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.

 

Letting Go of “I’ve Got This!”

For so long, I’ve prided myself on my independence, on my ability to remain living alone with my child, on my capacity to raise my daughter with little outside help. I think having so many movements and physical activities stripped from me has given me a higher regard for that which I’m still able to do. I revel in being able to do things for myself whether that be larger-scale household chores like laundry or smaller things like opening doors for myself. I often tell people in public who try to be helpful (when it’s not needed) that “I’ve got this.” It’s almost been a mantra of mine since getting sick and relearning life and how to live it. No matter what I may look like on the outside, the inside of me is fully functional with a raging ego! Haha!! Using a cane? I’ve got this! Walking with a rollator? I’ve got this!! Self-propelling a wheelchair? I’ve got this!! Driving around in my power chair?? Yep. You guessed it! I’ve got this!!

However, recently, many activities of daily or weekly life have become either quite difficult or impossible for me to accomplish. Laundry has piled up – dirty laundry to be done (because it’s difficult to navigate the 2 steps up & down into the garage, tiresome and painful to complete this task and hard to take clothes out of the top-loading washing machine and front-loading dryer) and clean laundry to be folded (because this also causes a great deal of pain and is taxing on my body, leaving me feeling drained of all energy). My kitchen needs stocking, but going to the grocery store by myself is nearly impossible unless I’m buying only one or two small, lightweight items. I haven’t cooked a meal in weeks because my kitchen isn’t accessible to me so I’m required to stand to prepare food – standing can now only be done in short 2-3 minute periods and even Hamburger Helper takes at least 10 minutes!! Even dishes can seem insurmountable – yes, I can sit on a stool and wash them, but this, too, seeps energy from me and hurts my arms, hands, shoulders and neck (no, I don’t own a dishwasher; there’s no place to put one in any case).

I have a friend that comes and cleans. She makes our beds as well, since I’m unable to do so. But, I’m slowly realizing I’m soon going to need more than that to continue living alone, raising my child. One of my friends helps me grocery shop – she pushes the cart, gets items that are out of my reach and picks up things that are too heavy for me. I always feel loathe to ask her for assistance, but it’s coming to a point where I’ve got to get over that.

Lately, I’m realizing I may not “got this” anymore after all. Weeks ago, this prospect scared me. It left me feeling weak, needy, burdensome and worried about my future. Today, out of nowhere, came the thought that letting go of my independence is being the best mom for my daughter. If I want to continue to raise her, I must admit I need the help… and I must accept that help. Not only will it allow me to raise my kid, but it may teach her to ask for and accept help when she comes to need it in her future. She may learn to accept her circumstances much easier than her mom, who balks at admitting I can’t make a bed!! If I want to live alone with my little girl and raise her to the best of my ability, I must do so with outside help… and that’s okay.

I once heard that no one is ‘independent;’ we were created to be ‘interdependent.’ I think I’m beginning to understand that now. Maybe I don’t “got this”… but maybe there’s a WE who does!!