Walkin’ & Rollin’ Thanks to ADA!

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Before I became disabled, I knew what the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was and the reason it was implemented. I understood on a cognitive level why it was important. But when it’s significance became personal to me, the journey from the head to the heart was complete. Now, as a parent with a disability, the ADA is vital in the day-to-day lives of me and my child. For the purposes of simplicity, I’m going to focus on the area of the ADA which most effects me as a disabled parent – the compliance of public buildings, parks, venues, etc. to grant me complete participation in the activities which the business provides. Public places are required to make sure that I’m able to share experiences with my able-bodied peers in equal measure or as close to it as possible. I’m not to be denied the ability to either access or use public facilities.

As a parent, these ADA requirements mean the most to me. I’ve dealt with feelings of guilt a lot as a disabled parent. I want the most typical childhood possible for my daughter; I don’t want my physical limitations to limit her engagement or enjoyment in kid-centered activities; I’ve worried about her having consequences for something neither of us has any control over. Unlike my able-bodied friends who are themselves parents, I’ve shown up to a few birthday parties for my child’s friends and not been able to enter. We’ve arrived at parks and have not been able to play on all of the equipment because I could not access the areas. My daughter is currently 5-years-old so you can imagine the disappointment and, in the past, the lack of understanding why we had to leave without doing what we’d gone there to do. Each time this has happened, my heart has broken for her and I’ve felt nearly crushed by guilt and the realization that it’s all my body’s fault. There have been times I’ve managed to push through the pain and mobility difficulties so that she can have fun but those times have been rare.

Handicap_Accessible_SignWith accessibility issues becoming more widely recognized and businesses making necessary structural changes in order to meet the needs of the entire public, my daughter and I are able to do more and more. We’ve taken advantage of modifications at the skating rink so I could roll along with her on the rink; we go to theaters that have wheelchair seating in the front or on the sides as opposed to in the very back where our view is hardly worth the price of admission; we go to a local park that’s well-paved around the playground so I can keep an eye on her while she plays; we go to the library; and recently spent a week at the beach together thanks to the city’s efforts to make the area more accessible!! Also, at birthday parties that are held in bouncy-place type venues, arcades and other exciting kid-friendly places I’m able to enjoy the fun right along with my daughter and the other parents.

I would like to see stricter ADA guidelines and enforcement in the future. However, our society has come a long way and I feel grateful to live during a time when awareness, advocacy and education concerning the disability community are flourishing. My hope is that I can be a part of the ongoing changes and positive impacts made for people with disabilities. I hope an able-bodied person will read this blog and try to empathize with some of the feelings and situations I’ve mentioned so that they might understand the importance of the ADA not only on a cognitive level but on a spiritual and emotional one as well.

Thanks to the ADA I have rights, I’m protected and I’m free to be who I am – not stunted and fettered because of what I have, a disability. Because of the ADA, my daughter and I are able to enjoy family outings, have fun and “walk & roll!”

 

**This blog post first appeared on The Disabled Parenting Project – http://disabledparenting.com/walking-rolling-daughter-thanks-ada/ **

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School’s Touching Accommodations

If you are a parent, you know the feeling of pride that comes from watching your child(ren) perform in a school play or sing at an event; you’ve experienced the joy that occurs when you visit the classroom or engage in school activities with your child(ren). But, imagine if you had to stay outside the classroom door or couldn’t make it into the auditorium to watch the show. Imagine the feelings of guilt, sadness and separation you’d feel if you couldn’t participate the way every other parent was able to participate. Unfortunately, this happens more than you may think. When a parent uses a wheelchair, or doesn’t have the ability to climb stairs, there’s often no choice but for them to miss out on various aspects and events in their child(ren)’s life. For no other reason than structural inaccessibility, some disabled parents are placed in the awkward position of not being present in their child(ren)’s affairs. I’ve had to hear about my daughter’s classroom activities from other parents and it left me feeling embarrassed, guilt-ridden and upset. I’ve heard other ‘wheelie’ moms express anger, frustration, grief and humiliation at having to miss out on things because they couldn’t gain access into the venue.

When my daughter first started kindergarten at her new school, there were plenty of handicap parking spots available, but none were van accessible. The principal and school security officer both told me to simply make my own spot or take up 2 of the handicap spaces. So, for the first few months of school, that’s what I did. The school is extremely wheelchair accessible once inside – the entire layout of the lower and upper floors flows together via ramps and an elevator is in place. I’m able to go anywhere inside the school I need to go. But there was only one entrance that was level for my power chair to go through and it’s located at the main entrance, which is two schools down from the elementary school (the school itself contains preschool through high school). I would try my best to park near the main entrance whenever I arrived for school activities and then make my way through the high school and middle school to the elementary wing. I was able to attend all her class parties, her performances and the like. It was wonderful, and I had no complaints. I was simply happy to be able to go and be!

During the 3rd month of fall semester, the principal told me they’d put in a van spot for me right by the elementary school! I was excited and felt quite fortunate that the school had made accommodations for me. The only problem was that once I parked, I still had to trek up to the main entrance to get into the school. They had not realized there wasn’t a way into the elementary school for me. I told them it was no big deal (and this was true but on rainy days and as the weather got colder, it wasn’t the most ideal).

 

Right before Christmas break, I arrived one afternoon to pick up my daughter and a couple of faculty members approached me. They asked if I’d seen what the principal had made me. Apparently, the principal had decided not to waste time waiting for approval and necessary funds from the budget – he’d spent that day building me a ramp into the elementary school!! I was moved to tears! It sent me the message that I was just as important as the able-bodied parents; that I was wanted and needed there; that I was respected. They recognized my need to be with my child. My daughter’s school made it possible for me to have the same access as the other parents. But, it was what the Headmaster said to me that really meant a lot: he told me yes, it was done for me, but that it would be there for other parents like me in the future.

So, it seems that while they have given me two huge gifts in the form of making the building more accessible, I in return have given them a gift – the gift of awareness. I’m so thankful for all of this!! Using a wheelchair should never prevent me from being present in my daughter’s life but the reality is that it has. And there will be more times in the future that it will. But, as society becomes more aware of the existence of parents with special needs and is educated about the need for accommodations, disabled parents will gain equal access in places such as schools, gyms, auditoriums, etc. There will be a day when we no longer experience our child(ren)’s lives vicariously but are fully engaged as we are meant to be.

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Special (Needs) Delivery!

Pizza Box Delivery Boy Man Concept Knocking at Customer Door Wall Background Retro Cartoon Design Vector Illustration

Credit: iStock.com/Meilun

My daughter and I enjoy going out to eat from time-to-time. There are times, too, when it’s much more convenient or comfortable to stay at home and order food to be delivered. We like pizza, Chinese and there’s a local deli that’s fabulous and offers delivery service. However, after several experiences with delivery drivers over the past year, something’s been swirling around in my busy brain so I’ve decided to write about it. I’m hoping it’s a chance to create an open-dialogue with businesses that offer delivery services about how to make accommodations for people with disabilities. It is often a company’s policy to prohibit their drivers from entering a home while making their deliveries. Having worked for a national pizza-chain, I understand that this is for the drivers’ safety. That being said, I wonder if the policy must be so black-and-white or if a gray area exists?

I’ve lived at my current address for several years and am a ‘regular’ customer of the eateries around my neighborhood. When ordering online, I write on my ticket “Disabled – may need help bringing food inside. Thank you!” When I call in an order, I ask that a note be made using nearly that exact wording. Yet, upon arrival with my food, I’ve had drivers tell me they can’t come in; it’s against the rules. Now, please picture me opening the door either using my cane with a wide foot-base or my power chair and perhaps you’ll see the gray area. I’m obviously not a threat to them and my appearance matches the comment on my ticket. Because of my balance issues, I’m only able to carry one thing into the kitchen at a time. This can take a couple of minutes because we usually have more than one box or we’ve also ordered drinks. Twice, I’ve had drivers tell me they’re “in a hurry, ma’am” or “have other deliveries waiting.” THAT’S a tad irritating because I’ve asked for help, it’s been declined so I’m doing the best I can do.

Let me make it clear that I’m not asking for special privileges due to my disability. I’m asking that the same accommodations that are made when I’m dining in a particular food establishment be made when I’m ordering in from that same business. I also understand that rules are rules yet I’m arguing that there are circumstances in life which can alter the necessity or validity of rules.

I’d like to make a suggestion to businesses that offer delivery services: Please notice the gray areas. There’s typically a section called “Special Instructions” customers can fill out when placing online orders – please make the necessary modifications or stretch the rules a bit in order to meet the needs of your customers with special needs. Just as the ADA grants those of us with disabilities the right to utilize and enjoy your restaurant while dining-in, please grant us the ability to do likewise when you’re bringing your services into our homes.