Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How to talk to your kids about wheelchairs.

After reading our previous post "Kids say the darndest things," someone on Facebook asked what she should tell her kids when they have a question about someone using a wheelchair. While we aren't trying to tell you how to parent your children, we have a few suggestions of how to deal with the situation.

First of all, encourage your children to ask questions. Most people will welcome the opportunity to talk with your child and explain his/her disability. Those that don't want to discuss it are usually polite about declining to share. The best thing you can do as a parent is talk to your kid about how to phrase their questions. A great way to ask is "Why do you use a wheelchair?" instead of "why can't you walk?" or "what's wrong with you/them?" For one thing, it may not be the case for everyone that they use a chair because they can't walk. Asking why we use a wheelchair doesn't imply anything negative, makes no assumptions, doesn't imply that a greater disability than visible exists, doesn't magnify the situation, and doesn't imply that there's something wrong with using a wheelchair.

If your children are too scared to approach a wheelchair user, you can explain that they use it to help them get around because they may have trouble walking. This could stem from an accident, a condition they're born with, or maybe a disease, among other causes. Do not assume that all wheelchair users are paralyzed, or cannot walk at all. Also don't make assumptions that they have only been temporarily injured, like a broken leg. This is often inaccurate, and the last thing you want is to misinform your kids.

As wheelchair users, it feels awkward to be stared at, and being asked questions makes you feel human (not like an exhibit in a zoo). This also gives us a chance to educate them so when they grow older they can educate others, and view wheelchair users as an accepted part of their community just like everybody else.

Friday, March 26, 2010

People who sit are just as tall as people who stand

   The mainstream media often views standing as a symbol of strength and confidence. I can understand how this makes perfect sense from an able-bodied perspective. Sitting can be seen as an indication of weakness, uneasiness, or a lack of confidence. Our political figures are usually seen standing at the podium as they deliver speeches. Within the community of people with disabilities, our strength must be measured by a different standard as standing is usually difficult if not impossible.

    During the 1930s and '40s Franklin Roosevelt hid his disability from the media and the American people. He used a wheelchair as a result of contracting polio as a child, yet he and his advisers felt that knowledge of his physical condition would make him seem weak and unsuited to do the job of the President. The attitude of US society has become much more open-minded since that time, yet misconceptions remain. Much of this stems from unfamiliarity with disability as a whole or in specific situations.

    In many cases the apparent physical strength of an individual with a disability has no link to their intelligence or character. Whether somebody can walk for short distances, propel themselves in a manual wheelchair, or drive a power wheelchair has no bearing on what they are actually capable of achieving. Some sit upright, while others tilt, lean forward, or find themselves in some other position. Some breathe on their own, some use oxygen, and others require ventilators.

   Dan and I are both examples of this reality. We are graduates of one of the best schools in the country and the world, and we are both working on this blog in an effort to raise awareness and acceptance of people with disabilities. Many other people with disabilities are doing constructive things with their lives. Some are activists, writers, athletes, lawyers, doctors, or even political leaders. Still others have been wounded in the line of duty as police officers, as veterans of military actions, or as victims of gang violence. Many of them have found other things to do with their lives that contribute to the world in one way or another. This is just a sampling of what people with disabilities are doing. Disability does not mean that one lacks ability.

     The point is relatively clear once it has been revealed. While people with disabilities may do things in a different way, they still do the same things as those who are able bodied. This includes exhibiting strength, courage, and ability. I hope that those reading will remember that people who sit are just as tall as people who stand. If people are willing to be open minded in examining various issues, then outside appearances could be stripped away to reveal the truth. The inside of a person holds their real identity, whether it is extraordinary, ugly, or just plain ordinary.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Kids say the darndest things...

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

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

  1. "Look, a choo choo train!" 
  2. "Can I have a car like that guy?"
  3. "Can I use that when you're done?"
  4. "Were you born in a wheelchair?"
  5. "How do you sleep?"
The general consensus around here is that the best kids are the ones that look at you like you're completely normal. Of course that dude uses a wheelchair, why wouldn't he?  One of our favorites was a little boy who asked all sorts of questions about why Dan was paralyzed, used a wheelchair, etc, then came to the following conclusion: "You must be very special!" You got that right kid.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The difference between an Olympian and a Paralympian

Here's another fantastic advertisement sent to us by Dr. Michael Ellman, again featuring Matt Scott (along with Chicago Bull Luol Deng). This one was created by the committee behind Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. It again points out that Paralympic athletes are just as deserving of our respect as their able-bodied counterparts. It seems that slowly but surely, the mainstream media is helping spread the word about the incredible talent of athletes with disabilities.

Please pass along any other videos like this, and I'll be sure to post it on our blog!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The best Nike commercial ever made

For the most part, wheelchair basketball has not entered into American mainstream media. That changed a few years ago when Nike came out with this commercial. It features a friend of mine who I used to play basketball with in high school, Matt Scott. He's now a member of the U.S. national team and plays overseas in Europe. I think it's a brilliantly produced ad, and sends a ridiculously powerful message. Enjoy!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Why being in a wheelchair doesn't suck

Part Three in a weekly series.

Let's face it: there are a lot of times when being in a wheelchair sucks. You can't express your appreciation for a Britney Spears concert with a standing ovation, you can only go so low during the Limbo, and you'll never fit your chair in a Lamborghini.

But sometimes, being in a wheelchair doesn't suck. Let's take a look at one of the best reasons: parking spots.

Every public parking lot must have a certain number of handicapped spots, which are closest to the building's entrance. At busy malls, restaurants, and stadiums, we don't need to worry about a place to give our automobiles some R&R. These are well-marked and easy to find, and it's always comforting to park in front of an image of ourselves.

Because these are closer, you reduce the dangerous risks of frostbite in the mad dash from your car to 7-11, and you lessen your exposure to the elements, good for those who may have compromised immune systems. Not only are you closer to your destination, but you have a wider unloading space, which gives you extra protection from those jerks at the grocery store who are too lazy to walk their empty cart an extra 5 feet to the return rack.

Another hidden benefit that we hope those able-bodied folk never pick up on is the federal law that those with handicapped permits never have to pay a parking meter. This is particularly useful in big cities like Chicago, because you're not as limited in your choices. Sometimes other events, particularly sports stadiums, will also either lower the prices or let you park for free if you have a handicap pass. This will hopefully make everyone else as jealous of you as possible.

The one negative side effect to these benefits are your friends and family. Inevitably, once they catch on to your perks, they will try and make you drive all the time. You will always be the tailgate vehicle of choice, and you will always have to go circle the block because it will be "easier" for you to find a different spot. So hide your perks from them while still strutting around with pride at how much more special than them you are.

You won't see my name in a box score, and that's just fine!

Today I find myself in the wake of the Winter Olympics, the stretch run of the NHL season, and the buildup to March Madness. Many sports fans claim that they could go out on the field, court, ice, etc. and play their favorite game as well as a professional athlete. Others have tried and realized that sports are not their calling. As somebody who never had that chance, I feel like I offer a unique perspective on the world of sports.

Dan played junior wheelchair basketball, and a few of his friends and teammates continued playing in college. Some are now overseas playing pro ball. And while it's not nearly as common as an able-bodied athlete becoming a star here in the U.S., they've been able to make a living as a professional athlete. It is outstanding that it has worked out for them, and it shows that they are just as dedicated as any other athlete.

Meanwhile, I have played Challenger League baseball, a small amount of power soccer, and wheelchair floor hockey. But athletics for people who use power wheelchairs have not reached the same level of popularity as other sports in our society. This does not diminish the importance for those who play and those who support the players. When I participate in sports, I am out there to win and to have fun.

Some of our readers may be thinking that I never got a fair shake. While that may be true, the reality is that life is sometimes unfair and I have learned my way of coping just as anyone else would with any other hardship. Sure, I sometimes get frustrated and angry, but it's never anything I dwell upon.

If I had the opportunity to play any sport, I would have picked baseball. I have always been a die-hard White Sox fan, and have always loved the game. I would have wanted to play shortstop, but I would have been fine with any position as long as I was out on that field. It's always fun to think that I could have been a Hall of Famer, but God only knows if I would have been any good at all.

In all reality, it would have been great to have the opportunity to play any sport I desired. Honestly, it was just not meant to be and that's just fine. The name Christopher Sanchez will not appear in the box score of any sports section. Because of that, I feel like I can watch a game without becoming frustrated with my own physical and athletic limitations. I'm not trying to say that I never criticize athletes, but that is something that is often unfair and negative. All it amounts to is wasted words. So while one can criticize players for making mistakes, the people who do that never enjoy the sport for what it is: a game played by athletes for our entertainment.

I feel that the lesson here is simple. If you can't hit a baseball, make a three pointer, throw a spiral, or score a goal, it's okay. There is something else out there for you. It is important to accept what you can or can't do. I know that it's easy to become angry and negative. You just have to get past that. I realize that I should not lash out at others, no matter how much talent or money they may have. I guarantee that as impressive as high-caliber athletes may appear, there is also something that you are able to do that they cannot. Don't waste your time on criticism and frustration. After all, nobody really knows what they can do until they go out there and try it for themselves.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Paralympics Coverage

We'd like to briefly mention that Dr. Gene Emmer was kind enough to let us know of a place where you can watch the Paralympics. Here is the link to the live video broadcast of this year's Paralympic Games. You can also find it in our links list on the right side of this page. Check out Gene's site, which sells wheelchair accessories. Thanks Gene, and enjoy the Paralympics everyone!

Friday, March 5, 2010

An Idiot's Guide to the Paralympic Winter Games

Though the hordes of media have moved out of Vancouver by now, and the 24-hour TV coverage has long since ended, a whole new group of athletes will be descending upon British Columbia next week. That's right, exactly one week from today, the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games begin.

And while the Paralympic sports and athletes may not get the media attention reserved for Sidney Crosby, Lindsey Vonn, or Bode Miller, they are no less deserving of our respect. With that in mind, here's a quick run-down of the events to be played out by more than 650 athletes over the next few weeks in Vancouver.

  • Sledge hockey: This is quite possibly the most popular winter Paralympic sport. Think typical ice hockey, but sitting down. The players sit on a sled and use a short stick that is curved on one end, and has sharp metal teeth on the other end. They'll dig those teeth into the ice in order to propel themselves up and down the rink. If there's only one spectacle you can check out during the Paralympics, I suggest it be sledge hockey.

  • Alpine skiing: I've been sit-skiing before. In order to do it, I transferred into a specially-designed device, with a seat placed on top of a single large ski. I did it twice, both times on the bunny-hill of the local "mountain" in Suburban Detroit. I know, an oxymoron. Anyway, as I was escorted down the hill, I got up to approximately the speed of sound (or so it seemed). In reality, I was probably going the same speed as some 5-year-old kid next to me. In the Paralympics, it's a whole different ball-game. There is downhill, slalom, super-G: all the typical disciplines you find in the Olympics. And these athletes are flying down the hills. A cool thing about the Paralympics? There's a competition for sit-skiing, visually impaired skiers, and those with disabilities who can ski while standing.

  • Wheelchair curling: If you thought stand-up curling was amazing (and it is!), wait til you see it played by those in chairs. Athletes can either throw the rocks themselves, or use what's known as a "delivery stick." This is just the second time wheelchair curling will be played at the Paralympics, and of course, the Canadians won the gold last time out. Do the Canadians ever get tired of winning curling medals?

  • Biathlon/cross-country skiing: Much like alpine skiing, these events have medals awarded for those standing, sitting, and visually impaired. And much like the Olympics, there are about 10 bazillion different biathlons and cross-country races over the nine days of the Paralympics.
So there you have it. A quick peek at what to expect at the Winter Paralympic games. Now if we could only convince the execs at NBC that a quick peek is exactly what this country is looking for!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why being in a wheelchair doesn't suck

Part Two in a weekly series.

Let's face it: there are a lot of times when being in a wheelchair sucks. You can't fully appreciate the magnificence of the Macarena, a pointy object in your wheel could send you home for the day, and you get a sore neck from looking up at people all the time.

But let's take a look at one of the most obvious, and overlooked, reasons why living in a wheelchair doesn't suck: it's much better than the alternative.

There's nothing we can do about our disabilities. Chris has Muscular Dystrophy, Dan has Spina bifida. End of story. Were it not for the incredible technology available to us, we wouldn't be able to enjoy the active life we do now. Were it not for our wheelchair, we quite simply would not be able to go anywhere. Think about it. Our legs don't work. And no amount of rehabilitation will make them work. If we want to participate in time with our families, go eat dinner in another room, or pace the floor without help, we need to use a wheelchair to help us. And there's no shame in that.

Which brings us to the ultimate irony of the entire thing. To many in the general public, a wheelchair is a sign of helplessness. But in reality, a wheelchair is the very tool that gives us the freedom to live life, and to do it the way we want to.

As far as we're concerned we would rather use wheelchairs than stay isolated inside. Everyone should know that we need to be let outside for playtime. Without our wonderful rolling devices, the only way for us to move would involve dragging ourselves down the sidewalk. We prefer to avoid unsightly scrapes, mud covered clothing, and the occasional footprint on our backs.

In all seriousness wheelchairs have allowed us to do many things that are integral to our lives. There would be no way to get to classes, work, doctors appointments, and the necessary trips to the store. We would never have made it to any Chicago, Detroit, or Northwestern sporting events in person. The experiences and views in this blog would never have been formulated so we could share them with our wonderful readers. That would just be sad.

We wonder why the occasional people we encounter decide to stare at us. Is it because we move around differently or that our vehicles are amazing and super cool? Maybe it's a little bit of both. Either way we have conditioned ourselves to save the energy required to worry about that.

Whether you require a light weight manual wheelchair (Dan) or a heavy duty power chair (Chris), it can plainly be said that we would rather use our exotic wheels than face a world without them.

Next week's topic: We get really awesome parking spots!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Birthday Boy!

Half of the team, here at Different Spokes, Derin and Dan, would like to wish our other half, Chris Sanchez (middle), a very happy 28th birthday today! We hope you have a terrific and joyful day and that the White Sox lose their opening game. 

Happy Birthday Chris!