Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Winter Wonderland that Gave Accessibility the Cold Shoulder

Tomorrow we reach the two week anniversary of one of, if not the worst blizzards that I’ve ever lived through. Definitely the worst I’ve seen since I moved to Minneapolis seven years ago. In fact, it was the fifth largest blizzard in Minneapolis history, and the largest December snowfall ever. The snow started pounding the city on Friday evening and by the time it quit almost 48 hours later there were reports of 34 inch dump zones, whereas Minneapolis averages 48 per full winter season. I had nowhere to be, and would have cancelled plans to go out anyway, so I watched the snow cascade down from the warm comfort of my living room.

But outside all winter hell was breaking loose. Cars were getting stuck in ditches. Events were getting cancelled all over town. The front driveway of my building and my street were completely submerged in multiple feet of snow, which I’ve never seen. At a certain point on Saturday night emergency services and plows were called off the roads. A very pregnant lawyer I follow on Twitter joked that if her water broke she’d be having her baby on her bathroom floor, and she was probably right.

Nights like that leave me feeling vulnerable too. I found myself hoping that I wouldn’t need help from any outside assistance because it probably wouldn’t have come anyway. And it always seems to be “those nights” where something inexplicable does come up that requires someone to come out to help me out. Just the fact that I needed a PCA to show up on both of those mornings was quite a feat unto itself. On Saturday morning she needed her husband to drop her off to start her shift because their driveway hadn’t been plowed out yet, and when she left here afterwards she needed to meet him at the Holiday station on the other side of my block because he couldn’t make it back down my street again. It was ugly.

I ventured out post-blizzard for the first time the following Tuesday, playing the part of chivalrous wheelchair knight coming to the rescue of a pretty damsel in distress I know who was stressing over her first round of law school finals and was hoping that I would deliver her an old law school study book of mine. I was immediately greeted by a world of snow chaos like I’ve never experienced in my life. The ramp exiting my parking ramp had been very crudely and crookedly plowed just wide enough for a vehicle to drive out. The street by my building, which is normally wide enough to accommodate two-way traffic plus parked cars on both sides, was reduced to just one traffic lane on account of all the built up snow piles.

In fact, there was more snow built up all around me than I’ve ever remember seeing in my life. Everywhere I looked there were piles of snow three, four, and five feet high. A handful of parking lots I passed on the way were reduced to half lots, half snow storage. Just off the streets there was thick snow cover stretching from the curb all the way back to storefronts, front yards, etc. It was a good thing that I didn’t need sidewalks or curb cutouts to cross streets because there weren’t any. Where I dropped the book off I couldn’t get out of my van because there were four foot high snow piles covering the sidewalk. The only break in the snow for the whole length of the block was a two foot wide walk through space that someone carved out.

Soon after that being in awe of the wild winter wonderland gave way to the reality of how completely inaccessible everything around me had suddenly become. Snow is pretty and above all I always prefer having a white Christmas, but winter conditions can be a huge pain in the ass for wheelchair users like myself.  I wrote a blog post about my winter misadventures this spring, so I refer you to that for those details since my thoughts on the matter haven’t changed. In short, parking is difficult for various reasons (e.g. snow piles covering the parking spots, snow covering the parking lines and striped access zones), cold and precipitation can mess with mobility equipment, wheeling through snow can be challenging, with the constant risk of getting stuck on top of that.

But the difference between past winter seasons and this one is that not only did it snow so much early in the season, it was an historic dumping of snow to boot. In almost every winter since my accident the heavy snowfall didn’t occur until into January or even February so I had a chance to ease into the season. Not so much this year. The difference between the picture below that I posted from last year and this year is that the snow pile is about three feet higher and that spot is half covered, which means I can’t park there. Minnesota law requires property managers and owners to clear those spaces of snow, but in light of this amount snow, and based on past experience, it’s been not only a low priority but sometimes the spaces are left unplowed, or worse, they've been plowed in. If I can’t park I can’t go anywhere.


So the extra daunting thing about this winter so far, and ergo the extra challenge, is that thanks to Mother Nature I now find myself forced to live and adapt in a suddenly very inaccessible world. Snow has gotten in the way of most things that I want to do and most places that I want to go. Just the other day I had to drive a half  block to the Holiday station to get some milk because I would have gotten stuck in the snow had I rolled about 40 yards down the sidewalk. By default I’ve been forced to be a homebody more than I’d like. And that’s a very frustrating feeling. To wit: this article does a good job describing the difficulties that people with disabilities have getting out and about in public with all the recent snow.

More frustrating is that save for about a week straight’s worth of 40+ degree weather to get a decent melting period going this snow is not going anywhere anytime soon either. And 40 degree melting weather is probably not happening anytime soon. The Minneapolis area has been dump trucking excess snow out of town pretty regularly since the storm, but the problem with that from my perspective is that they’re not getting rid of the snow where I go most frequently. So getting out and about is going to be pretty tough for an indefinite period of time.

All that being said, it’s going to be a long, interesting winter. I can’t wait for spring already.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Recalling My Very Wild and Unusual Attorney Swear In Ceremony

In every lifetime there are those moments or events where you just want everything to go perfectly as planned. These typically include things like graduation day, a first date with someone you’re crazy about, your marriage proposal, your wedding day, a job interview, a public speaking event, etc. For me, getting sworn in as an attorney was one of those big deal life events where I hoped things would fall right into place. Three years ago today, on December 11, 2007, I was sworn in as a licensed Minnesota attorney in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court. It was a proud day for both me and my family. Not only was it the culmination of four tough years of law school and the passing of the bar exam, but a pretty cool legal right of passage to boot.

But unfortunately having it all go off without a hitch wasn’t in the cards that day. Far from it as it were. Because when you live my lifestyle inexplicable and unexpected things related to my spinal cord injury and/or wheelchair tend to spring up at the most inopportune times. Thus December 11, 2007 became “one of those days” at the worst time possible.

The ceremony was scheduled to begin sharply at 3 pm in the main courtroom of the Minnesota Supreme Court building, which was pretty iconic stuff. I was actually supposed arrive at least fifteen minutes early to sign the requisite paperwork and get situated. The first mistake that I made was having my family drive past the court building in St. Paul to meet me at my apartment in Minneapolis first. I needed help with my suit and tie and they hit traffic, so we didn’t end up parking by the courthouse until 2:45 when I was already supposed to be inside. As a result, I was feeling really rushed.

On top of that I had never been to the Minnesota Supreme Court building before so I didn’t know where I was going or where the front entrance was. When you use a wheelchair and the overall accessibility of a building is in question a trick of the trade is to follow the blue wheelchair access/disability signs. Almost all of the time those signs lead the way to the wheelchair accessible entrance. So as I was hauling ass down the sidewalk of what turned out to be the side of the building I saw a disability access sign that pointed to a certain entrance. “This must be it,” I thought. As I approached it and hit the automatic door button nothing happened. We grabbed the handle to pull the door open and it was locked. Next to the door was one of those talk boxes with a red button. So I pushed the button, someone answered, and I said that I used a wheelchair and needed to get in but the door was locked. They buzzed me in. At the least, it was an annoyance that I could have done without on my way into the building.

Now at that point it didn’t make much sense that that was how I would have to enter the building to get to my ceremony. Why would I have to use a small side entrance that had its door locked during the middle of the day? But again, I was in a rush and I was going on past experience and instinct. After all, in the preceding eleven years of using a wheelchair (at that point) I’d already jumped through way crazier hoops just to enter buildings, and with that court building being a bit older it certainly wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that I needed to take an equally roundabout route. So I proceeded.

What made even less sense though was when I got inside the door and immediately found myself at the top of a staircase. “What the f---?” I thought to myself. I looked to my right and there was a wooden closet looking door with the disability access symbol on it so I opened it up to fund a metal dumbwaiter style elevator-lift big enough to fit one wheelchair. It was exactly like the kind I had to use in my university bookstore to get to the lower floor where the books actually were. I can’t begin to explain how hard it was trying to catch the eye of some college cuties when I had to get in a metal box that very obnoxiously went ZZZZZZZZGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH for a good thirty seconds before it reached the bottom, and vice versa. Very embarrassing.

Now at this point I definitely should have just turned around, gone back out the door I had just come through, and gone down the sidewalk again because there was no way that was the accessible entrance that would take me to the main courtroom of the Minnesota Supreme Court. And as it turns out it wasn’t. But fueled by the fact that I was running late and without giving it a second thought I launched myself into the “elevator,” closed the door behind me, and pressed the down button.

It was pretty much the instant that I hit the button that I had a “I probably shouldn’t be doing this” bad feeling, and sure enough the lift went down about four inches and crapped out. I hit the down button again, nothing. I hit the up button, nothing. Tried them both again, nothing. The emergency button didn’t work either. Great. Already late for what was arguably the biggest event of my life up until that point and I was stuck in some crappy elevator lift I should have known better to not even use in the first place.

Meanwhile, my family was on the floor below waiting for me to come down. Finally, my mom yells out something like, “Are you coming down or what?” I told her I was stuck. I think the response that came back was to try hitting the down button again. I yelled back that I was stuck stuck, as in no buttons worked and I couldn’t move. As everyone came back to the top to see the situation first hand I heard a lady walk in behind me and ask what was going on. My mom told her that I was stuck in the lift. Then she replied, “Oh that thing hasn’t worked for years” and went on her way. well for crying out loud, had ANYBODY thought about posting an “out of order’ sign or something? Unbelievable.

So my now brother-in-law went off to find some maintenance guy to help us and my dad went to let somebody in charge know that I was going to be a little late to the ceremony and to see if they could maybe hold things up for me given the unique circumstances. The longer I was stuck the more pissed off I got. Of all days to get stuck in a broken elevator lift was the one and only day that I would become an official lawyer. What were the odds?

After not too long a wait, albeit by the same token way longer than I’d hoped, the maintenance guy finally showed up. He reiterated that the lift had been broken for quite while. Thanks a pant load for the non-forewarning man! Since he couldn’t get it working again the only solution was to try and pull me out. I couldn’t back out because four inches is too high a threshold to wheel over going either frontwards or backwards with my chair. Also making it no small feat was the fact that my body weight plus my chair weight tops out at around 400 lbs. But between the two of them they were able to lift my back end high enough so I could control my back wheels to help get me back on level ground. Every fiber of my being wanted to bitch him out for not posting some sort of out of order sign, especially since his reaction to me more than implied that it was my fault for getting stuck in the first place, but more than anything I was just relieved to get out and I had to really get moving to get inside.

Down the sidewalk we went again. I got to the corner, hung a left, went about twenty more yards and, duh, there was the main entrance. My dad assured me that they were holding things up for me so that put me at ease a little bit, but my face was red from frustration, my shirt and tie were a little crooked, and in general I felt out of sorts. After I took a moment to straighten out and collect myself in what felt like the longest elevator ride up one floor in history I was finally outside the courtroom entrance.

As I rolled in the doors half embarrassed for being late and half relieved to finally have made it I found myself on the observation level of the courtroom while all the other soon-to-be attorneys attending the ceremony were down on the courtroom floor level. To get down there you had to go through a small swinging door and down a few stairs. So as it turned out although I finally made to the courtroom I still hadn’t actually made it. As all eyes were on me wondering what I was going to do next a courtroom shepherd asked me if I wanted to go down there to join the group. Relieved to finally be in the room but frustrated that the saga continued I said, “That’s ok.” But she assured me that it was just as easy as taking a ramp down the outside of the courtroom to get down there.

So I followed her to the left side of the courtroom where she held open a door for me, told me to go to the bottom of the ramp, and that she would go around and open it up for me. Then I sat there facing the closed door for who knows how long until I heard the door behind me open up again and a voice say, “I’m sorry, that’s not the right way, we actually have to go around to the other side.” Because there wasn’t enough room to turn my chair around I had to back all the way out instead.

As I followed her to the other side it started to feel like I was in the middle of one of those funny ha ha room to room chase sequences like you see on “Scooby Doo” or other similarly replicated comedy montages. By the time I popped out at the bottom of the ramp and entered the courtroom floor the Justice charged with swearing us in was in the middle of his “This is a time-honored profession…” speech. So I was already embarrassed interrupting things, especially with a loud puttering power wheelchair that makes a clickety clack noise whenever it goes in and out of gear. All the other new attorneys were sitting along the outer rim of the courtroom floor and the only spot available was on my end (thankfully) between a lady who pulled her chair over to clear me some room and the courtroom’s witness box. But in order to get myself into position I had to roll through a very tight space between the witness box and a brass bottomed flag stand, and as I squeezed through it my brand new rubber wheelchair tires let out a very loud and mortifying SSQQUUEEKK as they rubbed against the brass, which was essentially the cherry on top of an overall sundae of suck.

Once again I tried to collect myself as coolly and quickly as possible and tried to enjoy the rest of the ceremony as much as I could by putting all of the BS I had just gone through behind me. Obviously, it was a cool thing to be a part of and when I raised my hand and finally got sworn in as a real licensed Minnesota attorney it felt awesome.

After the ceremony everyone lined up to shake the Justice’s hand, chat with him, and get a picture. After everything that I had just been through I was pretty much ready to get the hell out of there and go to dinner, because I don’t remember desperately wanting a drink more at any point in my life. But my parents kind of insisted that we wait around and so we could get a picture with the Justice as well because it could be a something that I would regret not doing someday.

I’m glad I did too because I was last in line so I got some pretty unique one on one time with him. He was actually the Justice that came and spoke in my Criminal Procedure class the fall semester before. That night in class he pretended to punch me in the face while he lead a mini “What is justice?” lecture so I certainly didn’t forget him. When I reminded him of all that he claimed to have recognized me when I rolled into the courtroom. The thing I really thought was cool about him was that he got down on one knee so that he was more on my level to chat with me and take some pictures.


Then the unexpected occurred. With me that day were my parents, my sister, my now brother-in-law (aka my brolaw), and my baby nephew who was eight months old at the time. At some point in true father/grandfather’s pride fashion my dad mentioned to the Justice that my nephew had my name for his middle name. So after that the Justice kept referring to my nephew as “little Shawn.” Then out of nowhere he said, “You know what would make a great picture? If you took little Shawn up above and set him on the court bench.” So my sister and brolaw took my nephew around and sat him down on that Justice’s spot on the supreme court bench and we took a few pictures. Being a Minnesota law historian he then declared that my nephew was the first baby in the history of the Minnesota Supreme Court to sit on the bench. It was pretty awesome. And as it turned out it ended up being a pretty unique and fitting postscript to the whole crazy event.

So as much as I try to plan ahead and play all the angles to prevent wild things from happening, a lot of times the unexpected still wins out and it can be downright tumultuous like it was in this case. But in the end all that matters is that I survived the crappy elevator fiasco, I made it inside for the ceremony better late than never, I still became an officially licensed Minnesota attorney, and in the process we made a little bit of Minnesota Supreme Court history as well. And ultimately, I have a much better story to tell because of it. It also goes without saying that I might not ever be able to look at my attorney’s license card or see the words “Minnesota Supreme Court” and not think about that day.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Quad Farmer Designs a Wheelchair Accessible Tractor

I wanted to draw some attention to this cool AMS Vans Blog post about a quadriplegic farmer who designed a pretty stellar tractor that he can operate from his wheelchair. Good story. Very impressive stuff. More proof that you just can’t count out us quads from executing some pretty incredible feats.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New EasyStand Guest Blog Post: Taking a Stroll Through Virtual Reality

My latest guest post on the EasyStand Blog went live today. I delve into some of the things that I would do if I were to become fully able-bodied again via virtual reality technology.

So please check it out: Taking a Stroll Through Virtual Reality.

Monday, November 8, 2010

More Interesting Wheelchairs

Apparently, I’ve started a funky wheelchair theme here on the blog. Last week I shed some light on the new Mobi-Chair, which is a floatable beach wheelchair. Just today I came across two more interesting ones that I wanted to share. First, is the LSA Helium, which is a stand-up manual wheelchair. I’ve seen handfuls of stand-up power wheelchairs over the years but never a stand-up manual chair. So in that regard the LSA Helium really stands out to me, pun intended.


The second wheelchair is the IRV 2000 by Trac About, Inc., which is a belt track driven chair. Thus it looks like a mini wheelchair-like tank that can easily roll over snow, sand, mud, etc. without getting its wheels stuck in ruts like standard wheelchairs would. Pretty fascinating chair. If you visit the site linked just above check out the photo album and online videos.


Of course, the championship belt of funky wheelchairs still resides with the Tank Chair. Talk about screw-you-I’ll-go-wherever-I-want-to wheelchair badassery. Apparently, the chair’s inventor created it for his wife who is paralyzed.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Floating Beach Wheelchair

As fall is in full swing here in Minneapolis summer is suddenly becoming a fading memory again. Nonetheless, I came across an intriguing accessible beach product worth sharing for those who live in warmer climates, or those already planning ahead to summer 2011: the Mobi-Chair, which is a floatable beach wheelchair. As you can see from the pictures it’s a pretty wild looking concept. Three big flat yellow wheels that can roll easily over the sand without getting caught in ruts, armrests made of those orange rescue tubes that the lifeguards on “Baywatch” used to run around the beach with (often in slow motion), and a striped seat and backrest design reminiscent of a circus tent. The whole chair is designed to allow people with mobility issues to hit the big waves at the beach, or even the smaller ones at the pool.

As much as I miss swimming, and I haven’t been on a beach of any form since the day of my diving accident over fourteen years, my quick take is that I’m not sure this chair would be the ticket for me. The most obvious hindrance from my perspective is how hard it would be to get in and out of the chair. The low to the ground seating profile means that a level seat to seat chair transfer is out. And even if they were at an even level the wide, bulbous armrests would get in the way. Therefore, the only way for someone like me to use the chair would be to have a team of folks lift me in and out. It also looks like there might not be enough back, seat, or lateral support that would make for comfortable sitting for more than a short while.

But that’s just my take. Clearly, a chair like this opens countless doors for others who are very rarely out of their wheelchairs or other mobility devices, let alone able to go for a swim. To wit, this video clip features a sampling of folks with disabilities who are pretty thrilled to be able to get out into the water. Surf’s up dudes!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wishing a Full Recovery for Eric LeGrand

In my very last post about the wheelchair user who scored a touchdown I described it as a cool convergence of sports and disability. But unfortunately every yin has its yang, and thus it was with great disappointment that I learned about Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed below the neck after making a tackle against Army this past weekend.  He has since undergone emergency spinal surgery and apparently is in good spirits.

Now in my world the phrase “paralyzed below the neck” is typically synonymous with quadriplegia, so I can only assume that is the kind of recovery that he has in store for him. As daunting and unfortunate as that is there has been some pretty good recent precedent of football players sustaining significant spinal cord injuries and having successful recoveries from them.

In 2000 former Penn State cornerback Adam Taliaferro sustained a SCI at the C-5 level. He was given a 3% chance of walking again but after eight months of rehab he was on his feet again (but never played again). I still remember watching him lead the team onto the field the following football season. It was pretty emotional. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano apparently spoke with mentor and former sideline boss Joe Paterno, who was Taliaferro’s coach at the time of his injury, to pick his brain about how to properly support LeGrand and move forward with the team.

In 2007 Kevin Everett, a reserve tight end for the Buffalo Bills, sustained a SCI while attempting a special teams tackle against the Denver Broncos. He suffered a compression of his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae and initially had no movement in his extremities, which made him a very high level quadriplegic. But immediately after his injury a Bills team physician, Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, decided to do a medical procedure known as cold therapy or hypothermia therapy that reduces the body’s overall temperature via an intravenous cold saline solution and thereby protected Everett’s spinal cord from further swelling and damage. The therapy was developed with a great deal of help from Dr. Barth Green, the president of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Dr. Cappuccino called Dr. Barth after he started the cold therapy. Anyway, it was a risky decision but ultimately was a good move because despite his initial chances of walking being bleak or dismal Everett also went on to be able to walk again.

So LeGrand is currently in a tough spot to be sure. I still vividly recall being in his shoes fourteen years ago: the fear, confusion, frustration, uncertainty, etc. But working in his favor are the facts that he is a conditioned athlete and that he had his injury in a time where there are a litany of medical advancements in the world of SCI. I extend my support and sympathies to both he and his family and hope that he has a full recovery. With some luck he might even end up like Taliaferro and Everett.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wheelchair User Scores a TD

With football season upon us, and with me being both a super football fan and a person with a disability, it's always cool to see those rare occurrences when the world of sports and disability converge. Today I came across this link to Fanhouse* about a high school football player in a wheelchair who scored a touchdown. The player is Dylan Galloway, a senior at Manila High School in Arkansas who has paralysis due to cerebral palsy. Apparently, the opposing team agreed ahead of time to cooperate by clearing the way for Dylan to score on the very last game of the game. Good for that kid. And a great demonstration of good sportsmanship. Check out the video below.

*For the record, I disapprove of the article's use of the phrase "confined to a wheelchair."

Monday, October 11, 2010

RIP Christopher Reeve: My Personal Encounter with the Man Himself (From the Archives)

Yesterday marked the six year anniversary of Christopher Reeve’s passing. To pay tribute I thought that I would repost what I wrote last year about his impact, the day that I met him, etc., and to continue that practice in future years. The only thing that I will add here at the forefront is that within sixteen hours or so of making that post live I got an email from Christopher Reeve’s daughter, which was obviously a great surprise. I won’t get into the details in order to preserve what was a private, special exchange, but in short she thanked me for writing the post, for keeping her dad’s memory alive, that my intuition about him was correct that day, and for respectfully giving him the moment of privacy that you’ll read about further below. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and fellow Reeve supporters were my target audience with that post, so it was quite shocking to be contacted directly by a member of the Reeve family, let alone so soon after posting it. But I’m glad that it had such a positive impact, and I still consider that the highlight of my writing “career.” You can read the Reeve Foundation post commemorating the sixth anniversary of his passing here or see how people are sharing their thoughts on the subject here. Check out my archived post below:

Today marks the five year anniversary of Christopher Reeve's passing, and I couldn’t let it pass by me without sharing a few words about that. In short, his death was a highly unfortunate event at the time, and its saddening impact remains so to this day. I still remember that day quite vividly in fact. When I first caught word that he had died everything in my life stopped briefly. I was a month and a half into my second year of law school, and needless to say my studies took a dive for the rest of the day. In its stead I hit the web and read everything about his passing that I could. That followed with a period of extended quiet reflection. I found the way he died (suffering a cardiac arrest that was preceded by a skin pressure wound that caused a systemic infection) very sobering because it’s something that’s an issue for all people with SCI. Thankfully pressure sores and skin breakdowns have never been a problem with me – presumably a result of my being careful with all the body parts I can’t feel and my surprisingly tough skin – but what put things into perspective was the realization about how things could go south pretty drastically if it were to ever occur.

Once the initial shock wore off my thoughts on the matter went into two different directions. First, and I briefly echoed this in my Derrick Thomas post, I was deeply saddened to lose an “SCI brother.” Living with paralysis stemming from a spinal cord injury has become a pretty common disability type these days but that group as a whole is still quite a minority as compared to everyday, able-bodied society as a whole. So to that regard I’ve always felt like I’ve shared membership in a club of sorts to others who live with SCI. Thus I always felt a fairly strong connection to Christopher Reeve. And not just that, but he was the president and CEO of our unique club.

That said, secondly, and maybe selfishly, my thoughts then immediately went to fear for the future of SCI research and fundraising. People in my position, who have lived this lifestyle for years and years, are not just going to wake up on some given morning to discover that all of our physical faculties have returned on their own. We rely quite exclusively on the discovery of the elusive cure for paralysis to get most, and possibly all of it back. With Reeve’s passing, the discovery of said cure and other related things that improve the lives of people living with SCI suddenly felt iffy because our greatest champion for the cause had fallen. Reeve was almost hands down the face of our disability, thanks in large part to his popular global icon status as SUPERMAN. Without his unfortunate accident, and the publicity that ensued, SCI issues would not have been thrust into the public sphere to the immediate and vast nature that they did. Moreover, his journey in the aftermath, his positive attitude, and his decree that it was not a matter of if, but when he realized his dream of walking again brought a ton of awareness and activism about SCI in a short period of time that I’m guessing would not equal where we would be fourteen years later today without him.

Thus right away I was highly concerned that all of the great progress that was being made in that area while he was still alive would slow down significantly after his death, or worse: stall out completely. But the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation has continued to do great things in his wake, and with Marc Buoniconti being on the cover of Sports Illustrated a few months ago representing The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and all of their great work, I think that the fight for a cure for paralysis has been able to maintain itself as an important public issue that requires much more progress to fulfill its ultimate goal.

My own personal account of Christopher Reeve dates back to the fall of 1996 when I met him briefly in Denver, CO. Somewhere around early November Reeve was in Denver for a major public speaking engagement at the downtown convention center. At the time I was still out in Denver for an eight week extensive inpatient spinal cord injury rehab stint at Craig Hospital, arguably the finest facility in the country (if not the world) for such a thing. While he was in town he stayed in a room about six doors down from mine in the East Building at Craig, which is essentially the residence wing. All the rooms in that part of the facility were set up like single living accessible apartments with a private bathroom, a mini fridge, an office-type area, and a living room area with a pullout couch bed for family members to sleep on. Most of the Craig patients that roomed in the residence side of the facility were in their final transition period before getting discharged from rehab, which for me meant that at the time I was in my last two to three weeks before going back home.

It was no surprise that Reeve stayed at Craig while he was in town. First of all, the room where he stayed was easily the most accessible lodging in the city, not to mention completely private from the public. Second, the word on the street leading up to his visit was that immediately after his injury Reeve wanted to come out to Denver to do his SCI rehab at Craig, because of the great national reputation it has, but they didn’t have any patient openings to accommodate him at the time. I’m not sure if that’s actually true but if it is then in a roundabout way he finally got his chance to stay there and see the facility first-hand.

The morning after he arrived he held a city-wide press conference in the media room at Craig (fun fact: I used to watch my Packer games on their 72 inch big screen TV). I don’t remember if I missed the presser because I wasn’t up yet or because I was in the middle of my morning therapy sessions, but my dad went down and took some pictures (I’ll have to scan and post later). Sometime afterwards my dad came back to my room and mentioned that a bunch of other patients had congregated a few doors down from Reeve’s if I wanted to go try and meet the man himself. I’ve never been one to resort to rubbernecking but considering I would probably never have such an opportunity ever again I ventured down the hall to join the other half dozen or so nonetheless.

After a brief moment Reeve appeared from his room and came down to us. He used a sip and puff mechanism to drive his wheelchair and as soon as he stopped and moved his mouth away from the sip/puff thing he said “Hey, everybody” in a quiet, friendly voice. The group responded with a collective ‘hey’ back. Then he asked what we were doing there at Craig, kind of focusing his attention on one lady in particular to start things off. She was a paraplegic who was discharged less than two weeks after I arrived at Craig. If my memory serves it was her second time at Craig due to a re-injury. I remember also that she was very loud, brash, and kind of speedy aggressive with her wheelchair, but not necessarily in a negative way. She belonged to a click of sorts with a handful of other patients who had been in rehab together for quite the same amount of time. Whenever I saw them hanging out in the halls I felt like a high school freshman steering clear of the cool upper classmen group all over again. It should be noted that in true circle of life fashion (my nephew’s really been into the LION KING lately so I had to throw in that reference) about four weeks after she was gone I found myself involved with a similar click of my own. And in my rehab discharge roundtable with my parents and rehab team my physical therapist (an ex-Navy SEAL of 26 years) mentioned that a handful of his other rehab patients had started requesting a fast manual wheelchair like mine, assuming that the chair was the reason for the speed I was exhibiting, not me making it go fast.

Anyway, when he essentially asked her what she was there for she very quickly replied, “To see you.” Then he said, “Well are you here for therapy as well?” And then she said back, “Nope, I just came to see you.” I don’t recall the details of any other specific conversation exchanges he had with the group but I do remember that he didn’t stay and chat with us for long. I remember thinking at the time, and still feel the same to this day, that it was unfortunate that of any person in the group that he opened up his brief friendly dialogue with it was with the one person who was no longer affiliated with the facility and had only visited that day just to get a close up look at him.

My immediate impression of the whole exchange at the time, and an opinion I still strongly share to this day, is that I think he just wanted to shoot the breeze with us about our therapies and our thoughts on getting a chance to do rehab at such a fine facility. Kind of a “we’ve all gone through this” note comparison session. That theory carries extra weight if it’s in fact true that his admission request was turned away. So as far as that goes, I always felt like he just wanted to pick our brains about getting to do something that he never got the chance to do. That’s why I think it’s too bad that most of his native chit chat time was taken up with someone who couldn’t read between the lines. I feel like at least she could have told him that she was a former patient and not just a crazy fan. Had he engaged me instead I would have said that I was a c-7 quad, had a diving accident, was from Wisconsin, came there for more aggressive therapy, it was hard as hell to be away from my family and friends but it was a necessary move that I didn’t regret, talked up the quality of the joint, and asked where he rehabbed and what his thoughts were about it. I guess I should have raised my hand or something.

That afternoon I got the chance to go to the convention center and see him speak. In fact, most of the hospital staff and patients got the afternoon off from therapy to do so as well. For me it was a very liberating round-trip because unlike most everyone else who got bused downtown, I got a separate day pass to go by myself with my parents. One of the smart things my parents did was have our Chevy Blazer driven out to Denver so they had a vehicle to get around. It was only a small handful of times that I got to leave completely untethered from the facility. So it was kind of a big deal at the time to be able to drive down there by ourselves.

Because we were on our own schedule, we got to head downtown after most everyone else had already left. As fate had it, on our way to the elevator we crossed paths with Reeve and his crew of people, who were also getting ready to load up on the elevator. They were right by the elevator doors so we waited politely behind this decorative wall divider thing so that they could get on the elevator first. But someone in his entourage saw us and and waived us past because they weren’t quite ready. As I was just about to break into view of him I heard him say “A little more to the right” which based on my own experience I assumed meant that their holdup was because he needed a body adjustment in his chair. Thus even though I passed by him within less than six feet between us I didn’t look over in his direction to respect his privacy. In retrospect I probably should have glanced over and given him a quick hello or a friendly nod, but at the time I felt pretty strongly about keeping the blinders on because I knew how frustrating it was to have people stare at you while you were getting some private adjustment.

So my one close encounter with Christopher Reeve didn’t quite have the bang for the buck, and was more like a fly by, but at the time it was a really great moment for me and my parents. And I always like getting the chance to share the story. But overall, the thing that I will always take away from that day and that chance meeting is that when you strip it all away – the Superman thing, the social popularity, the global icon status, the face of our disability – he was just one of us: a guy who sustained an unfortunate, life altering spinal cord injury, became a quadriplegic, and was just trying to continue on with his life as best as he could. And yes maybe that included waiving a few people onto the elevator ahead of him because he needed help getting a few small adjustments to make him feel more comfortable and presentable.

Keeping with the spirit of this anniversary, here’s a couple of related links I wanted to share. The first is an article written by the CEO of the Christopher & Dane Reeve Foundation about how the best way to honor his legacy is to find a cure for paralysis. Clearly, I concur with that notion. The second is the Reeve Foundation forum page where people have been posting their thoughts about the five year anniversary of Reeve’s passing and sharing stories about how he touched their lives.

So in closing I say rest in peace, good sir. It was great getting the brief chance to meet you once upon a time in Denver.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

There’s an Accessible App For That

Recently, the Reeve Foundation’s Paralysis Resource Center posted their Guide to Apps for People Using Wheelchairs. The guide breaks down into nine categories: Accessories, For Kids, Health & Fitness, Games & Entertainment, Travel, Reference & News, Productivity, Assistive Technology, and Medical. Giving the category lists a quick run through I don’t see how a number of them cater to people living with paralysis specifically, but there are plenty of cool apps nonetheless. The only downer is that they are very iPhone, iPad, and iPod heavy, so those of us that are not Apple Disciples get left out in the dark on some good stuff.

Regardless, it’s worth mentioning a few that I think would be neat to utilize. In the Health and Fitness category there is an app called Physiotherapy Exercises that displays over 600 exercises for people with spinal cord injuries. I just did a guest post on the EasyStand Blog about my difficulties getting a good workout with SCI (i.e. Wannabe Gym Rat). In the Reference and News category I like the Spinal Cord Encyclopedia app, which provides info, pictures, and graphics of the spinal cord. I would also make good use of the Americans with Disabilities Act Reference app (provides ADA guidelines and FAQ’s) and the QuickADA app (gives you ADA regs and codes).

In the Medical category there’s the smart-ICE app which gives first responders instant access to your medical records, which is nice because the more info that you can give someone else in an emergency situation the better when you have a disability related health issue. Related, the Help Me! app one touch dials 911 for you in an emergency but still gives you time to cancel if you hit it accidentally. I have been stuck in my van with nothing but my cell phone to help me plenty of times, but thankfully not in any emergency situations. So those are ideal for those purposes.

I think the apps I would use the most fall under the Travel category though. CitiRollers is a guide to navigating cities on wheels, but currently features location data for just six major cities. FastMall gives step-by-step directions to wheelchair accessible routes through malls and shopping districts, specifically highlighting elevators and bathrooms. I can’t tell you how handy that would have been a few months ago when I rolled the length of about two football fields in a Minneapolis mall only to discover a) that it was out order and b) there was a closer one to my mall entrance not labeled on the mall directions marquis. The word “pissed” doesn’t begin to cover it. The LocalEats app lets you know if certain restaurants are wheelchair accessible, which is cool because it’s always a bummer to plan to try out a new eatery only to discover upon arriving that access is a no go.

Also under the Travel category is the app I like the most because it lets you fight back against handicapped parking abuse. The Parking Mobility app works by taking a series of pictures with your phone of cars without disability placards/license plates that include the plates, the spot the car is/ parked in, etc. and submit them to Parking Mobility. Then they review the data and send it to the municipality, who then distributes tickets to the offending parties. Very awesome. Plus it’s free for iPhone users. I wrote a research paper on handicapped parking laws in law school and the premise was that utilizing volunteer reporting will go a long way towards helping to cure the problem of rampant handicapped parking abuse. This app puts the power to police handicapped parking violations in the hands of the public. Quite literally, I might add.

There has been quite a bit of discussion on blogs, etc. lately about cell phone accessibility and what phones are the most accessible. I think the general consensus has been that the iPhone is the most accessible phone on the market on account of the touch screen, screen magnification, VoiceOver feature, attachments, apps, etc. For example, for wheelchair users specifically the iPortal by Dynamic Controls is a power chair accessory that connects to an iPhone or iPod touch to display wheelchair information, such as battery power levels, chair speed, seat positioning, and heading direction. It also lets users control their iPhone using the chair’s joystick. Now that’s what I call making good use of accessible technology.

Cell phone accessibility to me has always meant, despite my limited hand and finger functioning, whether it’s a phone I can handle and hold up to my ear first and foremost, and then secondly whether I can easily dial, text, and use the other primary functions. But my only issue with cell phones is related to my lack of manual dexterity. Phone accessibility to other disabilities means visual and/or sound cues, the ability to magnify the display, voice commands, or other related functionality.

The first four years that I had a cell phone I was way behind the technology curve with my “candy bar” style phone when flip phones (e.g. the Motorola Razr) were all the rage because I don’t have the manual dexterity to flip the phone open on command. By the time I would have gotten the thing open I more than likely would have missed the call, or dropped the phone in the process. My quad friend Mike worked around that issue by Velcroing his flip phone to the armrest of his wheelchair. Then he flips the phone open, dials or texts with the back of one his knuckles, and uses a Bluetooth earpiece to talk. But I don’t like the idea of having an earpiece in all day and you still have to deal with the flip thing.

Thankfully, the proliferation of “smart phones” brought it all full circle again and now there are a plethora of cell phones that would work fine for me. When my agreement was up two years ago I wanted to make the jump to smart phones. Blackberries went out right away because I wasn’t a fan of that little trackball. Plus I wanted a touch screen phone. I had full intentions of getting an iPhone but I tried one out and found myself frustrated with the touch screen keyboard. So I ended up getting a Samsung Epix (since discontinued) because it was a touch screen phone that had both a touch screen keyboard and a full qwerty raised button keyboard. So it was the best of both worlds. I’m still not sure why the product failed, I think it’s a cool phone.

But my two year deal is up again and I’m moving up to a full touch screen phone this time since I ended up using the touch screen keyboard to type about 90% of the time. I decided to dump AT&T for a handful of reasons (spotty signal mostly). I’ve got my eye on the Motorola Droid with Verizon or the HTC EVO with Sprint. Unfortunately, going away from AT&T means going away from the iPhone, which in turn obviously means that I won’t have access to many of the aforementioned accessible apps since they’re so Apple heavy. So I guess in my case there won’t be an accessible app for that, unless the Droid or EVO up their game.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Christopher Reeve

Today is/would be Christopher Reeve’s 58th birthday, so I always like to make brief recognition of that. I had some expanded thoughts about that in last year’s post, and I still echo those sentiments, so go check that out if you’re interested (FYI one link no longer works). What I will add though is a link to a Reeve Foundation blog post that commemorates his birthday and legacy with some brief retrospective thoughts from someone who is involved with the Reeve Foundation as well as fan, supporters, and Reeve Foundation community member comments about Christopher. Happy would-be 58th.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

The World’s Most Dominant Athlete?

Being an avid sports fan my “morning coffee,” if you will, is checking,, online newspaper articles about my favorite sports teams (Badgers, Packers, Avalanche), and my fantasy sports teams right away after I fire up my computer in the morning. Most days it’s just a ho-hum going through the paces proposition, but every now and again a headline will really grab my attention. This morning on I saw a link to “the world’s most dominant athlete” and enthusiastically clicked on the link to appease my curiosity.

To my great surprise it linked to a cool article about a wheelchair tennis player: Twenty-nine year old Esther Vergeer, a paraplegic from the Netherlands, who has been dominating her sport like no athlete in any sport has for decades. To wit, she hasn’t lost a tennis match in over seven years, running up a record of 396 straight matches and counting, has won ten consecutive world titles, and in that timeframe she apparently was in danger of losing just once. Clearly she is the number one ranked player in her sport and has a career 96% match win rate. She just won the U.S. Open for a fifth time and now has sixteen major titles. That is the same amount of majors as Roger Federer, who over the past few years has been touted as the greatest male tennis player in history. Needless to say, she is quite a phenomenal athlete.

How a person can play tennis from a wheelchair fascinates me. When I was using my manual wheelchair full time for the first year and change after my diving accident I had my hands full just pushing myself around on most days, let alone doing any quick “athletic” maneuvers. To play tennis from a wheelchair requires you to serve the ball, put the tennis racket on your lap and/or hold onto it while you push yourself around the court, get yourself in position to return volley, pick the racket up again and hit the ball, then roll to a new position on the court executing sharp back and forth cuts, pick up the racket and hit the ball again, and repeat it all in an instant for the entire duration of the match. The rules of wheelchair tennis allow for two bounces of the ball between hits instead of just one, but still. As a quadriplegic, who was a terrible able-bodied tennis player to boot, I can’t fathom such talent considering I could probably only muster about an eight foot dribbler of a tennis volley. Wheelchair tennis takes a lot of strength and endurance, and the way Esther has dominated the sport for so long is the epitome of pure athleticism. Awesome for her. I’m an instant fan.

So check out how Esther Vergeer’s Dominance Transcends Her Wheelchair on Fanhouse, and the reigning The Queen of Wheelchair Tennis… Esther Vergeer on the AMS Vans Blog (the latter provides some more background info on how she became a paraplegic, a quick tidbit about the history of wheelchair tennis and its equipment, and includes a video of Esther in action). Both are enlightening reads.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New EasyStand Blog Guest Post: Wannabe Gym Rat

My latest guest post on the EasyStand Blog has now gone live. I discuss my frustrations coming up with ways to get in an adequate workout and stay fit. Then I outline my current workout regimen so that others in similar positions as me who struggle for workout ideas can maybe glean something.

So please check out Wannabe Gym Rat.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One Man's Annoying / Aggravating / Interesting Access Picture of the Week

What makes this picture interesting is that you're not quite sure if the male and female icons are pointing out that this space is designated as accessible or if they are pointing at and mocking the icon with a disability.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Must See SCI TV: Breakthrough with Tony Robbins

One evening a few weeks ago I was working at the computer while peeling through my DVR and I got an out of the blue text from my good friend Kurt, who also doubles as one of my two co-founding partners of the Minnesota Spinal Cord Injury Association nonprofit we’re starting, that read, “Are you watching the Tony Robbins special on NBC?” I’ve never been a fan of those “inspirational speaker/life coach” types who charge people oodles of money for their books, seminars, etc. so I very facetiously replied, “Not a fan, is he going to work a miracle or something?” A quick reply came back simply saying, “Turn now to NBC.”

So I obliged him and immediately flipped the channel to NBC to find fifteen minutes left of a “Breakthrough with Tony Robbins” episode that featured a quadriplegic named Frank and his wife Kristin. Frank broke his neck and sustained a spinal cord injury diving into a hotel pool on his wedding night, and the couple had been struggling both independently and collectively with their new, unexpected lifestyle ever since. I’m not going to do a blow by blow account of the episode in this space since you can just watch the episode yourself, but the premise is that Robbins puts them up to a handful of challenges, again both individually and collectively, that changes their outlook on how they can live their lives in light of everything that Frank’s new disability brings to the table (e.g. skydiving, spending time apart for the first time since his accident, playing “murderball” (aka quad rugby) in front of his family, and working on and driving a desert truck since racing one was his dream). Then there’s one other big surprise at the end.

Of course, some of the thoughts that Frank (and Kristen) shared hit home for me since I parallel them in a lot of ways: second guessing his choice to dive into the pool, grieving the life you should have had, having a loved one have no choice but to help him with his personal cares, not having the ability to sense his wife’s loving embrace, feeling like he’s holding his loved ones back, self doubt about the ability to start a family, the frustrating strive to be self supportive, hesitations about getting outside of his comfort zone, etc. And then yet despite all the hard struggles and emotions of living with paralysis, gaining that strong sense of pride and accomplishment for the things you can do as well.

If you live with SCI or know someone with SCI it is a pretty powerful piece. Heck, I recommend it to anyone interested in checking out an inspiring personal journey about overcoming personal demons and adversity, and ultimately achieving potential you didn’t know that you had inside of you. And dare I say it: a new found respect for Tony Robbins, if you are like me up to this point.

However, the caveat is that the clock is ticking because it is only available to be viewed online until September 4th. Here is the Hulu episode link, or click the link above to go to the NBC show site. I would have brought this to people’s attention sooner but I actually just got around to watching the balance of the episode that I missed tonight. So tune in before it’s too late. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

One Man's Annoying / Aggravating / Interesting Access Picture of the Week

Things that go through my head immediately upon seeing the picture below are: 1) based on the word use alone my assumption is that this parking spot must be located in either California or Hawaii where surfers live (there's also a hint of palm tree trunks on the top left background), and 2) that I would love to park there since this is quite possibly the coolest label for a handicapped parking spot I've ever seen.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Get a Clue

I was thinking about calling this “One Man’s Annoying/Aggravating/Interesting Anecdote” or something like that and start a new blog segment, but I decided “Get a Clue” was much more apropos. The point is that I wanted to pass along a few links to a fascinating handicapped parking story I came across not long ago. Here’s the link to the local news story (“Woman sues over handicap parking ticket”) and here’s the link to a related follow up blog post (“Is This Able-Bodied Woman Entitled to Handicapped Parking?”). I can tell you very quickly that the answer is “no.”

The bottom line is that an able-bodied woman illegally parked her Mercedes SUV in a handicapped parking spot, but the more detailed breakdown is that she parked there because her arm was still in a sling from a recent surgery, the surgery left a “huge scar,” she was still on medication, it was raining hard, and she ran into the store for just a few minutes. She returned to her car to find a $300 parking ticket. Pretty open and closed case—busted, pay the fine, live and learn.

But what makes this story fascinating are the assertions that she made after the fact. Now she admitted that she parked in a handicapped spot on purpose, that she does not possess a disability placard, that she does not have a disability, and that what she did was wrong. Still, given the aforementioned circumstances—the arm sling, the “huge scar,” the sore arm, being on medication, and the “torrential” rains—she asserted that she had a disability “that day” and therefore for her to have parked anywhere but the handicapped spot was “unavoidable.” Given that defense, she argued that the $300 parking fine was way too high, and subsequently went on to sue the town of Danvers, Mass. after the parking clerk refused to dismiss her ticket. The nerve! Ridiculous. I’ll just assume that her case won’t get too far.

Unfortunately, these kinds of “I’ll only park there for a few minutes” sets of circumstances happen all the time, all over the country, every day, and has prevented me from finding a parking spot dozens of times over the years. But this inexplicable set of events is a new one on me.

So with that all I can really say to this lady is, “Here’s a quarter (or 1200 in this case), get a clue!”


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New EasyStand Blog Guest Post: Reserved Parking (Thanks to the ADA)

My latest guest post on the EasyStand Blog has now gone live. Acting within the spirit of yesterday’s 2oth Anniversary of the ADA I shared an anecdote about the accommodation that I am most proud of obtaining: a reserved accessible parking spot at my law school. It took a lot of patience, determination, and back and forth discussions, but it ended up working out better than I could have expected.

So please click the following link to read Reserved Parking (Thanks to the ADA).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Congrats to Craig Hospital

I wanted to take the opportunity to throw out a quick congratulations to Craig Hospital who recently was picked as one of the best hospitals in the country by U.S. News, coming in at #7 in the rehabilitation category. As I’ve mentioned here and there in past posts, I did an eight week rehab stint out at Craig in Denver, Colorado from around September 25 to November 24 (I flew home the day before Thanksgiving) 1996.

Immediately after my six hour neck fusion surgery (three hours on both the front and back sides of my neck sandwiching a few vertebrae from a cadaver between two plates), my neurosurgeon told my parents that they were going to want to send me to Denver, Chicago, or Minneapolis right away. In other words, to facilities that had much more expertise with spinal cord injury rehab than the Eau Claire hospital I was at (Sacred Heart).

When my parents brought up that notion they essentially got a real quick “Hell no!” back from me. It was inside a week since my diving accident so it was obviously still a tense emotional time. But even if in retrospect I might have been better off in terms of more quickly advancing my recovery and achieving my post-SCI rehab potential, the last thing I wanted was to be away from my family for a few months. To a lesser extent the same line of reasoning went for my then girlfriend as well. Having them all nearby in the early stages was invaluable to my initial recovery and emotional health.

But once late August/early September rolled around it was becoming increasingly apparent that I was reaching my hospital rehab program’s SCI specific limits and made the difficult, life changing decision to transfer to Chicago or Denver. So in the subsequent weeks my parents went on scouting missions on my behalf. The Rehab Institute of Chicago (which to my slight surprise was #1 on the aforementioned list) came highly recommended and my parents went there first. On the plus side it was within driving distance, but on the downside it was apparently in an “interesting” part of downtown Chicago that made my parents nervous. For example, a security guard escorted my parents from the facility to the nearby parking lot, which from what they were told was common protocol just to be on the safe side from sketchy neighborhood behavior (i.e. muggers). So my parents were left with an uneasy feeling about me being there.

A weekend trip to Denver came next. The tour of Craig Hospital went quite swimmingly. My parents liked the facility, location, and would have access to an apartment building right on the property which was designed for visiting families to stay near their loved ones/patients. So we had a winner. They even took a day trip to Golden, CO to tour the Coors Light brewery and to Boulder to score me a University of Colorado Buffaloes t-shirt, which you could find me wearing in physical therapy every week thereafter.

A bunch of details had to be hammered out first, but we flew out on September 25th with my favorite rehab nurse Kim in tow in case something medical happened to me midflight (e.g. my catheter balloon burst inside my bladder due to the increased air pressure). Within an hour after arriving at Craig I had met my physical therapist Mitch, who was a burly ex-Navy SEAL of twenty-six years, so it was pretty badass. He gave me a quick look up and down and just said, “Eight weeks, huh?” because a typical Craig SCI patient was there for a minimum of twelve weeks. Then he said, “Ok. Let’s get you a chair, I’ll be right back” And just like that I was in a sporty Quickie manual wheelchair, as compared to the much less functional E&J chair I was using at Sacred Heart. So that immediately set the stage for the next era of my SCI rehab, and away we went thereafter.

I can go on about my time at Craig for pages and pages, so at this point I’ll just refer people to the relevant portions of my book whenever it comes out (I’m getting back to work on it soon). But I will say in short that although it was very difficult being so far away from my family and friends for two months, deciding to go to Craig was the best thing I could have ever done at that stage of my life. It is undeniable that my overall rehab program got boosted to new levels as soon as I landed in Denver. Simply put, I owe much of the independence and physical well-being that I’ve gained over the years to that facility.

Plus as it turned out my family was as close as they could be anyway. My dad stayed for the first two weeks to act as a transitional buffer (his job allowed for it, my mom’s teaching job didn’t); and before I even transferred out to Denver my parents found a great airfare deal of $96 round trip from Minneapolis to Denver, mapped out who would fly out on which weekends, and bought between thirteen and eighteen round trip tickets for them, my sister, and my girlfriend. So out of that eight week rehab stint out in Denver there were only two weekends that my family didn’t visit. And by then I was adjusted enough with the whole situation that I felt comfortable being on my own around the facility for the weekend. By that point I was participating in a lot of local weekend field trips anyway.

Although I have no regrets about going to Craig, I do look at the RIC being #1 on this list and wonder how things might have been different had I gone there. Not to mention that it would would have been closer for my family to visit. Then again, if things went smoothly, by the time they drove from Eau Claire to Minneapolis, flew into Denver, and then got to Craig it practically covered the same six hour road trip from Eau Claire to Chicago. The interesting thing along that line of thinking though are the facilities here in Minneapolis, which is obviously much closer to Eau Claire than the rest. I lived transitionally at the Courage Center for three months before I got an accessible apartment and I still work out at their Fitness Center every Friday. So that could have worked out too I suppose.

But I could care less what the rankings technically are, because as far as I’m concerned Craig Hospital is in a class of its own. Great location, great world renowned rehab facility, great rehab staff, always on the cutting edge of SCI science and research, etc. Craig provided me with a great overall rehab experience. And along the way Craig also provided me with a handful of life long connections, including fellow graduates I’ve stayed in touch with, becoming a super fan of the Colorado Avalanche NHL hockey team, and Denver has since become an adopted city to boot. I just wish that I lived much closer so that I could visit more often. Like I said, I’ve got a lot more that I can say about all of that above, but you’ll just have to stay tuned.

My sincerest congrats to Craig Hospital, your high ranking is well deserved.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

SCI Summer Safety Checklist

A Reeve Foundation's Paralysis Study concluded that 200,000 Americans are living with paralysis resulting from sporting and recreational activity accidents. Of those 200,000, each year about 6,500 teens end up in the emergency room because of a diving accident. That’s what happened to me fourteen years ago on July 12, 1996. A diving accident at a beach resulted in a spinal cord injury and life as a C6-7 quadriplegic. That is why it is worth passing along the Reeve Foundation Summer Safety Checklist. Along with The Reeve Foundation, I encourage people to review this checklist with their families, especially the teens. Living with a spinal cord injury isn’t fun and can often be a very difficult lifestyle. A significant summer recreational accident that results in SCI can easily be avoided with a little helpful information.

- Buckle up… properly! Bottom strap across hips and shoulder strap across chest.
- Do not be distracted by other passengers, motorists, cell phones, radio, etc. Stay focused!
- Obey car and booster seat guidelines.
Swimming and diving
- Do not dive in less than nine feet of water. - No board, no diving!

Personal watercrafts
- Be watchful, defensive, obey speeds, and keep your distance.
Body boarding
- Hold board so it extends past head.

General Water Safety
- No re-dos; do not combine alcohol and water-related activities!
- Be aware of sandbars.
- Feet-first entry.
Bicycle Riding
- Wear a helmet… properly! A helmet should be worn snug, fitted, and level.
- Replace helmet after three to five years and/or if cracked.

Monday, July 12, 2010

July 12: 14 Years and Counting…

I usually don’t post on back to back days, but by the same token it’s worth doing so anyway to recognize that today is the 14th anniversary of the diving accident that left me paralyzed from the chest down after sustaining a spinal cord injury. Even though its full impact lessens a little bit as each year passes it will always remain a very significant date in my world. Even waking up this morning immediately had a different “feeling” to it.

Anyway, I covered my thoughts about this day pretty extensively on this blog last year and don’t really have anything to add to it this year other than to make what I feel is the requisite mention of it. So at this point I’ll just dip into the archives and repost links to my two July 12th posts: “Memoirs of a Life Changing Day” which was my never before shared first hand breakdown of the day of my accident, and “13 and Counting…” which delved into my reflections on past July 12’s and how I’ve dealt with each passing anniversary.

What I can add though is that for the past two an a half years I have been working on starting a Minnesota Chapter of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association along with two good friends that are heavily involved in the disability community in the greater Minneapolis region. Tomorrow night we are participating in a muscle spasticity treatment event sponsored by Medtronic, Inc. which for all intents and purposes will be the unofficial coming out party for our chapter. We plan on doing all of the filings necessary to make our chapter official later this week. It’s very exciting. And I say that is how the circle of life works.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

One Year Anniversary

I thought that I should take a quick moment to recognize that as of today this blog is one year old. Well, one year since I put up my very first introductory Kicking Things Off post that is. Actually, I joined Blogger in late May or early June of last year, although it was slightly unintentional at first. I had been going back and forth for a few months before that about if I should start a blog, and more to the point, if anyone would even be interested in some of the things that I planned to write about. But then one day out of curiosity I went to the Blogger site just to see what it would take to start a blog. I punched in “One Man’s Access” (read the aforementioned post for why I came up with that name) and clicked submit just to see if the name was available. Next thing I knew I was at a follow up screen congratulating me and welcoming me to the Blogger family. I just sort of went, “Huh. So that just happened…. Well, what the hell?” Then it took another couple of weeks to tweak the overall look of the bog and work up the guts to throw up my first post. Glad I took the plunge. Sixty-three posts and counting later here we are.

That being said, I wanted to quickly say a big thanks to all of my readers, whether you follow post by post or you just stopped by once to see what it’s all about. It’s been fun and rewarding and even cathartic to write about all of the stuff that I do. I plan to keep it going strong and have even been entertaining some thoughts about expanding things a bit. So I hope people continue to enjoy and appreciate my insight, etc. Cheers!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Article: Stand and Deliver

I wanted to pass along a link to a 2007 article about the medical benefits of regularly using a standing machine/table/frame for people with with spinal cord injuries, which I got via my friends at the EasyStand Blog's Twitter page. In one of my past osteoporosis posts I included a link, also via the EasyStand website, to the medical benefits of standing. But this article goes into much more detail about SCI’s immediate post-injury effects on the body, the importance of post-SCI exercise programs, and the multi-benefits of active standing’s role in continued rehab than I could have never provided myself. Although this article is mostly about the benefits of using a standing machine in an acute rehab setting, I think that it has much wider application as well. It’s an interesting read.

I would break down my personal history of standing into three phases. Phase One occurred in the fall of 1996 when I used a standing machine for the first time during my eight week post-SCI rehab stint out at Craig Hospital in Denver. The first time I got on one it took a long time to get all the way up to a standing position because of a combination of being skinny (at the time), the mile high elevation, and all the blood rushing to my feet made me really dizzy. There was a really cool wheelchair tech guy that often helped patients stand and he would do this Zen-like aggressive calf rub thing that helped to get the blood flowing back north again. When I started incorporating standing into the rest of my rehab routine more often it took a while for me to get up to the standing position, taking breaks to stop and/or lower myself again to regain my bearings, and I could only stand for a short while once a week. But ultimately I got to a point where I could pump myself all the way up to standing on one try, only fighting off a short dizzy period once I was all the way up, and I did it at least twice a week in half hour spurts. Some people out there were standing almost every day for much longer periods of time. At the time it was a nice morale booster to be able to get back up on my feet again.

Phase Two was about six months later when we got an EasyStand for my room. But as I briefly mentioned before, I used it very sporadically because I didn’t have a regular routine down. At one point it got moved from my room to the garage (because it was always in the way of things) which led to even less use because it was out of sight and out of mind. And when I did stand it seemed like I could only really handle it for a half hour. When I was diagnosed with severe osteoporosis last year one my first thoughts was about how little I stood over that five to six year period and wishing retrospectively that I had stood a lot more often. I was told that it wouldn’t have prevented the onset of osteoporosis but it definitely would have helped to slow down the loss rate of bone mineral density.

Phase Three is the present phase. When I moved to my own apartment in 2003 we moved my stander in as well, and I almost immediately incorporated standing into my regular morning routine. At least every other day (weekends excluded) I stand for up to an hour while I eat breakfast and watch ESPN. It’s nice to get that frequent upright feeling as well as to get some weight on my joints and bones. When I come down I almost always get those same quasi-peaceful sensations I used to get when endorphins would kick in after a workout or swim practice back when I was in high school. People that have never seen me stand are always surprised about how tall I actually am.

The part of the article that gets into how combining the use of a Glider—a stander that allows a person to work out their arms while simultaneously making their legs move back and forth (very similar to that Gazelle thing you’ve probably seen on infomercials: “You can do it!!!)—with functional neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) can encourage muscle contractions makes me wish that I sustained my SCI in 2007 and not 1996. Because incorporating that kind of science and technology into my standing routines would have definitely made standing at all three of my phases much more interesting, effective, and perpetually therapeutic. And probably would have led to me standing much more often in Phase Two.