Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Holidays!

I wish you and yours a very happy holiday season.

All the best in 2007. May it be a year of peace and joy.

Tiny Tim and Rudolph, The Christmas Gimps

Two of the most well-known Christmas stories are the classic Charles Dickens' tale, A Christmas Carol, and the more modern story, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. A common theme in these stories is found in the societies' views of the characters Tiny Tim and Rudolph. Each of these two characters has a difference, a physical anomaly; each character is initially seen as pitiful, and, in the end, hailed as special and inspirational.

Many in the disability community have given thought-provoking, satirical and entertaining commentary on these symbolic characters. In Empowering Tiny Tim, Douglas Lathrop debates whether Tiny Tim is a pathetic cripple or really a crafty little con artist. He calls Tiny Tim a "stone cold manipulator". In A Crippled Christmas Carol, Tiny Tim embarks on a journey to Christmas 2005. In Ode to Scrooge, Steve Kuusisto, tells of the history of Charles Dickens’s Victorian England as well as sharing his perspective on the “Scrooges” of today.

Gimpy, The One-Horned Reindeer is an entertaining satire from Ouch! Magazine and Podcast, the irreverent disability magazine by the BBC (Check out their Merry Cripmas, too). In Games People Play, Andrea makes a dead-on analogy between the Rudolph story and the now famous teen with autism who was "allowed" to play basketball. In Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the blogger asks gutsy questions, "What if it turned out that that Rudolph couldn't actually save the day? What if he had just been different but not special?"

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Blue's Saturday Slumgullion

More on the currency issue.

Check out this week's Saturday Slumgullion by Blue from The Gimp Parade. She gives a comprehensive review of the issue of U.S. currency adjustments for people who have visual impairments. She covers multiple aspects and perspectives of the issue. I didn't know that more than half of people of working age who have visual impairments are unemployed. This is a thorough review and well worth a read.

Friday, December 15, 2006

And they don't even have snow in Los Angeles

Four days after our first snowfall of the season, I had a dentist appointment. The dental office is about a half mile from my house. I live in an urban area with sidewalks and curb cuts, and I should be able to get many places by myself. However, on that day I was appalled and disgusted by the impossibility of getting from one place to another. Many of the sidewalks, especially in front of businesses, did not have a cleared path wide enough for a wheelchair. And worse than the sidewalks, were the curb cuts, which were mounded high with snow and ice from the village’s snowplowing of the streets. Fortunately, my mom, who had accompanied me, worked to clear a safe path for me. We skipped going to the bookstore like we had planned, because it was just too much effort.

I live in a town that prides itself as being progressive. Yet, when I can't get to places like the dentist office, shopping, and our accessible train station, I will have trouble ever being independent. I need my town to come through for me.

And I know I am not alone. A recently published Los Angeles County Health Survey found that, "among persons with a physical or sensory disability, 1123 (84.7%) reported environmental barriers related to their disability." These barriers were found to interfere with health care, social activities, and quality of life. This survey seemed like it explored highly relevant issues, but I have to say they seem rather obvious to me.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Carnival #5!

It's carnival day!

This carnival is Travel with a disability: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is hosted by Steve and Connie Kuusisto at the Planet of the Blind. As they note, when you have a disability, traveling can be good, bad and ugly in the same day, or it can be all good or all ugly.

I look forward to reading the posts, and I hope you'll check them out, too. It's always enlightening to read what others are saying.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Why can't we get it?

More on U.S. money....

Of the 180 countries that have paper currency, the United States is the only one that has bills not distinguishable by touch.

The Bush administration said today that it will appeal the November 28th decision made by Judge James Robertson requiring U.S. paper money be made accessible to people who are blind. Robertson said that the current currency discriminates against those who are visually impaired. The Treasury says that changing the current system would be too costly, too difficult, and is unnecessary.

However, according to the American Council of the Blind, the government has not conducted any feasibility studies to study and examine possible changes. The Council has been advocating for a change to the paper money system to better accommodate people with visual impairments since 1995. They have made proposals such as embossed marks on bills and cut patterns on the sides of bills - both would let one distinguish bills by touch. Another possibility is varying the sizes of different denominations. To help offset costs, the American Council of the Blind is willing to accept a gradual phase-in of changes as old currency is replaced.

The US Treasury claims that changes in our paper currency are not necessary because people who are blind can use credit cards and money readers. However, according to an NPR report, many people who are blind do not use these devices because they are too expensive. And, it is well-known that people with disabilities often struggle financially and may not have access to credit cards. It seems to me that the money readers are not all that handy and don't fit in one's wallet or pocket. People with visual impairments seem to devise their own methods of sorting bills, such as folding the different denominations in different ways, asking for help, or putting different denominations in different pockets, socks, etc.

It's been at least 12 years and two presidential administrations, since the American Council of the Blind has been advocating on this issue. Other countries have figured it out. Yet, the United States has not even had a feasibility study. We don't even want to take a real look at the issue!

Japanese bills with raised watermarks on the corners

Malaysian currency with raised geometric shapes

Euro has different sizes and colors for different denominations.

Dutch banknotes also have raised marks.

All pictures from NPR.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

My Wheelchair's Vacation Story

Before I sent my trusty Permobil off to the wheelchair graveyard a few months ago, I found this travelogue secreted away under the cushion. It reads as follows:

Day 1... Today I took a few unexpected side trips and saw the inside of many airplanes. I missed David! He went to Jackson, Wyoming, but I went to Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and back to Denver for the night. A whirlwind adventure, for sure! I still feel a little woozy and have some bumps and bruises from the mishaps and mishandlings. I wonder what he's up to in Jackson. Sure hope I’ll be with him tomorrow.

Day 2... Hooray! I was reunited with David. Frankly, I got pretty tired of touring airplanes and airports. It's nice to start the vacation. David was relieved that with a few adjustments and Band-Aids, my condition was acceptable to continue with the trip. I know I'll need some major surgery when we get home, but for now good times are ahead.

Day 3… Today, David and I checked out some wonderfully accessible walkways and saw Old Faithful Geyser. David said that watching the many magnificent geysers erupt was unforgettable. Talk about a steamy experience!

Day 4… More hiking along the miles and miles of accessible boardwalks. It seemed like we were on Mars as we passed by bubbling, stinky mud pots and fumaroles. David learned about Yellowstone's geothermal activity and features, while I couldn't help but notice how many other wheelchairs there were in the park.

Day 5… Today, David and I visited the majestic Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. There were paved walkways up to many different viewpoints of the canyon. David's favorite spot was Artist Point where the view of the Lower Falls in the vast yellow canyon was spectacular. David found the sound of the waterfall to be relaxing and peaceful.

Day 6... While driving through Yellowstone in a van rented from Wheelchair Getaways, we saw many wild animals including bison, moose, and elk. We found it amusing to sit in the van and watch the bison roll around in the dirt. These gigantic animals would also nonchalantly walk directly in front of our van, sauntering by like they owned all of Yellowstone National Park. The elk stayed mainly by the rivers; David and I could see them from a distance from the van. An anxious moose darted in front of our van, and then quickly hid behind some bushes. Yellowstone’s diverse wildlife is certainly a sight to behold!

Day 7… We said goodbye to Yellowstone and headed down to Grand Teton National Park. Like Old Faithful Snow Lodge in Yellowstone, we found more accessible lodging at the Jackson Lake cabins.

Day 8… I was not with David today. I needed to rest my weary parts. In his manual chair, David went up to the summit of the 10450-foot Rendezvous Mountain, via an accessible ski lift. I heard the view was incredible - snowcapped mountains, lush green forests, cool breezes, and the invigorating smell of the earth.

Day 9… Not with David again. He took a scenic boat ride across Jenny Lake. Many hikers used the boat ride to get to the other side the lake to hike through Cascade Canyon. Unfortunately, there aren't many accessible trails in the Tetons, but the views of the mountains from the boat and from the road are quite grand.

Day 10
Finally, I was back on duty. We visited the historic Chapel of the Configuration, a must-see in the Grand Teton National Park. Imagine going to a church that overlooks the Teton Mountain Range!

Day 11… David and I hiked along Coulter Bay, which is on Jackson Lake, at the northern rim of the Tetons. It was a difficult hike accessibility-wise, but we managed to do it. The backdrop is the beautiful Mount Moran.

Day 12... David took a raft trip along the Snake River, and that city boy saw a baby moose and a few bald eagles! Tomorrow we go home. Sure hope there aren't any unexpected travel calamities.

Day 13… I'm on the plane. So far the flight has been relatively uneventful. We just landed. Good to be home.
Here come the baggage attendants to help me down the conveyor belt. Oh no, there's a drop ahead and they don't have a good hold on me…..

Epilogue from David: My Permobil wheelchair was fatally damaged from that final catastrophe. With some work, the airline did authorize a full replacement. I was without my specialized chair for several weeks, and still now am needing adjustments on the new chair. It is taking a long time to get both the function and the comfort adjustments correct for my needs. VERY frustrating! But, I refused to let the problems ruin a wonderful trip.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Birthday celebrations

As many of you know, thanks to Connie and Steve Kuusisto, today is my birthday, my 21st to be exact. Yes, now I am legal.

When I was little, I would eagerly look forward to my birthday, particularly my birthday parties. Whether it was playing freeze tag in a swimming pool, going to a Chicago Wolves ice hockey game, or playing basketball with a hoop that was lowered to my level, I had good times with my friends, playing games suited to my abilities and going to events that were wheelchair accessible. During my birthday parties, my differences didn't matter. I was just a boy having fun with his friends.

Thank you for the birthday wishes,