Sunday, February 28, 2010

New Experiences

I decided to start a new blog segment called New Experiences, which is essentially going to be shorthand for new experiences in my personal accessibility related adventures. To kick things off I had two such noteworthy new experiences this past Friday. The first experience was that I rode a Minneapolis city bus for the first time, which was an interesting set of events. I was a part of a nonprofit leadership training group that was touring a few downtown Minneapolis nonprofits. I knew ahead of time that the plan was for us to ride buses together as a group, so I was equal parts nervous and intrigued. I considered driving myself instead but playing downtown parking ramp round robin wasn't a better option when it came down to it. Of my biggest concerns were if I would have enough room to move my wheelchair around inside the bus and if there would be enough open space to sit inside (i.e. if the bus was full or another wheelchair user was already sitting in the designated accessible seating area).

When the bus arrived and it was my turn to get on, the bus driver lowered the front end of the bus and a ramp flipped out the same way that one would open a book and flatten it out on the table. Turning the corner inside from ramp to bus aisle was tight, as was the small area for me to turn around and face front wards again, but it worked out just fine. (Side note: had I been in my new, bigger wheelchair I would not have had enough room, however.) Then the bus driver connected a few safety cables on the floor to my chair "just in case." And we were off. The only uncomfortable thing was that every time the bus driver hit the gas and sped up from a stopped position it made me and my chair rock back a little. So I grabbed onto the flipped up seat bench next to me to brace myself for a little extra feeling of security. It was an interesting little learning experience overall, but that's not to say that I'm going to run right out there and do it again unless I need to. I prefer the comfort of driving my van much more.

At the second nonprofit location I needed to ride an elevator up to the fifth floor. Normally that's barely worth a mention but it was highly notable in this case because it was the smallest elevator I've ever seen in my life. The pic below might not do it justice but the elevator cart barely fit me and my chair plus another person. If I sat right in the middle and stuck out my elbows I might have almost been able to touch both side walls. I've been in my fair share of elevators in the past thirteen plus years and feel like I've seen them all at this point, but I thought that one was quite remarkable. Definitely a new experience, and maybe the most fun I've ever had riding an elevator on account of it's uniqueness. In fact, it was so intimate in there once the door closed on us that I joked that I had to remember to bring a date back to that building someday.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Beware the Rehab Doc (Osteoporosis Update)

A few months ago I completed a four part 'Beware the Rehab Doc' series of posts that, in short, delved into the discovery that I had been diagnosed with severe osteoporosis in my lower spine and both hips. As I discussed in detail, the reason that I developed osteoporosis was strictly on account of the fact that I have been mostly sitting in a wheelchair for almost fourteen years now because of my spinal cord injury. Without the weight of walking and standing, it's common for people with SCI to lose enough bone mineral density (BMD) that eventually leads to osteoporosis. For those who haven't checked them out and are interested either follow the link above or seek out the 'rehab doc' label part way down on the right hand column.

Anyway, I quickly rehash all that because I wanted to throw out an update on the osteoporosis front. As I mentioned in one of the aforementioned posts, my rehab doctor wanted me to do six month follow up bone mineral density scan exams so that we could track the bone regrowth progress. Last month I did the first follow up scan, which was still pretty involved but went much better that I outlined previously. Then today I had the follow up appointment with the rehab doc to go over the BMD scan results. I'm happy to report that I made a pretty good jump in bone growth in my spine and had a tiny bit of growth in my right hip. The left hip is unchanged. But I still think it's good news overall for two reasons: 1) I didn't lose any more BMD which was the primary objective, and 2) considering one of the osteoporosis pills I was prescribed tends not to exhibit positive bone growth results for up to two years in many cases, the fact that I had a pretty good jump in my spine and even the slightest jump in one of my hips is pretty cool in my book.

The freaky fact that I live with bad hips on account of my paralysis is still something that bounces around my mind multiple times every day, but all I can do is continue to stay careful with my body, try not to dwell on it, and stay positive. To the latter point, today was a good day because it served as proof that the tide is turning with this battle. I've just got to stick with the program and hope for more incremental improvement next time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

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

I saw this sign on a bank of elevators at the downtown Minneapolis Macy's. If you can't make it out it says "FOR HANDICAP USE ONLY" and it referred to the middle elevator car in a row of four. On its face it was a nice gesture but it sort of made me snicker cynically for two reasons: 1) the chances that able-bodied people always deferred to people with disabilities as the sign intends, and 2) the use of the word "handicap" was poor word choice. As I've mentioned on this blog before, words like "handicap" (in its singular form) and "the disabled" to describe people with disabilities has become very un-PC and even outright offensive. Using the word "accessible" would be the best option here. In fact, I'm a little surprised that nobody (e.g. the HR department) in one of the biggest and most shopped stores in the world looked closely at this sign and put 2 and 2 together in this regard. It might be time that someone brings it to their attention. And I would gladly be that person if need be.

How I even got to this bank of elevators is an interesting little story as well. I had to go to downtown Minneapolis for a meeting, which meant parking in a ramp and traveling through the skyway system to get to my destination. That said, the rule of thumb for me in that situation is to park on the second level, or park and make my way to the second level so that it's a quick trip to the skyway. The ramp I used didn't have skyway access though. So I had to go to the street level inside an adjacent building instead and I followed the signs for skyway access. The problem with that was it lead me to a set of escalators with no elevators in sight. Mystified, I asked a security guard how I could get to the skyway. He told me that I had to go into Macy's, go through the women's shoe department, hang a left by women's perfume, and the elevators that would take me to the second floor would be right there. Alrighty then. Made perfect sense. Unfortunately, having to take more convoluted paths like this because it's the only accessible route available is pretty common place when you use a wheelchair, and can often be quite frustrating. But I've been though much worse by comparison to this scenario, and I'm sure even the worst will get trumped some day. Alternative accessible routes gone bad will have very much to do with my next post as well.

Friday, February 5, 2010

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

I saw this picture in an article about hiring people with disabilities, or more specifically, an article about the lack of hiring qualified people with disabilities. The article piqued my interest for two reasons 1) I'm a job searching attorney and 2) the discussion subject matter was at the heart of a lot of my employee accommodations work at a very large Minneapolis based corporation. It's an interesting read that I recommend if it's in your wheelhouse. (People With Disabilities: The Talent You're Missing) But a workable accessibility button on your keyboard? Now wouldn't that be fantastic. The only thing better would be an "Easy Access" button a la the Staples "Easy Button." In other words, a blue button with the international symbol of access that I can hit whenever I encounter any accessibility issues. Oh man, what I wouldn't give for that...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Article: The Gas Station Guessing Game

I came across this small article over the weekend and it made my eyes pop out of my head a little bit because it was as if I wrote it myself. It's a short first hand account of the troubles that someone with a c5-c6 spinal cord injury faces getting gas by himself at gas stations.

Obviously, this is a major challenge I've always faced as well. Like with this guy, getting out and pumping gas for myself is near impossible. When I first started driving my van I was almost always with my family and my then girlfriend so I had that buffer when it came to getting gas. As I started branching out more independently in college I wanted, and needed ways to get gas by myself as the situation called for it. Eau Claire, WI had little to no full service gas stations so we set things up with a place that we had a family account with, and when I pulled up they knew to come out and help me. That worked pretty well and gave me the confidence to run out and get gas in even in desperate situations by myself. But a few years before I moved away that gas station was sold and knocked down to make room for a Walgreen's and our side deal went with it, so I was back to almost exclusively piggybacking for help getting gas with people I knew again. Nobody ever had a problem helping me out, but nothing shook that need and desire to take care of such a thing on my own somehow. Especially during those likely situations when it was absolutely necessary.

But that was just around town. When it comes to longer trips I always have to plan ahead by having someone with me, making a tank last roundtrip, or having someone on the other end of the trip help out. Still, I've had plenty of close calls running out of fuel. And believe me, few things out there rival the stress factor, for example, of approaching your final destination in the middle of the night with your low gas light on, feeling like you're coasting on fumes, and that if you run out of gas you have little to no options of filling back up. That happened on the way home from a trip to Duluth, MN a few years ago. I gambled that I had enough gas to get there and back and almost lost.

My scariest moment being unable to get gas on a road trip came on a return from Madison, WI almost ten years ago. A friend that was supposed to travel back with me decided to spend the night at the last minute and thus I was on my own to drive back in a snowstorm. I didn't realize that I was likely to run out of gas until I passed the point of no return to turn around and get help. So I just gunned for home and hoped for the best. When I got about 30 minutes from home it was obvious that I wasn't going to make it, so I made a high risk high reward decision to pull off onto the next exit and just figure something out (I seem to remember that my car phone wasn't working as well). It was cold, blustery, it was somewhere around 3 am and all of the gas stations were closed except for one. As fate had it there was an attendant standing outside having a smoke and I asked her if she could put $10 on for me. I drove the last 20 minutes home with my hands shaking in relief and I couldn't remember the last time that I was so happy to be home again.

When I moved to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area for law school I felt like one of my biggest hurdles forging out on my own was figuring out how I could get gas without that safety net of family and friends nearby. Thankfully, on a "get to know my new surroundings" driving mission less than a week after I moved here, I found a full service gas station within five minutes of where I was living. It was like a huge weight got lifted off my shoulders. I have since moved away from that full service station but it is located near where I work out every Friday afternoon so I still go there the vast majority of times that I need gas. Most of the rest of the time I have a PCA follow me to the Holiday on my block and fill me up. If I'm in a real pinch the Shell station up the street has a "if you have a disability then honk twice and someone will come out and help" policy. But like this guy alludes to, sometimes when you honk you just get curious looks. Like he says, it's the law under the ADA and many states to help people with disabilities fill up on gas when they can't do it themselves, but it's definitely one of those it looks good on paper but not in actual practice things.

Throughout all of my adventures getting gasoline for my van I have learned that the best policy is to plan ahead and abide by the Boy Scout motto: Always Be Prepared.