Thursday, May 20, 2010

We're moving!

Dear Different Spokes readers, 

We're very excited to tell you that we're moving! Not house, or state, but blog! 

Starting today, we're going to be blogging at ChicagoNow, which is a blogging site connected to the Chicago Tribune. ChicagoNow is a site that hosts blogs about every subject imaginable, including thoughts on living with a disability and getting through life if your name is Derin, Dan, or Chris.

We're going to be doing the same kinds of posts, and the same kind of writing, even the same name, just at a different address. We hope you'll join us over there and that you continue to enjoy our blog.We will be reposting many of our past entries, but we're putting up new ones at the same time, so don't let the sight of a familiar post deter you from checking back. 

While we have your attention, we'd like to briefly thank you all for the support you've given us thus far. One of our main goals with this blog is to educate and open your eyes to the possibilities you haven't thought of. A lot of you have let us know if we've written something that you never thought about, or gave you a new way of looking at something. We love to hear that you've learned something, and we love when you give us suggestions of things you want to hear about or have always wanted to know, so please keep it coming. Thank you all!

Derin, Chris, and Dan

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reader Question: Cutting in line at amusement parks or fairs

Here's a reader question from Wilson, in Florida. Wilson says:

"One question I'd love for you to discuss is the "cut to the front" line at Disney World for those in wheelchairs. Your brother loved this ancillary benefit but I wonder how you feel about it... Is it necessary or not necessary?"

We touched on this briefly during one of our "Why Being in a Wheelchair Doesn't Suck" posts, but here's a more serious perspective.

Dan's Take: I personally love the benefit of not having to wait in line for an amusement park ride. Not only that but you get to stay on the ride twice without getting off. With the difficulty it takes to get out of your wheelchair and on to the park ride, it makes perfect sense for this policy to be in place. That being said, I can understand some people's frustrations when they spend 6 hours at an amusement park and can only ride three or four roller coasters due to the lengths of the lines. Meanwhile we can squeeze in ten or eleven different attractions during that time. One thing that people have to take into account is that there are a number of rides that we are not allowed to go on, due to back problems, height, balance, muscle strength, issues with seizures, etc. While I actually don't have a number of physical reasons that I can't wait in line, this is not the case for everyone with a physical disability.

Chris's Take: I can understand why seeing someone being able to cut hours in front of you in line could cause frustrations. Some people with disabilities do not really need to be able to do so. However, in my case, I would need to avoid extensive time waiting for a ride or attraction. I have heart and respiratory conditions, which make it difficult and often dangerous for me to wait in excessive heat or in damp or cold weather. In addition, because I have a muscle related disease, I get tired more easily than almost anybody else. I am even more limited than Dan in what I can do at an amusement park. While this policy does not always seem to make sense to the average amusement park visitor, extreme circumstances dictate that it must still be maintained. The workers cannot decide if one person is more "disabled" than someone else.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Why Being In a Wheelchair Doesn't Suck

Part six in a sometimes-weekly series.

Let's face it: there are a lot of times when being in a wheelchair sucks.You can't go fly-fishing in Montana, you can't play hopscotch on the playground, and you can't steal batteries from the smoke detector to put in your remote control when the White Sox are on.

But there are times when being in a wheelchair doesn't suck. One is that you don't have to remove your shoes when you go to somebody's house. Since our shoes don't get dirty, our logical substitute are our wheels...and  how ridiculous does this look?

Imagine trying to take Chris's wheels on and off his 400 pound chair!

Our wheels may be our shoes, but you won't get a very nice reaction if you ask someone to leave their wheelchair at the door.  Just try it! Never having to remove your shoes means that you never have to learn how to tie them, since you don't have to take them off! Shoes last 5-6 years more, since they never wear out, and it saves you a ton of money. You don't have to replace your shoe polish as often, and you'll probably never snap a shoelace.

This has a plethora of advantages. Your feet stay warmer. You don't have to worry about foot odor at a party because you can hide behind your snazzy hightops. In some cases, you don't even have to worry about comfort, so you can buy those Manolo Blahniks that don't come in your size and sacrifice nothing for beauty. You can't track dog or bird poop through the house on the carpet your mom just washed. Puddles cower in your presence, and airport security is a breeze (until you factor in the personal pat-down). Overall, not having to remove your shoes is a benefit not many get to enjoy. Now having all these things happen to your wheels...that's a story for another day...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Reader question: Would you prefer able-bodied friends to "stoop to your level?"

We got a reader comment from Jeff, of Michigan, asking which we prefer: that an able-bodied person bend down to talk to us, kneel down, or stay at their own height? Here's what Jeff had to say:
    "A lot of people, myself included, would prefer to just talk to someone instead of them bending down to "our level"...I think some people feel like it makes them feel like they are a kid again."
Chris's Take: As far as I'm concerned, I view it as a sign of respect when someone makes the effort to come down to my level. Ideally, the best way to do this is to kneel down or to pull up a chair so that we can have a conversation and be able to hear each other. It's also very useful for everybody to fit into a shot for a picture being taken. However, it can be awkward when someone leans against your chair for purposes of conversation, pictures, etc. It feels like an invasion of personal space, even though the person is probably well-intentioned. Also it can cause problems with your wheelchair where it may cause you to crash into a wall or someone else. In the rare instance where a person leans in almost as a false gesture the same way they would lean in towards a child, then it can be awkward and disrespectful. I have noticed that often it is adults who take the initiative to create and maintain eye contact. In my experience, the longer many people have been around, the more they realize that it is important to relate to others. I would rather have someone take steps to relate than to not even bother to do so at all. 

Dan's Take: I personally really enjoy when somebody kneels down to my level. It allows me to make eye-to-eye contact with them, which to me creates a more personal connection. The physical motion of somebody looming over me to listen does make me feel like a child in some sense, as it creates a more intimidating atmosphere. In terms of taking a picture, I would never get upset if someone kneeled down to my level. In fact some of the best pictures I've taken are when friends or family are next to me and we're all at the same head level. It makes me feel like more of an equal. This is all personal preference of course, both for the person with a disability and the able-bodied person with whom he's conversing. 

These are our views, but we'd love to hear some of yours, so please share!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

It's not always your fault...

Many times, Chris and I accidentally crash into a stranger on the street. There are times where we may cut you off on the sidewalk without realizing it. And believe it or not, when those things happen, it's our fault!

Too often, when we run somebody over, we are told "sorry" by the victim. Instead, we should be the one apologizing. The fact is, we don't always bother to look where we're going, and just because we use a wheelchair doesn't mean we shouldn't be held accountable for our actions. By apologizing when we're the ones at fault, somebody is unknowingly portraying the idea that we have no control over our actions.

The point is, strangers should treat individuals in wheelchairs the same way they would treat everybody else. For instance, we don't expect you to hold the door open for any other reason than common courtesy. I mean, if you have a stroller, a family of seven, or if you'll unintentionally block the doorway yourself while holding it open, then by all means head on through! We'll take care of it ourselves. If you do want to help by holding the door open for us, stand on the outside of the door. That will clear the way for us to pass through and won't lead to a traffic jam as you block our path. 

You also don't need leave us a 10-foot-wide radius as we wheel down the sidewalk. All we need is enough space for our chair to get by. And you don't need to rudely announce in the middle of a crowd that there's a "wheelchair coming through!" We're not wheelchairs, we're people. Chris and I go to baseball games all the time, we've done this before...

We've even had cars stop for us at green lights while we are patiently waiting to cross the road. This creates a dangerous situation. Do we go so you get the satisfaction of being a nice person? But what if other cars are coming that don't plan on stopping at a green light? In the end, the nicest thing to do would be to follow the traffic signals. We plan on doing that. It's why they're there.

In the end, we don't expect you to go out of your way to make our lives easier. If we're out and about in public, it's because we can fend for ourselves. And if we do need help, we're big boys and we'll ask for it.

Which brings me back to my original point. Don't go out of your way to have sympathy for us. If we screw up and run into you, let us apologize for it. Let us live our lives and learn from our mistakes so that we will improve upon them the next time.  Don't get us wrong, we appreciate your good intentions, we just don't need help all the time.

So next time I run into you on the sidewalk, assess the situation. If it's your fault, apologize. If not, let me do the same and we'll both go about our days as if nothing happened...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Minnesota Public Radio commentary by Haddayr Copley-Woods: Etiquette when interacting with the disabled.

We'd like to give a shout-out to Haddayr Copley-Woods, a fellow blogger, wheelchair user, and frequent commenter on this blog. She recently did a piece for Minnesota Public Radio about the "Dos and Don'ts when interacting with the disabled." Not only do we agree with everything she said, but we laughed a lot, and think you should read it too, then search her name on the MPR website and read some of her other commentaries. A few of our favorites are below:

"DON'T 'Help' without asking. If someone in a wheelchair has rolled up to a door, they probably have some sort of a plan. Leaping over us and flinging the door into our shins is not a noble gesture. And NEVER just grab the back of someone's wheelchair or a blind person's arm and start 'helping.' Imagine how startling it would be if random strangers started shoving you around.

DO Acknowledge us without staring. This means letting us place our own coffee orders and noticing when we are trying to get around you in crowds.

DO Give up your seat on the bus or train for disabled people if you were sitting in the accessible seats.

DON'T Look around beaming, expecting praise for this selfless humanitarian gesture. You did not just save ten children from a landslide."

Haddayr also has her own blog, which touches on current events, links to interesting stories, gives updates on her writing progress, and sometimes previews disability pieces before they are submitted elsewhere. Go check her out!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Why being in a wheelchair doesn't suck:

Part five in our non-weekly series.

Let's face it: there are a lot of times when being in a wheelchair sucks. You can't dance the Cha Cha Slide at weddings, people who are 5'2" make you feel short, and sagging your jeans doesn't have the same effect as it would if you were able-bodied.

But there are perks to using a wheelchair. One reason is that you are memorable. This can be an advantage and a disadvantage. Let's take a look at some pros and cons.

As wheelchair users, we stand out in a crowd (even though we can't stand). We're recognizable after fewer meetings or visits than the average Bartolo. First impressions are always important, and we make a pretty unique one.

The advantages to always being recognized is that you often get better service in a restaurant. They will know you as a frequent customer and make sure your rootbeer doesn't have ice and your salad doesn't have cheese. You may get a nicer table, and faster service. Being more recognizable also helps you keep acquaintances and contacts longer without having to do any work. This can lead to more connections, opportunities, job offers, and friendships than you may not have had otherwise. You also stand out to girls (or boys if that's your preference) and have an aura of mystery over other males (or females).

The disadvantages to being so memorable is that you are then expected to know who all of these people are. People honk at you as they drive past in their cars and make you feel like you're being stalked. Professors stop you on the sidewalk to chat and you don't remember them. This makes it difficult to introduce others, because you don't want to admit you don't remember them, and they just know you because you were the token wheelchair user in their classroom.

Our advice for this situation is to introduce your friends and ignore that the person you're talking to has a name. Try not to suddenly shout out their name once you remember them, as this will draw attention to the fact that you didn't recognize them in the first place. And always travel in pairs, so your partner in crime can introduce themselves and save a potentially sticky situation.

If these solutions don't work for you, the best way we can think of to be less memorable is take what you can't do, and just do it. Get up and walk.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Reader email! What is proper bathroom etiquette?

Sometimes we get a question from a reader regarding posts that we've written. And we're nice people, so we like to respond to those questions! Both Chris and I offer our responses to this recent question from Liz in Washington, D.C.,

"A couple posts ago you mentioned that the accessible bathroom stalls are necessary to fit your wheelchairs in and I was reminded of a Dear Abby question I read once a few years ago that I felt never really got answered in the response...At a sporting event or such, if there are a lot of people in line, when does someone let a wheelchair user go ahead of them so that he can have the accessible stall - when the person using a wheelchair gets in line or when he gets close to the front? I was just wondering what your thoughts were on the issue. People got all sorts of angry on both sides in the comments if I recall correctly."

Dan: To me, I don't think I deserve to move to the front of any line simply because I'm in a wheelchair. So in a crowded bathroom, if the accessible stall is freed up, the next person in line has every right to take it. However, if there is more than one stall available, please leave the wheelchair stall empty. It's the only one I can use, while an able-bodied person can use any other stall. The one caveat to this would be if I were at a specific place in line where I happened to be directly in the doorway. This would block flow of traffic both in and out of the bathroom. Therefore, it would be justified to allow me to take a different place in line so everyone can move freely. To be honest, I feel weird if a person three spots ahead of me tells me to go first into the accessible stall. While I know it's just other people being nice, it seems as if I'm being singled out and being given special treatment.

Chris: Simply stated, handicapped accessible stalls should be reserved for users of wheelchairs. Obviously, crowded bathrooms like those at a sporting event or concert present a different set of issues. Perhaps one should use the 1-10 level of urgency scale. If the number is 7 or higher, please use the stall. I think it would be a bit narrow-minded to think that only people with disabilities should use the stalls. We should be given priority because those are the only stalls our wheelchairs actually fit into. But as far as I am concerned, if you take a little time to evaluate the situation, then no worries. Just realize that if you use the handicapped stall when other ones are open, when you come out and see someone like me or Dan waiting, then you will probably feel pretty stupid.