School’s Inaccessibility Causes Bathroom Blunder

            It was meant to be a very special day at my daughter’s school. And, for the most part, it was. Her school recently had a day where the students were encouraged to invite friends and family members to watch a short concert and enjoy a reception afterwards. To my knowledge, I’m the only parent/caregiver in a power chair. I’ve always been impressed with the school’s accessibility. The floorplans are laid out where everything flows and if there’s a dip in levels, ramps are in place. There is also an elevator connecting the two floors. Until the day of the concert, I’d assumed the school was completely wheelchair accessible.

            I’m on a medication that acts as an extremely heavy diuretic in order to flush my body of its spinal fluid (my body no longer absorbs its spinal fluid so the danger is its ability to build up in/around the brain and spinal column). During the first song the children sang, I started feeling as though I needed to go to the bathroom. But didn’t want to make a scene leaving as I was sitting in front of the bleachers and would also have to get my Service Dog up and out with me. So, I sat there thinking I’d just make a quick getaway when I could. But each song led into another until I was hurting, I had to pee so bad! Finally, the principal dismissed the students and families and we all bled out into the hallway. I quickly went to a bathroom but upon opening the outer door, I realized I couldn’t even get my chair through. So, I backed into the hallway and headed towards another bathroom. This time, my chair got in, but there were no stalls big enough for me to use (not only needing to fit my power chair but also my Service Dog). I left that bathroom and saw some kids in the hallway. I asked them where there was a handicap bathroom and they pointed me in another direction. I got so excited until I realized the stall was long but not wide, meaning I’d drive up right in front of the toilet and need to spin around to use the bathroom – impossible.

            I grew increasingly uneasy, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. How hard was it to find an accessible bathroom? Why was this simple need so difficult to fulfill? I knew of one more bathroom I could try so quickly made my way there. And, there it was! A stall big enough for me and my Dog!! I pulled up beside the commode and shut the chair off, relieved to finally be able to use the bathroom! And then I reached for the transfer bar… that wasn’t there. My heart sunk; my face fell. I turned my chair back on and left the bathroom, tears forming in my eyes. In the 15-20 minutes I’d been searching for a place to pee, the other women who’d been lined up at different bathrooms were no longer there, having been able to easily satisfy a basic human function. I felt alone and inadequate, separate and different.

            I went to the main office and as I began explaining my dilemma to the secretary, I started sobbing. My pelvic area hurt; my pride hurt; my dignity was aching as well. She didn’t know what to do so she called the school nurse. The nurse came to the front office and tried to calm me down. I was told that she could help me use the bathroom but that was not the solution I was looking for. She told me she did this all the time when she worked in hospitals; I responded that I wasn’t in a hospital; I’m an adult mother who uses the restroom by myself and this was unacceptable to me. But there obviously was no other way for me to relieve myself so I went with the nurse down the hallway, passing students and their guests, towards the bathroom. I felt humiliated. It seemed like it was glaringly apparent to everyone who saw us enter that I’m incapable of using the bathroom unaided. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. It wasn’t that I had limitations in this area; the school did. But I wasn’t going to stop each person I passed to explain the situation; I simply swallowed my pride, my dignity, my capable self and let the nurse come into the bathroom with me.

            What ultimately had to happen for me to go the bathroom was the nurse not only helping me stand but her pulling down my pants and underwear while I held onto the top of the stall. She then had to pull my underwear and pants back up for me and help me back into the chair. To say I was mortified is putting it lightly. This should not have happened. There should have been transfer bars in the stall to allow me the dignity to use the bathroom privately just as every other student and adult did that day. My daughter and I are already different enough, and I was heartbroken that students had seen their nurse go into the bathroom with me – I didn’t want my having to pee end with negative consequences for my little girl. Kids can be cruel. Furthermore, the kids see their parents and adult friends in roles of authority, control and an all-around sense of what being a grown-up means. I want them to see me that way, too. Because it’s true – I am in a position of authority. And while we as adults don’t truly have control, it’s a natural assumption of a child to think that we do.

            Once I finished using the restroom, I had missed nearly the entire reception. I found my daughter and sat with her for about five minutes while she finished eating. She wanted to know where I had been and why I hadn’t joined her until that moment. I told her I had to use the restroom and she exclaimed how long it had taken me. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the nurse had to help me; she probably would have been confused as to why. She knows I can go to the bathroom by myself.

            I plan on meeting with the Dean of students. I intend to discuss this event with him and suggest necessary changes. I want this to be a moment of education for the school. This was not something that happened because I’m disabled. This happened because the school does not have the adequate and acceptable structures in place for someone like me. I may be their first disabled parent but I’m pretty sure I wont be their last. And I don’t want another parent to feel like I felt emotionally, mentally and physically that day. I don’t want them to miss out on an activity with their child because the school is not equipped for them.

 

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News From ModifiedMama

So, it’s been since August that I’ve posted anything and I’m ready to share the exciting reason why with you all!! His name is Journey and he’s my new Service Dog from ECAD, Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities located in Torrington, Connecticut!

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I attended team-training in September and since I’ve been back home in my state of Tennessee, it’s been an intense, often times stressful and overwhelming transition for me. And for my daughter, who’s had to step down from the unrealistic, unhealthy position as my main helper, though for us this was normal and necessary given our circumstances. I’ve been adjusting to life as a single mom to 2 kids now! Haha! But in all actuality, it has been difficult for me and my daughter. Things are settling down in the routine department and I’m hoping that being a Service Dog handler will add another helpful component to my site.

Due to all the new changes, I’m way behind on my posts! So, here’s what you can look forward to in 2018 – a couple of travel reviews, several hotel and product reviews, opinion pieces on how my daughter’s school has made accessibility a priority and other pieces on feelings, events, experiences, thoughts, etc. from my life as a Modified single Mama and now Service Dog handler!

And remember: You can find Mama on FaceBook! And, you can follow my adventures with Journey  on Facebook, too!

From our family to yours, Happy 2018! Wishing you all the best!

Why Play Dates Make Me Nervous…

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My daughter is five and has quite the social life! She’s made many friends from various facets of her life and my life combined – school, church, sports and recovery meetings. She’s the type of child who writes an invite list to her birthday party that’s longer than her Christmas wishlist. Needless to say, she is asked to join friends for play dates on a pretty regular basis.

This is where Mommy becomes more of a detective than parent. This is when I bust out with my list of questions for the parent who’s house I’ve never been to. I have to consider everything about the structure of their home and it’s accessibility to me before I can even decide if we’re able to go or not. Are there stairs leading into their home? If so, are there hand rails? Is the house all on one level? Are there carpets? Rugs? Toys or clutter of any kind in the middle of the floors that I’d need to try to navigate around? Is there an animal that might jump on me, causing me to lose balance? Or could that animal be so small and fidgety that I trip over them or can’t process all their movements in order to walk around it? What’s the bathroom like? Is there somewhere I can hold onto while in the restroom?

If you think this list of questions is long, think also of how I feel asking all of them: For starters, I never truly trust the answers that are given. I may trust the person completely in every other way, but able-bodied people do not have to think like I do. I myself never thought this way until I became disabled, so I surely can’t expect others around me to understand my needs immediately. I get nervous that something’s being left out: that small step up into the foyer; those 2 tiny stairs up the sidewalk that the person forgot to mention and oh, there’s no railing there either; the fact that the bathroom is on the second floor. I become concerned my daughter will be so excited the day of her play date yet when we arrive at her friend’s house, there will be some barrier preventing me from entering the home and we’ll have to either move to our house (which is way less exciting because other kids’ toys are always the most fun to play with!) or reschedule for another time and decide where to meet that’s accessible for me. And, there have been those instances where we’ve not made it into the house, even though I asked the litany of questions. I also feel guilty and can’t even pinpoint why – some of it is because I wish that we could just go like other families do; I wish I could be a ‘normal’ mom for my little girl. I have guilt when we must meet at our house, knowing my daughter enjoys playing with toys that aren’t hers. Yes, kids often bring toys from home to share, but it would be nice if my child could get out of our home more.

I feel like I’m interrogating the other parent; as if I’m making sure they have the “right” kind of home. I worry they’ll be insulted by all my questions – here they are, treating me like any other mother (which I deserve to be treated as, by the way) but I’m asking them tons of structural questions and focusing on my differences. I feel like it may seem I’m making a big deal out of a simple play date – “Wanna come over and play?” It’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question! Not an opportunity to ask for the blueprints of the person’s house!! But, it’s also what I must do in order to know what my answer will be. There’s a small part of me inside that whispers quietly, “This is okay. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t stress out. God didn’t make a mistake in making you nor making you a mom.”

That wee small part of me also insists that it’s just a play date. The important part isn’t WHERE the playing occurs but the HOW (with enjoyment and happiness) and WHY (because my daughter is a wonderful, funny, compassionate friend) and also that it IS happening. When she’s twenty, I’ll ask her if she remembers having play dates with friends – I bet her answer will be along the lines of “Oh, yes! I had lots!” instead of “Yeah, but they were always at my house.” She’s got the best attitude about everything… even though her mom’s attitude can be saturated with worry, anxiety and guilt! Guess that’s just another thing that proves I’m like any other mama!