Monday, April 2, 2012

The True Heroes

“The True Heroes”

Inspirational yes, heroes we are not. I read an article this past weekend in our local newspaper depicting the “wheelchair athletes” of our yearly bridge run as heroes. I was actually surprised that the editor hadn’t squeezed in the unacceptable reference of “wheelchair bound” as well. For whatever reason, our press finds it difficult to not use these over sensationalized terms.

As usual, I couldn’t keep quiet, and thanked a reader for his comment that these were simply athletes, disabled or not, who have overcome adversity to meet a challenge. As a person living with a disability, I have often felt this way. Complete strangers, who mean well, have come up to me and have told me how wonderful it was that I could drive and do my grocery shopping. Sometimes my response has been, "if that's all I did in a day, life would be wonderful." (I'm human to say the least, and I do not want to be perceived as a hero for going to the grocery store.)

I did agree with the writer of the article that some of the mentioned athletes were real heroes, because they have lost limbs, etc. fighting for our freedom. As a recreational athlete these guys are definitely inspiring, yes, as athletes. These are elite athletes who have overcome adversity and taken on huge challenges. No doubt. The athletes that make it to the Paralympics are exceptional athletes because of their athletic ability. They are not all winners because they have a disability.

The race started later than normal, which allowed more people to see a part of the race that has been overlooked by many. The athletes finally received the media attention that they deserved. Maybe next year, they'll actually show a live interview with the leader of this division as well. Progress to say the least!

My recent small debut in Fine Gardening’s, Photo of the Day Blog, was inspiring to many readers, but to myself as well. For me to appear in there was an honor, an honor as a gardener. If I can inspire others, with or without a disability, to continue doing something that they are truly passionate about, for as long as they possibly can, then I know that I am living a life worth living and I am doing something very worthwhile.

The focus of my blog is to deal with issues relative to improving accessibility within the garden. Who does it apply to? Basically anyone who wants to hear what I have to say, or who themselves have something to ask or say about any kind of adaptations in the garden, whether it is with the selection of plant materials, or with the actual tools and equipment used. I am not a Horticulturalist, Horticultural Therapist, Landscape Architect, Landscape Contractor, Agriculturalist, Physical or Occupational Therapist of any kind. I have worked as a consultant on accessibility with all of these people. It was only recently that I referred to myself, and it was after over twenty years, as an Accessibility Specialist. Do I know all of the answers? No, most definitely not. Do I know where to go to find an answer? Yes, I usually do.

My wheelchair is an extension of my body. It allows me to be independent. I can run in my wheelchair. It is not my disability that truly paralyzes me. It’s the attitudinal and physical barriers that are present in my day to day life that often try to hold me back. Thankfully, these barriers to independence are slowly disappearing as more and more people with disabilities are out and about living their lives. These barriers are also disappearing because the baby boomers, the majority of our population, are getting older. Everyone benefits from tools that function in a capacity that will simplify a task, and from an environment designed with gradual sloping pathways, etc. It is just common sense. I remember when the Oxo Goodgrips kitchen tools came out. Every new bride had them on her registry. Before they really hit the consumer market, they were used in rehab. Everyone loves the squishy grip. The same grip is now used on our garden tools.

I’ve been asked many times about “getting a motor for that thing.” I’ve been asked about the possibility of using a tractor or some other type of powered driven mobility device such as a Segway. (They have seats for them.) After my injury, I was told that I would never be able to be independent using a manual wheelchair. For me to transition into using a power wheelchair is huge. I know that to preserve my shoulders from further destruction, it will be necessary. I’ve been pushing a manual wheelchair for 28 years.

For the last few months, I have been looking at technology. The expense is huge, but I know that it will be worth it. In the meantime I have made some changes to my manual wheelchair. I found a front wheel attachment called a FreeWheel that keeps the smaller casters from getting bogged down deep into the mulch, and it works fairly well through the grass. We planted St. Augustine grass, which looks great but is very thick. Zoysia grass probably would have been easier to wheel through, and a better choice. Fortunately, I have very little lawn to deal with. I’m also considering using wider mountain bike tires.

Having the proper equipment is important for mobility and independence. I would recommend meeting with a Mobility Specialist. Your doctor can refer you. Our perseverance is all about conserving energy, and making a task easier. It is no different in the garden. If you are passionate enough about something, you can usually figure out a way to do it. Even if it’s just by keeping a couple of containers close by the back door, or a pot in the kitchen window. Our quality of life is dependent on our ability to continue doing something that we love as long as we possibly can.

Sometimes we do have to ask for help or point a little more often than we would like to. That too is a fact. Being able to effectively communicate where you want something planted, or having someone else do a manual task such as pulling out an oak tree that is growing in the middle of your azalea, is important. Not everyone knows the difference between a weed and a plant. Landscapers are not usually gardeners. Trust me. Husbands may not always understand why you want something moved, but in the end, they’ll appreciate it.

To some, people with disabilities are inspirational, but not solely because of the presence of a disability. Hopefully, it is because of what we do with our lives, and because we don’t let anything stop us. We aspire to do our best. We’re not superhuman. We all have good days and bad ones. We all experience frustration especially when it comes to losing our independence. Frustration often geared towards those who have illegally parked over the line and have blocked us from getting in or out of our van. We're human…...

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