice!

Update: Savannah, GA clarifies its position on wheelchairs


Harp teacher, able-bodied, spend my life opening doors for my fiance and pretending to like baseball.

You may remember a travel post a few weeks ago in which a worker for the city of Savannah, Ga., banned Dan from one of the city's interactive fountains.  He cited a city code as having rules against wheelchairs being allowed in the fountain.
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The fountain that Dan IS allowed in!

We played phone tag with the city of Savannah for a few days and made contact last week.  We were put in touch with three city officials. In our conversation, we were informed that, in fact, "there is no city ordinance, and there will never be a city ordinance, against me going into the fountain." Our experience was the result of "a single security guard, and it has been made VERY CLEAR to all the security guards that a person in a wheelchair is allowed in the fountain."  At the end, one city official invited me back to Ellis Square and its fountain!

We'd like to thank the city for clarifying this situation, informing its employees of the rules and protocol, and for its efforts to help us. The city went out of its way to contact us, involve all the officials necessary, and make sure the city was inclusive. We really appreciated that. I guess we will be back some day after all Savannah!

ADA week: A look back at the passage of the ADA


Here's an incredible video created by the state of Wisconsin in remembrance of the Disability Rights movement and the efforts to make the Americans With Disabilities Act a reality.  Many are unaware of the protests, lobbying, dedication, and legislation needed for the ADA to come to fruition.  This video is in honor of those that worked so hard for so long.  Enjoy!


ADA week: Employment opportunities


As part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the ADA, President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Monday to increase the number of disabled workers hired by the federal government.

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President Obama signs an executive order on Monday. Photo courtesy of whitehouse.gov.

Unfortunately, we've seen this promise before. In 2000, President Clinton signed a similar order, yet according to the White House, "few steps were taken to implement that [order] in subsequent years." 

If the federal government struggles to hire those with disabilities, is it any surprise that many others do as well?

Continue reading...

Happy ADA Week!


Monday was the 20th anniversary of Congress passing the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  The House of Representatives celebrated the anniversary by having a member with a disability preside over the House for the first time in our nation's history.  Meanwhile, the president cited the ADA as "one of the most comprehensive civil rights bills in the history of this country."
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Logo courtesy of the Southern California Employment Law Report

Indeed, the law has done more for those with disabilities in our country than anything seen before.  Yet there is a lot of work to be done.  Over the next three days, Different Spokes will take a look at a number of the issues surrounding the ADA. This will include the positives, and of course, the negative aspects of this complicated issue. So check back often as we celebrate 20 years of one of our most important milestones! 

Abilities Expo recap: Where do the manual wheelchairs fit in?


Harp teacher, able-bodied, spend my life opening doors for my fiance and pretending to like baseball.

Last weekend, Dan and Derin went to the Abilities Expo held in Schaumburg, Illinois. We were most excited to check out the fully-accessible Honda Element (with an accessible ramp), since that's the car we drive now.

We were immediately caught by a salesman, who was very helpful, explaining and demonstrating each accessible car, answering our questions and giving us actual prices instead of dancing around it. At the end of our discussion, we asked about the height of the accessible Element, since they lower the floors to put in the ramps and Dan is pretty darn short. We were concerned about how he would see over the steering wheel. Imagine our surprise when the salesman casually told us, "Oh well he would have to use a power chair."

Now obviously we have nothing against power chair users, we wouldn't be Chris's friends if we did! But there is a difference between manual and power chair users, and it usually has to do with their ability level. Besides that, insurance is very careful about giving you new wheelchairs in general, so what are the chances that they would pay for a new power wheelchair for a man who a) already has a functional chair and b) doesn't need a power chair? It very much offended us that the salesman assumed it would be the solution for us, and it lost him a future sale because he wasn't taking into consideration who his customer was. A salesman at a Honda dealership not knowing that? Perfectly acceptable. A salesman at an Abilities Expo selling cars specially made for wheelchair users? He should know better.

The entire Expo, while a great idea, seemed to cater to either power chair users or elderly/partially disabled people, who could stand up with difficulty but used a wheelchair for more ease. Where were the helpful products for manual wheelchair users? How would a bathtub that opens with a door help someone who has to crawl to get in that small space? What's the point of a ramp in your car if you need a power chair to use it? Is Dan, in a way, too able-bodied for the Abilities Expo, even though he's clearly disabled?

We are in no way criticizing what the Abilities Expo does, it's a great resource for the disabled community and for families. But we left feeling disappointed and excluded from an event that should have felt more exciting. We looked at every single booth, and the only ones that remotely applied to manual users were sports teams and hand-cycles.  Maybe three of the 50 or so booths could be considered helpful to a manual wheelchair user.

We understand that Dan is one of the more agile in the wheelchair-using community. But just because right now he can get in his car by hoisting himself up on his hands and can transfer to the bed from the floor, doesn't mean that he will be able to do that when he's 50 years old. Or when he has children with him. It was really disappointing to see the Expo leave him to his "able-bodiedness" and focus on other disabilities, instead of including him and trying to add easier methods to his lifestyle.

Kids say the darndest things


One of the best parts of using a wheelchair is seeing different people react to you. Many adults stare at you while trying to make it look like they aren't, trip over themselves to hold the door for you while blocking it entirely with their body, and are afraid to ask why you use a wheelchair (or ask it loudly after knowing you for 5 minutes).

Kids however, have no such filter. Dan and Chris have been asked all sorts of questions ranging from curious ignorance to outrageous theories. Here's our top five:

  • "Look, a choo choo train!" 
  • "Can I have a car like that guy?"
  • "Can I use that when you're done?"
  • "Were you born in a wheelchair?"
  • "How do you sleep?"
Just recently, our cousin was convinced that a set of handicapped parking signs in Hilton Head was installed to help point the way to the accessible entrance to the beach! 

The general consensus around here is that the best kids are the ones that look at you like you're completely normal. Of course that dude uses a wheelchair, why wouldn't he?  One of our favorites was a little boy who asked all sorts of questions about why Dan was paralyzed, used a wheelchair, etc, then came to the following conclusion: "You must be very special!" You got that right kid.

AccessChicago stops by Navy Pier


Between the Abilities Expo in Schaumburg (which we'll have a write-up about early next week), and AccessChicago at Navy Pier, it's been a busy time for the Chicago disabled community.

Unfortunately we were unable to make it to Thursday's AccessChicago exhibition, but the Tribune did a tremendous write-up about the event.  From wheelchair basketball demonstrations to an exhibit featuring the MV-1, which is billed as "the first factory-built vehicle to exceed guidelines in the disabilities act," there was plenty to see.

This year's show also coincided with the 20-year anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It's a theme the article touched on, and as Lilliana Lopez made clear throughout, the ADA isn't there to give the disabiled community special treatment.  It's there so that we're "treated like everyone else...."

Overall, it's a well-done piece with a good message.  If any of you were able to make it AccessChicago, let us know how it went!

The Problems of Challenger Division Baseball

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Since I can remember, I have been a baseball fan. When I was still strong enough to walk, I played a season of Challenger Division baseball. At first, baseball that encourages the participation of people with disabilities seems like a great idea. In reality, the Challenger Division of Little League Baseball is problematic.
People with developmental disabilities and people with physical disabilities are lumped together. I feel that this stereotypes all people with disabilities as being the same. People with disabilities are often very different from each other based on their individual abilities. Some can comprehend ideas better than others, while some are more physically capable. 

There was never any real attempt to expose the participants to the reality of competition. No matter what, everyone was called safe and allowed to go around the bases. According to the official page of the Little League Challenger Division, score-keeping is completely discouraged. I did not know that we lived in a world where sports teams did not lose. I am not saying that winning is everything, but it is still part of any sport.

I am all for the participation of all people in as many sports and activities as possible. However, I found it insulting that nobody had to learn the rules of baseball. I don't feel that the experiences of the Challenger Division even qualify as a sport. It felt like an odd sort of play group. My biggest concern is that the participants are denied several important life lessons that other participants of Little League receive. I don't believe that sports for kids should be ultra competitive, but they should reflect reality. 

Life is full of adversity, especially for people with disabilities. This does not give society an excuse to choose to protect us from the knowledge of adversity. It could even be argued that it is more important for myself and others with disabilities to be exposed to the challenges of competition. If anyone can experience the reality of life, it is those born into adversity who may handle it the best. I am outraged that the Challenger Division is allowed to prevent us from dealing with reality. In all honesty, this took the fun out of participating. I played for one season, and never looked back. 

A Refreshing Experience at Jamba Juice

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Last week I went to Jamba Juice in Deerpark with my part-time P.A., Alex. I ordered fresh-squeezed orange juice, and it seemed like just another day there. 

When my order was ready, the girl who took my order did something surprising. She actually considered the idea that a person in a wheelchair may not be able 
to reach a cup of juice on a counter. 

She made the effort to come around the counter and hand the juice to me. Even though I had to have Alex grab my juice, I found her consideration to be quite refreshing. 

The "Cripple Nod"


I'm sure all of you have experienced it at one time or another. In fact, I'm sure many of you have initiated it at one point. I'm guilty of it many times in the past. It's the moment when you're wheeling down the street and you encounter another person in a wheelchair. Invariably, he or she will either wave, nod, or acknowledge you in some way. Why? Because you're in a wheelchair too! Derin and I like to call this the "cripple nod."

Now, obviously, the "cripple nod" makes a lot of sense. If you're in a chair, you clearly share some of the same experiences as the other person. You've encountered the jerks who take handicapped parking spots from you, you've had to maneuver around curb cuts that are covered in snow and haven't been shoveled, etc. So you get it. And because you get it, you are somebody to acknowledge and perhaps befriend.

I hope it doesn't make me rude or a bad person, but I don't like this line of thinking. To me, the whole point of the Disability Rights movement is to fully integrate those with disabilities into the "able-bodied" community. This is why all buildings should be made accessible, all classrooms should have resources for the disabled, etc. Along those same lines, I just want to be treated like everyone else in the "able-bodied" community. Would you nod at me if I were just walking down the street by myself? Probably not. In that sense, I feel like some others with disabilities are unable to look past my disability. All they see is my wheelchair, and immediately they think they can trust me.

When Chris and I first met, Chris sent his personal assistant over to grab me because I was wearing a Tigers hat. He just wanted to talk baseball. It didn't matter that I was using a wheelchair. And in the grand scheme of things, that's what I want. I want somebody to acknowledge me because I did something nice for them. Or I'm wearing a the hat of their favorite team (or biggest rival). I don't want special recognition simply because I'm sitting down as I make my way down the street...

Chicagoland Abilities Expo this weekend in Schaumburg


This weekend at the Schaumburg Convention Center is the annual Abilities Expo, a three-day event filled with product demonstrations, workshops, and even free health screenings.  Entry is free of charge.

Last year we went and watched a wheelchair basketball demonstration, while this year we plan to go and check out some accessible cars, so there is something there for everybody!  Hope to see you there!

Travel website helps those with disabilities


Over the past week, we've been writing about our recent travels down South.  Obviously, when planning future trips, it's nice to know which cities are wheelchair friendly and which ones are not.  Luckily, there is a website out there to help those with disabilities. 

Abilitytrip.com says its mission is "to increase the accessibility of global destinations for travelers with mobility impairments..."  The site has reviews of destinations around the globe, a guide to accessibility terms in foreign languages, a packing list to help people remember what to bring and much, much more.  In all, it's a tremendous resource for anybody looking to get out of town and take a vacation! 

Disability Pride Parade in Chicago, July 24th.


Hey Chicagoans,

Here's an event to look out for in a few weeks: the 7th Annual Disability Pride Parade is taking place Saturday, July 24th at 11am. There are post-parade events starting at noon at Daley Plaza. The parade starts at Plymouth Court and Van Buren, marches west to Dearborn, and then north to Daley Plaza at Washington and Dearborn.

We personally have never made it to the parade, but if you're around, check it out! Hopefully we'll make it too and see you there!

Wheelchairs on the beach? Hilton Head says sure!


I never liked the beach.  I didn't like the fish, the taste of salt water, but most importantly, I didn't like the sand.  Because let's face it, beaches are not friendly to wheelchair users.  In fact, loose sand may be the absolute worst surface for navigating a chair. The front wheels get stuck, meaning you have to do a wheelie through the dry sand. And that is why Hilton Head deserves kudos for making their beaches as accessible as possible!
Me on beach.jpg

Dan on the beach in Hilton Head

As the Atlantic Ocean tide rises and falls, it leaves behind a large area of flattened, packed sand that is easily navigable for us disabled-folk. So the city put in a long, flat mat that covers the entirety of the dry, soft sand that the tide never touches. 

This means I got to enjoy all the perks of the beach without leaving my chair behind.  Over the course of the week, I watched the pelicans dive-bomb for fish in the early morning, and saw the sun set. I got to ride the waves about eight feet into the ocean, and I got to build sandcastles with our younger cousins (all the while having my bathing suit stealthily filled with sand by a 3-year-old).  These were all experiences I never thought I could have or would have missed out on because beaches were such a pain for me.

Thanks to Hilton Head for giving me the full experience of my vacation-not just a few ramps and an ice cream shop.

Wheelchair user aims to host Oprah show


Harp teacher, able-bodied, spend my life opening doors for my fiance and pretending to like baseball.

If you're up on pop culture and current events, then you've heard of Zach Anner recently. This wheelchair user has cerebral palsy, which he states is the sexiest of the palsies (we're not disagreeing). Oprah Winfrey is looking for a host for a show to develop on her new network, and Zach Anner is currently in the lead with over 9 million votes when we last checked the website. You can watch his audition tape below. We got a huge laugh out of this, and we know you will too!

What we love about the video and the concept is the complete lack of shame Zach has for his disability and his lifestyle, and his fantastic attitude. His sense of humor will really open up the eyes of those who come in contact with him. We also love his idea for a travel show that emphasizes everything you can do instead of can't. We hope he gets the hosting gig, and we look forward to his travel tips and ridiculous adventures!

Travel log: Shame on you, Savannah, Ga.!


Derin and I just returned from a week-long trip to Pennsylvania and Hilton Head, South Carolina.  Over the next week or so, we'll be recounting some of our experiences from the vacation, some of which were extremely positive, others of which were negative.  Since our slogan is that we put a positive spin on life with a disability, let's logically start with the negative!

During the second leg of our trip, we ventured to historic Savannah, Ga. to take in the sights.  Beware, disabled travelers: do not take a trolley tour of Savannah! Not only was the fleet of trolleys not fully accessible (the one we used had no lift), but there was not even a place to put my wheelchair once Derin lifted me into my seat.  We ended up taking the chair apart and storing it at our feet. Even more horrifying was the driver asking if I wanted to just leave my wheelchair with the ticket agent and pick it up once we returned.  She failed to mention that the trolley lets off sightseers in a different part of town than it picks them up; So I'd be trying to tour the city without my chair...brilliant.

It got worse from there.        
Continue reading...

Canadian artists push the boundaries


Two artists in Canada are proving that their disability is in no way an excuse to ignore what they love.  This article from Owen Sound, Ontario, tells the story of Elaine Davidson (Spina bifida), and her husband Uwe Harders (visual impairment).  Davidson is a painter and Harders a sculptor, and both have combined forces to create a local art exhibit. 

The journalist, Bill Henry, does a nice job of avoiding a portrayal of the couple as victims of their disabilities.  Instead, the disabilities are merely a subplot to the story of two talented artists.  And I love this quote from Davidson:

"When you have a disability, you do tend to push yourself into areas that are tough, because you've lived with the message all your life that you're not as good...You tend to want to push the boundaries of that."
All in all, a well done piece with a terrific message!

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