A Party Invitation Also Invites a Change in Perspective

Typically, when my daughter receives an invitation to a party, I’m excited. I’m thrilled for her and look forward to having fun together while celebrating a special occasion, usually a birthday. Yet a birthday invitation came for a slightly older friend who was having her party at the skating rink. Now, there are several physical activities I miss doing since becoming disabled – water skiing, hiking and roller skating being a few. And there are times I feel guilty about my lack of ability to instruct my daughter in not only these but other activities (hula-hooping, jumping rope, etc.). Before receiving the skating party invite, I would’ve told you that I would love to take my daughter to the roller rink but I quickly found this to be untruthful when faced with a reason to do so.

Seeing the invitation, the words “Roller Skating Rink” kept jumping out at me as if mocking me for the inability to participate, to show my daughter how to skate, to enjoy this activity with her. At least, that was MY initial perception. I knew that I could get on the rink with her in my power chair if the building had a portable ramp but was wrapped up in anxiety over being stared at and put on display. I worried about my little girl not enjoying herself because of people staring, pointing, etc. I didn’t want to go and be the object of discussion; I just wanted to party at the rink with my kid.

I was explaining all of my worries and stress to a dear friend who listened patiently before saying, “You know, Lylly. If anyone does stare, perhaps it’ll be kids who’ll look at your daughter with longing, wishing their parents were on the rink with them. Or if adults stare, maybe it’ll be because you’re out there with your daughter instead of sitting on the sidelines observing.” BAM! I hadn’t considered THAT at all!

The day of the party, after acquiring skates for my daughter, I asked to speak to the manager and he put out the portable ramp. She held on to the back of my power chair and we went around slowly so she could adjust to the feel of being on skates. Her little friend, the birthday girl herself(!), wanted to hang on as well and so the three of us went around and around. We had such a great time!! I forgot all about the other people in the rink and was delighted to be out there with my little one and her friend! The few times I looked at anyone, they were either smiling as we passed them or obviously into their conversations and not paying us a bit of attention.

When I got the invitation, I allowed myself to forget that this life is our normal. Being stared at is normal at times to the point that we don’t often even notice it (and I tend to notice it more than my 5-year-old anyway!). I almost worried myself silly and if my friend hadn’t helped me gain a new perspective, I would’ve shown up at the party feeling stressed instead of ready to take on the rink! It doesn’t matter HOW I spend time with my daughter – it matters THAT I spend time with her! And we usually have a blast!! Just as we did at the skating rink! In fact, it’s on our summer to-do list as a place to return and enjoy one another’s company!

 

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What My Father Taught Me About Invisible Illness & Making Assumptions Within the Disabled Community

An entire month has gone by since my last post. I will not apologize for that – On December 4th, my dad passed away suddenly after a moderately short battle with a chronic illness. The week of Thanksgiving, my family was told he was in complete organ failure; his body was filling with fluids released by his liver; his hernias had shifted & fluid was going into his lungs – we knew he was not going to be with us for more than a year, but were not prepared when he fell, causing his body to shut down. He died quickly, and I’m thankful he did not have to suffer more than he already was.

In reflecting on my dad’s illness and the effects it had on his body, I realized I’d made quite a few mistakes during his last year – especially within the months leading up to his death. When people see me park in handicap parking, it is obvious when I get out of my van that I’m honestly, legitimately and legally permitted to park there. When I use designated stalls in restrooms, no one questions my necessity for those accommodations. My illness and my disability are not invisible. Rather, they are glaring and direct.

My dad, however, did not use adaptive mobility equipment until one month prior to him passing. At the end, he had trouble walking and required the use of a rollator. Before that, when he’d park in a designated spot, here is what people saw: An obese man with no clear physical limitation walking into an establishment. There were times, early on, that I (embarrassingly enough) bristled when I saw him park in handicap parking. Before knowing what was wrong with my dad, I thought he used obesity as the criterion to gain certain accommodations – I hate that I thought these things and am loath to admit them, but am sharing in hopes that someone who reads this will better understand my overall point.

My dad was actually not obese. He had several large abdominal hernias and as I’ve previously stated, his body was filling with fluid. If a person were to look at his face, arms, legs and neck, it would be obvious that he was in fact thin. The “weight” he carried was solely in his torso. Furthermore, to a stranger it may have seemed that he walked just fine. But, to those of us around him, we’d watch in horror and helplessness as each step caused his breathing to become more and more labored (recall the fluid build-up in his lungs).

There are times that people make assumptions about what it means to “look sick.” Assumptions are also made about what qualifies as a “disability.” I’ve heard people grumble about “that heavy-set woman using the handicap stall” or “the fat man who just needs to lose weight so he wont be disabled.” It’s not that those exact thoughts have come into my head, but I’ve already admitted that I myself, as a member of the disabled community (and one who doesn’t need to carry a membership card since I’m rolling along through life) have also wondered why a seemingly healthy and able-bodied individual is using a space or stall or other modification meant for ‘us.’ This is plain prejudice (yes, I admit that!). It’s stereotyping, generalizing, assuming and jumping to conclusions about things I have no right to nor expertise in!!

Whether you are chronically ill, disabled or healthy and able-bodied, I ask that we all cease to pass judgments on people who use services for the disabled community. There’s usually a lot more to the person’s story than their body is able to convey to our untrained eyes.

 

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In Loving Memory of my dad, Rob Sasser, who taught me a lot, even when he didn’t know it. May 12, 1952-December 4, 2016

Not All Spaces Are Created Equally

Yesterday, I was out running errands and stopped at one of the stores on my list. There were two handicap parking spaces available, but I couldn’t park and do my shopping. Why? Because I drive a wheelchair accessible van and can therefore, ONLY use VAN accessible spaces. The store had one van accessible space, but it was being used by a compact car.

Many people do not realize that there is a difference between regular handicap parking and handicap parking that’s accessible for vans. Before I began using my power chair, I myself was guilty of parking in any open handicap spot on the days I needed one, unaware that if I parked in a van accessible spot when there were other spots available, I was potentially blocking entry or exit into that establishment for someone who used a van.

The tale-tell difference between the two types of handicap parking is the width of the slanted lines next to the parking space. In order for a spot to be van accessible, the lines must be wider than they are for a typical spot. The reason? In order for me to exit my vehicle, I must have room to lower my ramp/lift (most often found on the right-side of the vehicle) and then have more room to roll completely off the ramp/lift. This is especially important to me as a parent with a young child, who I must keep safe.

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Drivers of modified vehicles CAN NOT use a regular handicap parking spot!

Back to my errands: I pulled in a spot directly across from the parking space I needed and waited…

and waited…

and waited – a full 10 minutes!

Finally, the lady came out of the store and began to unload her groceries. As she finished, I pulled out and signaled that I was waiting for the space. The lady was elderly and when she noticed me, she wagged her finger at me while giving me a disapproving look; no doubt believing I was ‘too young’ to need that space. She got in her car and proceeded to put on make-up, read mail and make me wait an additional 8 minutes! Thank goodness I was spiritually fit and sat there patiently – no fingers flew up; the window stayed up; my mouth stayed shut and I didn’t even toot my horn!! She finally pulled out and drove past me slowly, shaking her head.

If you must use a handicap parking space, bear in mind the next time you’re out & about, that if there are other spots open, to use them. Please leave the van accessible spaces for those of us who need the extra-wide slanted lines in order to safely exit our vehicles, some of us with our small children. Thanks!