Monday, June 25, 2012

What's in a Name? Gimpy Gardener?

"What’s in a Name? I am NOT a Wheelchair-bound Gardener!"

"The difference between the right word and the almost-right word
is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."
- Mark Twain

DID YOU KNOW…that the word DAISY comes from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘daes eage’ meaning “day’s eye” referring to the flower's sun-like appearance, and the way that it opens early at dawn and closes at night. Word origination and meaning, although sometimes misunderstood or disputed, are very interesting. A word that was once considered acceptable may become offensive over time in its interpretation.

The word handicapped may imply a helplessness that is not suggested by the more acceptable people first language used as in “person with a disability”. There is also some stigma attached to the word handicapped because of its origin in the phrase hand in cap, which was actually derived from a game of chance, but sometimes is mistakenly believed to involve the image of a beggar. Although, there is confusion with its origination, it is inappropriate for anyone writing or reporting about a person with a disability to use language that is deemed offensive. This would apply to other words as well such as retarded, crippled, wheelchair-bound, crazy, nuts, lame, crippled, invalid, etc.

Years ago, I was speaking to a large group of people and someone in the audience asked me, “What do we call you?” I smiled, and very quickly responded with, “My friends call me Brenda!” I am an Advocate for People with Disabilities, an ADA/Accessibility Coordinator, mother, wife, and a gardener. I had a spinal cord injury when I was 22, and I have a physical disability, incomplete quadriplegia, that requires me to use a wheelchair. I personally refrain from the term disabled as well, because I believe in the use of people first language. Other terms such as wheelchair-bound are unacceptable because it implies entrapment versus the use of a wheelchair as a tool.

People first language is defined as a linguistic prescriptivism that seeks to eliminate dehumanization of people with disabilities. It helps those who don't live with a disability recognize people with disabilities as individuals with personalities and identities that are distinct from their disability. The most basic and effective use of the language is to identify people with disabilities by their names.

As a gardener, I prefer to be referred to as a gardener. I am a gardener who also happens to have a disability, and I use a wheelchair for mobility. It is actually a complement for me when I am simply recognized as a gardener, or someone refers my Facebook Page, Access to the Garden, to another, as a “great page on gardening”. I enjoy the fact that my page has this universal, inclusive appeal. I am not special (maybe to my loved ones), I am a Gardener and I'm not a Special Gardener either. I may have to be a little more creative with my technique or approach to gardening. I am definitely a person who shares the passion for gardening. I am not wheelchair-bound. I may occasionally fall out of it, I do not sleep in it, and when I’m in my garden, I often forget about it. My wheelchair is a tool; it usually gets me to where I need to go.

Gardening seems to have its own universal language. I’m not the only one who enjoys the benefits of containers and raised beds. We all seem to enjoy close up pictures of beautiful flowers too. There are different approaches, some organic, sustainable, vertical, etc. but the end result is the ability to grow something beautiful and/or delicious. I just had my first homegrown tomato, and it was absolutely wonderful. There is definitely a difference in taste.

As I converse with other gardeners, and as I learn more about gardening, I realize that we are all interested in any type of tools that make the work of gardening easier. Not many people enjoy reaching their bare arms into a rose bush when pruning. A snip and hold long reach pruner will make this task easier and less painful for everybody.

Garden gloves with a good grip and that are designed to be easy to put on and take off, will benefit most gardeners as well. My favorite garden trowel is actually my 2’ Craftsman shovel. It’s great for digging small holes, and I don’t have to lean over. My latest acquisition was a pot mover, a hand cart specifically designed to move large containers. This has been a real back saver. Love it!

It seems as if a lot of products that are designed for people with disabilities make their way into the consumer market for everyone to enjoy. Now, imagine if Good Grips had originally called their products, Cooking Utensils for Invalids or Cripples? I don’t think that they would have had quite the success.

In spite of numerous resources for our media and often public officials, these offensive terms are heard or read daily. I will not be interviewed without telling the reporter first that if he or she uses inappropriate terminology or if the Editor adds it in later, I will blast them in my review. The characterization of a person with a disability as a person first and foremost can be the difference between recognition and dismissal of a person who has ability, interests, and ambition. Love this quote!

People such as my friend Sandy Hanebrink in the below picture can do extraordinary things. Her accomplishment of working with Anderson County, SC to build the state's first ADA Accessible kayak launch on the Saluda River was an outstanding accomplishment.

"Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a disabled politician" seems an almost absurd description of a man who became one of the most respected Presidents of the United States. His accomplishments are so well known and regarded that they eclipse the fact that he spent much of his life in a wheelchair as a result of a battle with polio. Does this then suggest that there is a threshold beyond which a person with a disability must achieve to be afforded an identity beyond their physical, sensory, or cognitive impairment?”

People First Language: I Am Not My Wheelchair

We are people first, plain and simple. If a word offends, try not to use it. It took me several years to convince the Mayor of a nearby city to stop using the word handicapped. Some people may have difficulty understanding the correlation of the daisy to the sun, although, that one seems fairly easy to understand. Maybe by using something similar to the scientific approach of plant naming called binomial nomenclature, there would be less room for misinterpretation. My Scientific name would be Brenda Parent gardener, and maybe somewhere down the line I could be in a class of gardeners with disabilities.

Don’t Say (in italics) , Do Say (in bold)

Differently abled, challenged Disability
The disabled, handicapped People with disabilities
Slow learner Person with a learning disability
Quad Person with quadriplegia
Autistic Person with autism
Mongoloid Person with Down syndrome
Midget Person of short stature, little people
Burn victim Burn survivor
Handicapped parking Accessible parking
Blind Visually impaired
Alcoholic Alcohol dependent
Brain damaged Brain injury
Polio Post-polio syndrome
Confined to a wheelchair Uses a wheelchair
Hare lip Cleft lip
Fit, attack Seizure
Mute, dumb Speech disorder
Birth defect Congenital disability
Mental retardation, retarded Intellectual disability
Wheelchair-bound Person who uses a wheelchair
Normal, able-bodied Nondisabled
Deaf-mute, the hearing impaired Deaf, hard of hearing

Monday, June 18, 2012

Persistence, Diligence and the Willingness to Fight

"Persistence, Diligence and the Willingness to Fight"

A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself. ~May Sarton

When it comes to vegetable gardening, these last few weeks have had me questioning my sanity. I probably have verbally proclaimed that I wanted to quit vegetable gardening at least two times during this past week alone. I am not a quitter, and I never have been. This week has been a test of my patience to say the least. I have also been trying to win this battle of the pests organically and without the use of chemical pesticides.

Squash vine borers, cucumber worms, mold, fungus, and whatever else is out there testing my wits as a gardener, have all presented endless opportunities to problem solve the mysterious consumption and sudden death of my vegetables. Not to mention the occasional raccoon or cat that enjoys trampling through my new elevated beds as well. The yard is a fairly good size suburban lot, so the attraction of these critters to my containers keeps me feeling somewhat perplexed.

At night I can peacefully enjoy the beauty of my garden, and wake up the next morning to a completely different scene as I observe a garden in chaos. “How and why is this happening?” are often my first thoughts as I sip my morning coffee. “Why am I doing this?” is often my next thought!

I look at my garden as a challenge sometimes, actually, more like, all of the time. The same way that I look at life and every other issue that comes before me that needs a resolution. I am my own boss in and out of the garden, although, sometimes it certainly does not feel that way.

In my gardens, this is not simply the case with just my vegetables. The other day, I noticed that one of my hydrangeas was comparatively about a quarter of the size of the other four shrubs around it. The vinca on one side of my driveway is being consumed, whereas the rest of it in my other gardens is doing fine. Two of my Knock-out Roses have died.

I know of others who constantly deal with rabbits and deer. There is always something going on in the garden. Good bugs and bad bugs, smelly fungus, drought, too much rain, wind, salt, overcrowding, disease and death to name a few. No matter how diligent and persistent that you are with your care, something will sneak into your garden and eat your zucchini!

I went through a wonderful program offered by our state’s Master Gardener’s Extension office this past winter. I don’t know all of the answers to garden problems personally, but I do know that in almost every state they are an excellent resource for information. I jokingly tell my gardening friends that the only difference between a Gardener and a Master Gardener (MG), is that the MG generally knows when they are making a mistake.

Education is the key to knowing how to possibly avoid and prevent mistakes in the garden. It is often important to know how to resolve an issue when it comes before you. Sometimes though, you may be too late. It happens to even the best of gardeners.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of spending the day in a large gymnasium with over 100 twenty plus year olds. I honestly had forgotten how much energy and enthusiasm that this age group possesses in large numbers. It was a fundraiser for an organization that encourages individuals with disabilities to become active in sports and within their community. Wheelchair sports are often the first step an individual with a disability takes to become reintegrated into their community.

The fundraiser was held by the 2013 Class of Doctorate in Physical Therapy students from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). The fundraiser was held for a local non-profit organization called Achieving Wheelchair Equality (AWE). This event was one of the best run and organized fundraisers that I have ever attended. (I just wish that I had known that Krispy Kreme doughnuts were outside.)

I was asked to have a table on Access to the Garden, and this was a first for me to publicly demonstrate tools and answer questions regarding how I garden as a person with a Spinal Cord Injury who uses a wheelchair. It was an excellent opportunity to expose numerous therapists to the idea that gardening does not need to stop because of a disability. Several consumers with disabilities were enlightened as well to the possibility of gardening again to enjoy the benefits of it as therapy and exercise.

I also used my appeal to gardening as a means to maybe promote healthy eating. I say “maybe” because a lot of people from the South enjoy frying everything, and I personally enjoy eating fried everything as well! Except one gentleman did tell me that he enjoyed frying the flowers from squash plants, and I wasn’t exactly too keen to that idea. The numerous thoughtful questions and enthusiastic energy from the participants was definitely worth getting up early on a Saturday morning!

Although I may use a wheelchair, my focus with Access to the Garden pertains to the opportunity for gardening for all. My Facebook page, Access to the Garden focuses on my many gardening interests, and daily challenges within the garden. I have enjoyed sharing many inspirational thoughts, beautiful flower/vegetable images from myself and others, gardening advice, and many great container ideas.

As a gardener I will share anything that strikes me as clever or anything that I find to be just simply good advice. My persistence, diligence and willingness to fight have saved me in and out of the garden! I don’t fight in the physical sense, but I do stand up for what I believe in. Empowering others and educational awareness are incredibly important. Knowing how to battle disease and pests in the garden are too! Frustration is a normal part of problem solving. One must remain diligent and not throw in the trowel to enjoy the many benefits of gardening! Next, I should anticipate the tomato horn worm! With them, I do become a little aggressive and sometimes quite physical.

Monday, June 11, 2012

It's Not All About Me!

"It's Not About Me!"
Kevin Bruce Parent, All Rights Reserved

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” ~ Audrey Hepburn

This past week, I finally sat still long enough to be interviewed by my dear friend Alex Jackson. Alex is a young, but very mature, graduate student who writes a blog for the South Carolina Spinal Cord Injury Association on living life with a disability. Alex has an insight on life that I can relate to firsthand, although we are functionally somewhat different because my injury is more incomplete, we both sustained cervical spinal cord injuries at the same level, C5/6. Alex’s attitude, intelligence, and perseverance are inspiring. His quest for independence in spite of his dependency for basic care is quite admirable. His smile is contagious and comes from within.

Those who know me well enough, know that I don’t really mind talking, but talking about myself, especially on video, is not something that I’m very good at or really enjoy doing. I’d much rather be doing, and not talking about what I’ve done. I do not sing my own praises very well, but I know that I’ve done a lot of good that will benefit a lot of people. It was, actually, a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to talk to Alex in depth, and to have the chance to possibly make a greater impact on him too. He is our future in advocacy.

I have a lot of respect and admiration for Alex. Our lives are always full of stuff that we don’t necessarily like to do, that we must simply do. This was an opportunity for me to talk about Access to the Garden, and my accomplishments as a Consultant on Accessibility. My favorite question, “What has been my greatest accomplishment?” My answer was of course, “All of them”. (I know that I’m not the easiest person to be interviewed.) Any progress that I’ve made to improve someone else’s life is, indeed, monumental and significant. Whether it is a trip to the aquarium without barriers, moving a cart rack off the access aisle, or having a curb ramp installed to permit access to a park, it’s all been incredibly important.

When I’ve learn that I’ve made a difference without even realizing it, I am probably the most rewarded. When I’ve had Chief Building Officials repeat my words back to me about doing more than the regulations call for because it is the right thing to do, and because it makes life even easier for everyone, it makes me smile. (It makes me smile really big!) When I hear the next generation of advocates outwardly think, and jokingly ask, “What would Brenda do?” I’m somewhat ecstatic because they are thinking of a solution, and not dwelling on the problem as being unfixable. When I encounter a practicing therapist, nurse, or even an architect who remembers me talking to them when they were a young professional, that too is incredibly rewarding knowing that their perspective on people with disabilities has been broadened to understand the importance of why and how they are doing what they do and for whom they are doing it for.

Hearing someone in a position of authority openly say, “We can do better”, is also an amazing achievement. This is the first step towards progress. It is with this general acceptance of the realization that they have not done enough towards full compliance, which gets things going and moving in the right direction. This lack of avoidance is the progression in attitude that will reflect positive change.

Chances are that when I pass from this life, there will not be any large monuments erected in my honor. When I know that a person can go somewhere without encountering any barriers or obstacles to full inclusion, that is enough for me to know that I’ve done something really great! Occasionally, a few will say thank you, and that they appreciate what I have done and what I’m doing. Many will never know that I was there.

When I plant my garden, I do believe in the hope for tomorrow. Although, I know that the topography will change with time, and suburbia will continue to sprawl, it is my hope that more focus will be placed on the importance of green space. As I learn more about what is around me within my own community, I see more emphasis growing on Urban and Community Farms. I also see more emphasis on gardening within the home landscape.

I avoid politics whenever possible, but I do believe in the importance of giving praise when it deserves to be given. Michelle Obama’s garden at the Whitehouse is fabulous! Nothing speaks louder than the leader of our nation having a vegetable garden at the Whitehouse. I never realized until now that the last kitchen garden at the Whitehouse was developed and maintained by Eleanor Roosevelt, with her campaign for the Victory Gardens. The Victory Gardens were a great project to encourage self reliance during a time of food shortages! Michelle Obama's campaign for 'American Grown' is a great project that encourages healthy eating for all during a time where obesity and health problems are a result of our nation's unhealthy eating habits.

A lot of life’s lessons are learned in the garden. Everything from reproduction to death is right there in front of a young person’s eyes. Healthy eating is also taught! A garden is definitely a grand teacher. I have found that when I’m feeling overwhelmed by life, there is no better place for me to slow down, think, reflect, and focus. Sometimes, it is just as important for me to get out there and not think. My brain never seems to stop, so occupying it with repetitive work is a way to unwind.

My biggest issue with time is not accepting the simple fact that things do take me longer. My husband’s generic answer seems to be, “I’ll take care of it. It’s easier for me.” My response to this is always the same, “Almost everything is easier for you, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to do it.” Besides, I am so impatient that I only ask once if the task seems incredibly difficult. If it isn’t done to my liking, I’ll end up doing it anyway. Yes, I’m somewhat particular. Knowing that most things do take me longer, just keeps me working later.

My disability hasn’t changed who I am. It has just taught me more about me. It has brought out more confidence at times, and the ability to deal with less BS. Trying to understand human behavior is often quite perplexing to say the least. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone treated others the way they wished to be treated?

My garden is a place where it is more about me, although, while I’m in the garden, I still find myself acting as the nurturer. That part of me will not change. I can’t control everything in the garden; Mother Nature has the upper hand on that. My hope is that whatever I plant will grow, prosper and remain. Unfortunately, I know that the majority of it will not. I’ll never forget visiting my grandmother’s house years after she had passed away. The majority of her landscaping had been removed. It is my hope though, that one bulb or one seed has survived. Maybe, I’m it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Up, Up, Up, It's a Great Day for Up!

“Up, Up, Up, It’s a Great Day for Up!”

When I wake up in the morning, I love to look out the window and admire the glowing life of all of my plants and flowers. Somehow by just looking at them, they make me feel very alive. Occasionally, I find myself enjoying them so much that I may feel a little saddened prematurely knowing that too soon the beautiful blooms will fade. It all seems to happen entirely too fast.

As a Mom, when my son was younger, I sometimes found myself feeling the same as I would watch him at night while he was sleeping in his bed. It was almost as if I could actually see him growing. That time too, went entirely too fast. (He is now 24.) Regardless of the passing of time and the occasional sadness in my life, I still find myself almost daily quoting Dr. Seuss in his book, Great Day for Up! “Up, up, up! It’s a great day for up!”

The amount of time that I spend in my garden may actually surprise many. Some people may think that I’m a little strange for spending so much time outside. I, on the other hand, think they are odd for never going outside. Although, I do sincerely believe that if I had more property that I would never get any work done on the inside of my house, and I would probably work myself to death outside.

Nothing is more beautiful than a flower bud that is ready to burst open with life! Somehow, and somewhat mysteriously each individual flower bud will unfurl with incredible detail and beauty. You can almost feel the life as it bursts open towards the sun, each flower looking a little different than the other. I don’t think I could ever get an identical photograph of any flower or plant specimen.

I’ve used a wheelchair for the last 28 years of my life. At the time that I broke my neck in an automobile accident in New Hampshire, I never thought about death. I was 22, and at the beginning of my independent life as an adult. Life was really good. The only time that I vaguely thought about the possibility of death was when I had to sign a statement declaring that I realized the possibility of never waking up from the anesthesia the hospital gave to me before undergoing a spinal fusion of my cervical vertebrae at C 5/6.

Few people know that plants were important to me then as well. While I was in the hospital, I received a note and special concoction of three homeopathic medicines. The author, J.D. Salinger sent the medicine via my ex-brother in-law. Although, I never met the writer, he had a home in Cornish, New Hampshire, and was very much into alternative medicine. He lived to be 91. At the time of my injury, I was willing to try anything conventional or not. My doctors were aware of this as well.

My injury was incomplete, which means that I regained movement and sensation throughout my body. Initially, I was paralyzed from the neck down. Whether or not there was any effect from the homeopathy, prayer, or if it was entirely a result of traditional medicine and surgery, I’ll never know. At the time, I was open to any available option.

Plants are not just intriguing in appearance, but in their use as well. Few people realize that aspirin was derived originally from a plant. Many plants, fresh fruits and vegetables have remarkable health benefits, and we are constantly making new medicinal discoveries from them. This is an area of study that truly fascinates me, especially the gardener in me.

“Life is a Gift”, in some way or form, whether it is known to us or not. Plant life is a gift too. When I wake up in the morning, I try to keep this all in mind. Although, I may not wiggle and waggle with quite as much excitement as my rescue puppy Jodi does when I let her out of her crate, I try to appreciate it all.

It wasn’t until I had celebrated the 25 year anniversary of my accident (most SCI do celebrate this and every year after onset of any paralysis) that I realized that the average life expectancy after a cervical spinal cord injury was 20 years. Knowing that I have reached a comfortable place in my life, I am able to work at what I enjoy. The old saying that “life is short” certainly applies. We have no idea what is in store for us next, especially when we feel our happiest. That’s how my life seems to unfold anyway.

Regardless, we have to enjoy what we have now or otherwise we would constantly feel depressed about the next tragic event that is just waiting to occur in our lives. Like a flower, we need to enjoy every stage of our lives. I’ve raised an awesome son, and hopefully, someday in the very distant future, I’ll have a few grandchildren to spoil too.

Like a puppy, we all need to wiggle and waggle more. Enjoy the beauty of the here and now, and appreciate all that is fabulous! As a new flower bursts with life, we should learn to appreciate what is really important in life. We should take the time to really see the true beauty as it unfolds before us.

Note: I recently LinkedIn professionally with another blogger, Bill Tipton who writes on issues with life with a visual disability, Dialogue with Bill is a beautifully written blog. He in his writing introduced me to a very inspiring musician, Justin Hines. His life story, video and positive attitude are absolutely refreshing. Enjoy!
Link to life story: Link to Video: