Thursday, January 28, 2010

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

Apparently, the best plan that my local Holiday convenience store could come up with to advertise their hot coffee was to place this clunky apparatus in the middle of the access area between their handicapped parking spots. Right smack dab in the way of people who have to use that zone to get in and out of their vehicles and to go in and out of the store. The spot to the left is where I park every time I go there. The people that work there have seen me park and enter the store countless times over six years. Plenty of people in wheelchairs from my building go in and out all the time every day as well. Yet that is still where they decided to put that sign.

As a consequence, I had to pull up real tight to the sign post just to make room for my van's ramp to unfold. If this situation persists I'll be sure to bring it to their attention on another day when it's not as cold out and I'm not on the go. It doesn't take a whole lot of common sense to realize that it's a poor decision to put a sign like that in between two handicapped parking spots, but a lot of people Just Don't Think. Thus, this is a classic example of many people's ignorance towards accessible parking and disability access issues in general. Over the years I've seen all kinds of things block the spots I park in like this, from shopping carts to snow piles to motorcycles to dumpsters to other cars, etc. At least this was an obstacle I could work my way around with relative ease, but it was still quite annoying nonetheless.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

News Article About SCI in Haiti

Like most people over the last few weeks, it’s been hard not to go about my daily life without hearing about the latest developments trickling out of Haiti. But the reality of the whole situation snapped into a much sharper perspective when I recently read this ABC News article titled "Will Spinal Cord Injuries Fall Through the Cracks in Haiti" about the lack of proper medical care for Haitians who have sustained spinal cord injuries. In fact, even though living with a spinal cord injury plays a significant role in how I see the whole world, for whatever reason it didn’t even occur to me that spinal cord trauma would be a significant health issue down there until I read that headline. But it makes sense because incidents that involve the body getting crushed in building collapses, etc. stacks right up there with vehicle accidents, falls, and sports and recreation injuries (e.g. like my diving accident) as the most common ways to sustain spinal cord injuries.

Needless to say, any trauma to the spinal cord requires immediate care to prevent further paralysis and to stave off other related debilitating health issues. How the injury is handled in the first few minutes and hours can make all the difference. As I’ve discussed in detail already, when I had my accident that resulted in an SCI we had access to a phone, an ambulance took me away, I was immediately hooked up to an IV with medication, was given tests to reveal the extent of the injury, was given steroids to reduce the swelling, was put in neck traction to avoid further neck trauma, was provided with the proper nutrition, was set up with the proper alternative means to maintain bladder and bowel integrity, was monitored around the clock by medical personnel, had the proper surgery to stabilize my broken neck and prevent any further damage, worked my way through the rehab process in excellent medical facilities (e.g. an eight week stint at world-renowned Craig Hospital), etc. The point is that my spinal cord injury was dealt with at a high level of medical care under mostly optimum medical conditions.

But according to the article, it is speculated that people in Haiti who have sustained spinal cord injuries may not be getting the required medical response. Apparently, there is no infrastructure and resources to deal with those kinds of injuries under normal conditions, let alone in a post earthquake chaotic state of affairs. Moreover, it cites the fact that even before the earthquake the survival of people with spinal cord injuries in Haiti was dismal due to the lack of comprehensive spinal cord care. What is probably required the most in this regard is medical assistance from outside Haitian borders from doctors and other personnel who have the proper extensive training when it comes to the treatment of spinal cord injuries. Hopefully, there is already a plan in the works to provide the proper assistance and SCI related equipment needs.

Regardless, my heart goes out to those who have sustained such an unfortunate injury. Moreover, the thought of many of those folks being pushed aside for people with more obvious injuries, their injuries getting exacerbated by having their bodies dragged or carried without the proper neck/spinal stabilization, and that they may suffer much moreso in general due to a lack of even a fraction of the resources I was provided with makes me sick to my stomach. It’s a very scary thing to have happen and deal with under optimum medical circumstances let alone during chaos. As soon as I post this I think I will text a donation to the Red Cross in hope that it somehow reaches some of them. It will be sure to be a long, difficult recovery for many of those unfortunate people, especially considering the current lack of support systems and SCI specific equipment necessary to aid the rehabilitation process.

Of course, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation are all over this situation. You can read about it

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

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

I took this picture a few weeks ago at a Colorado Avalanche-Minnesota Wild hockey game in St. Paul. My Avs pulled out the victory, which was extra sweet for me and my fandom having left "enemy territory" at the Xcel Energy Center three or four times in a row on the losing side. Nothing worse than doing the "roll of shame," if you will, out of the arena with cheering Wild fan masses surrounding you.

Anyway, I took this picture on my cell phone to text it to a friend of mine to show him where my seats were (usually in an upper level corner or end of the arena). But what I didn't realize until I downloaded it onto my computer is that my knees and feet snuck into the bottom of the frame. The result was an unintentional, albeit interesting, "how I see the world from my wheelchair" type picture that you might see in some kind of alternative photograph gallery. Maybe I should see if there are any sports and disabilities photo/art shows going on around town and submit it, you never know.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Parking Ramp Woes

I'll start this post off with a quick poll question: why do I, a c-6/7 spinal cord injury quadriplegic, have such difficulty parking in public parking ramps?

I have a good friend who works at the
Courage Center and on account of his extensive experience involving people with spinal cord injuries he gives many presentations on traumatic injuries, namely SCI. Within the last few years or so he has taken to asking his audiences the question above toward the beginning of his SCI talks to act as an ice breaker to get them thinking about things that people with SCI deal with beyond not being able to walk and more obvious issues involving their wheelchairs. He started using me as an example in that regard during the summer of 2007 when I told him about the tough time that I had parking in a downtown Minneapolis law firm's parking ramp when I went to do an informational interview with one of their attorneys. He, like most others was clueless to the notion and went, "Oh, I never would have even thought of that had you not pointed it out." That occurrence made me extra wary for the same reason about parking in a similar parking ramp in downtown St. Paul for four days straight a month later while I was taking my bar exam. As if the stress of the bar exam wasn't enough by itself. On both accounts this particular issue was a potentially sizeable hurdle.

So back to my question: why because of my SCI do I frequently have trouble parking in parking ramps? It is one of the biggest One Man's Access issues I face living in a big city with limited accessible parking options. Any guesses? Bueller? No, it's not because my van is too big and will scrape the top of the parking ramp entrance. I drive a mini-van. No, it's not because I'll bottom out on the parking ramp. With a lowered floor to accommodate my wheelchair I do have less ground clearance than an average vehicle, but not so much that it will interfere with any parking ramp entrance. No, not because I'll hit my head on the roof of my van driving in or out of the ramp (huh?). No, not because my van is too big to take the turns on the spiral style ramps. No, not because my van is too big to park in the spots or because there aren't enough accessible parking spaces (although the latter is often true). Those are the answers my friend most commonly gets. I was with him as a guest speaker once and I witnessed it first hand as about 25 college students sized me up and spit balled ideas. Nobody ever gets it right though.

The real answer is that it is often difficult, and sometimes impossible, for me to pull the parking ticket out of the automated machine. The reason for that is that I have no voluntary finger movement on account of the paralysis in my hands, and thus don't possess even the small amount of gripping power necessary to get the ticket to release. Unless of course it's a ticket machine that automatically releases the ticket, or at least holds it limply. But in my experience coming across those looser machines is a rarity. Thank God that the ticket machine in the parking ramp I used for my bar exam had a soft release.

So how do I get the tickets out otherwise? Well first of all, if I have someone following me that I know I ask them to jump out and grab it for me quick if they see me struggling. But when I'm flying solo it's always a series of progressions. First, I try to grab it between my fore and middle fingers. No I don't have gripping power as I've mentioned, but I try to utilize my body's natural tenodesis. Using
tenodesis is a technique that many quadriplegics pick up during rehab. People that have use of their hands don't really notice this, but tenodesis occurs when you cock your wrist upward and in doing so it naturally brings the forefinger and the thumb together so that you can gain some semblance of a grip. It's how I pick up and hold the vast majority of things that I do countless times a day. So in terms of grabbing a parking ticket from a machine, cocking my wrist brings my fore and index fingers together so that I can grab skinnier things like paper.

If it doesn't release at that point my next technique is to lick my fingers to get them stickier and then try the same thing again. If that doesn't work then I both lick my fingers, wedge my hand in as tight to the base of the exposed part of the ticket as I can, and try to work the ticket back and forth to loosen it up. Although when I have found success with that technique more often than not the ticket ends up getting a little mangled and torn in the process. So the ticket booth people are always smoothing it back out on the edge of their ticket booth counters before they can scan it. The technique I feel like I've had the most success with lately has been to lick my fingers and pull the ticket straight down instead of out, to take advantage of my hand's leverage. And if all that stuff fails, then my only leftover recourse is to push the button and ask for help, which I hate having to do. Moreover, help often comes from someone stationed at another end of the ramp facility. One of my frequent nightmare scenarios is to struggle to pull out a parking ramp ticket for a lengthy period of time, or to not be able to at all, while cars of people who are in a rush pile up behind me, start getting impatient, honking their horns, etc. Luckily, that extreme situation has never presented itself but every time I approach a ticket machine and there is a car right behind me my stress level goes up a few ticks.

All that came into play the other day. I had to go to downtown Minneapolis for my first nonprofit leadership training session and my only parking option was to park in a ramp. As much as I can I try to park in the same ramp by the Target Center because I've had great success working my leverage technique to get the ticket out pretty quickly. Every time I do it successfully at that ramp my parking ticket grabbing confidence level rises.* But to my unexpected surprise that ramp was closed due to construction. Security blanked dashed. So I went to a ramp I've never used down the street, but unfortunately they had much newer machines and none of my techniques to grab the ticket were working. A few cars piled up behind me and finally a parking ramp employee jumped out of his booth to help.

The bigger problem presented itself when I was set to leave though. In all of my public parking ramp experience I've always paid someone in a ticket booth on my way out. But as I was leaving I didn't see one so I went around again thinking I accidentally tried to exit through the contract parkers' exit instead. Much to my chagrin, however, they were all automated exit lanes. What you are supposed to do is stick your ticket in one slot so it can read how much you owe, then you stick your credit/debit card into another to pay. I could probably stick both my ticket and credit card into the appropriate slots but I most definitely would not have been able to grab my card back again. Whenever I use ATMs I need both hands to pull the card back out. And in this case my right arm isn't long enough to reach over for the assist. Not to mention the increased odds of dropping something. The only other solution I could think of to do it myself was to park my van, get out and pay, get back in my van and drive away. But a) it was cold out, b) it wasn't smart or safe to do that at night, and c) I wasn't sure the turnstile would stay up long enough for me to get back in the van, put up my ramp, and drive out. So once again I had to hit the call button for help. Thankfully, I left at a time of night where I didn't cause a traffic jam. But considering all that above, as I was leaving I knew that I could probably never park there on my own again because it's not worth the risk of getting stuck.

That notion raises a few follow up observations from my perspective. First, from my own personal access standpoint I'm bothered by the proliferation of these automated parking ramp machines. When a good friend of mine is in town we often meet at a brewpub near where I live. Unless I luck out and can park on the street my only other option is the nearby parking ramp. I already needed help getting the ticket from that particular ramp's machine as it was, but a few months ago they made things worse by installing a new machine that asks you to put your credit card in before it spits out the ticket. Even worse, the ticket spits out too low for me to reach and execute my finger lickin' good hand leverage technique. Hopefully, part of the construction being done on the downtown ramp I am comfortable with doesn't involve updating their parking ticket machines. But my guess is that the fully automated ones are the wave of the future and thus more and more of them will keep popping up everywhere, in which case my parking options might ultimately become quite restricted. Bottom line: they make my life more difficult and undermine my independence out in public.

My second problem then is that it seems pretty obvious that none of these parking ramps and parking ticket machine companies put much thought toward people with hand grasping problems when they decide to install these harder to use machines. It's more streamlined and it's cheaper to not staff ticket booth personnel all day and night, I get that. But it's a major hindrance for folks like me who get trapped from exiting because we don't have the manual dexterity to do what most others can do mindlessly. Of course the obvious counter argument is why would they think of such a thing? The parking ticket machine business world isn't exactly one that typically caters specifically to people with disabilities. But I guess that's my point: why wouldn't they, even in some small way? Why wouldn't they take into account people who don't have the physical ability to pull out the tickets? It's a microcosm for a lot of hidden or previously unthought of lack of access issues that I along with many other people with disabilities face everyday.

Anyway, I need to go downtown up to six more times between now and May for the balance of my nonprofit leadership training sessions so I'm hoping that the next ramp I attempt to use allows me to get in and out fairly seamlessly.* Otherwise, it's going to be a long and frustrating spring.

*(Post update as of 1/20/10: After I published this post, and in anticipation of knowing I had to go downtown Minneapolis and park in another unfamiliar parking ramp today, I brainstormed ideas to solve my "I can't pull out the parking ticket" quandry off and on throughout the weekend. What I came up with was to tape a piece of duct tape (sticky part facing out) to my index finger. The idea, of course, was that when I grabbed at the ticket with my fore and middle fingers that the duct tape would stick to the ticket well enough to give me the extra gripping assist I so needed. I'm happy to report that it worked like a charm and I pulled the ticket out like butter. The only trick going forward, however, is maintaining the proper foresight to bring a duct tape strip along with me whenever I know that I need to park in a ramp. Regardless, I consider this a fairly big discovery in terms aiding my future access. Anyway, I couldn't figure out a way to seamlessly work this into my original post above, so I thought that I would add an addendum down here instead. Hopefully, this tidbit helps a few others.)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

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

I took this picture a few days before Christmas when I went to a local mall to get a haircut. When I left my apartment I thought running to the mall around 1:30 on a Monday would be a relatively "safe" time to find a close and open parking spot. As you can see below, I couldn't have been more wrong. This picture represents what I commonly refer to as "Plan B." Plan B essentially goes into effect when every single handicapped parking spot is taken and I have to resort to alternative parking measures. Usually that involves parking at the very end of a parking aisle where nobody can park me in on the ramp side of my van. Of course, I do so begrudgingly every time because more often than not I'm the guy who needs to park in accessible spots the most, and ergo, I shouldn't have to resort these kinds of shenanigans just to find a serviceable place to park. Executing Plan B also meant that I had quite the hike to the mall entrance. Not the one by the Macy's sign in the foreground mind you, but rather the one in the background of the picture. And in the case that there had been a lot of snow or ice on the ground Plan B would have made way for "Plan Go Home Instead" because it's hardly ever worth the risk of getting stuck in the mess when I'm bombing around town on my own.

Part of the problem not finding a spot on that day was during the holiday shopping rush, when handicapped parking spots are always at a premium both for people who justifiably need them like myself as well as those who take advantage of the quick and close parking through more questionable means (e.g. using someone else's window placard). The other part is what I generalize as "winter difficulties," which includes the buildup of snow and ice around the accessible parking spots, etc. Throw in the people who park illegally in the striped access zones either between the accessible parking spots or on the ends of the aisles because they're dropping someone off, they're "just running in for a few minutes," they "couldn't see the lines," or they just don't care, and parking during the winter time can be really frustrating. I'll piggy back on all that stuff in more detail in another winter related blog post in the near future. At the least, this stop along with the others I made that day made me pretty Scroogy heading into the holiday season.