Monday, July 9, 2012

Courtesy and Companionship: In and out of the Garden

Courtesy and Companionship: In and out of the Garden

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. ~Mark Twain

After living 28 years with a disability, I never wanted to be perceived as that lonely, angry person who finds fault in anything, everything and with everyone. One of my biggest complaints of living my life with a disability is that I can never get away from my disability. When I go on vacation, I still have to deal with me and my personal care schedule. Quite frankly, that part of life truly stinks. When I go somewhere that I expect to be accessible, and it is not, I can’t get away from that either. My ex-husband would somewhat jokingly tell me to “shut up, don’t worry about it, and have fun.” It obviously didn’t bother him as much as it did me, and he was seemingly more bothered by me than by the lack of my independence. He wasn’t the one who had to go the entire evening without drinking anything because the bathrooms weren’t accessible.

Admittedly, I agree wholeheartedly that it can be all encompassing. For me to not worry about it when it affects me personally is almost impossible. For me to “shut-up” is not very probable, but I do try not to dwell on any issues during my off time. To ignore things completely would be the equivalent of a child abuse social worker ignoring child abuse. Although the child abuse scenario would require immediate action, my issues can usually wait unless I nearly get killed trying to cross a street. I have learned to make mental notes and to readdress most issues later. This provides a better opportunity for me to contact and communicate with the right person. After all, I usually just want to eat. It is generally not the waiter’s fault and it would be a waste of my energy to yell at him. Except, there have been situations where the wait staff have asked my companion, “What would she like for dinner?”, as if I wasn’t even there! Generally, I would speak up, stare them in the eyes, and tell them what I would like, usually with an extremely heavy emphasis on the word “I”.

When you live an active life with a disability, you learn to live with a certain threshold of discrimination. That’s life. Ignorance often prevails, and as of late, insult from self-indignant people is not unusual. Something I will never be accustomed to, or ever will be. I simply remind myself that it is their way of coping with something that they are completely insensitive too, for now. Someday, they will thank me and they too will understand. The important thing for me to realize is that I’ve made my point, with the obvious realization that they have no issue with insulting me and many others living life with a disability. (The lowest form of low in my book. No sleep loss from me when it comes to dealing with stupidity.)

Negativity can consume you. When you go to a park you simply want to enjoy the beauty of the environment. When you go out to a restaurant, you want to eat and drink however much you wish. When your son’s swim team gets together for an awards dinner, you expect to be able to get in and not have to be carried up a flight of stairs to enjoy the celebration. Wouldn’t that be an obvious courtesy? When someone plans a company party, shouldn’t the location be one you can enjoy too? Unfortunately, this has not always been the case.

With the right attitude, and the right companions I have been afforded these courtesies. For this, I am incredibly appreciative. I can’t dwell on the negative, and be sane. There is simply too much. When I offer my assessment, most value it as an added means of protection from what could be a needless lawsuit, and as a means of providing better customer service. Some surprisingly avoid me, which is generally a tale-tale sign that something is seriously wrong. This scenario is most upsetting! Some embrace the issue head on and learn from me, and do something about it. Those people make any aggravation I encounter worth it. When I see an elderly couple enjoying a pier, or a group of friends with disabilities heading to the aquarium worry free, I feel rewarded.

One of my Facebook followers on Access to the Garden recently commented that parks and gardens should be a place for all to enjoy. Amen. This is my mission, and my passion. Whether it is a community garden, or a public park, one must consider every person within the community and how they can best utilize the space. One must also think beyond the space and ask how is a person with a disability or someone who is elderly suppose to safely travel to the garden or park? If there is public transit, where is the closest bus stop? Is there on the street accessible parking, and a safe means of sidewalks and curb ramps for an individual in a wheelchair or with any mobility type of disability to safely cross the street? Once inside, is there an equitable means for participation? Are there firm, stable and slip resistant routes of travel throughout? Is there an indent left in the mulch or other surface material used when a person who uses a wheelchair travels within the garden? Are there raised garden beds with various heights? What percentage of the garden is accessible? Is there a sensory garden for someone who is blind or visually impaired? There is simply too much opportunity to provide for better inclusion and enjoyment of any outdoor space, beyond any regulation. We are, and I am the public. We are an integral part of any community.

If your park provides a water feature for children to play in, can all children play in the fountain of water? Can a parent with a disability get to their child if necessary? A city close by has their beautiful Waterfront Park, unfortunately with a step going completely around it unnecessarily. The local county parks have done an outstanding job with their gradual sloped fountains. When it is close to 100 degrees for over 2 weeks, these features are necessary.

With proper planning, and with a little consideration beforehand, everyone can be afforded an equal opportunity to play. We all know the health benefits from parks and community gardens, whether it is for exercise or diet, and we all should have the chance to benefit.

The therapeutic part of my own personal garden is the independence that it affords me. When I’m gardening, I’m somehow not a person with a disability. I am a gardener. It may take me a little longer sometimes, but I persevere. With the right tools, there isn’t much that I can’t do if I can get to it. In my own garden I only have to deal with my own mistakes and a lot of pests.

I am now happily married to someone who understands the significance and importance of me being able to maintain my independence. Because he is getting older, he too enjoys my elevated beds and containers. My son was one of my biggest advocates growing up and he will still speak up today. My friends and companions understand the real importance of what I do, and the encouragement to keep doing what I do is incredible.

There is a definite balance that must be maintained. I may retreat occasionally from the non-sense. I love my home and my own personal environment. My pool has a lift, and my garden has a walkway. Society must understand that not everyone has this within their home. Some people are literally house bound without ramps and transportation. When we think of any garden, or program within a garden, we must really think first to ensure inclusion and participation from the entire community. Parks and gardens are there for everyone to enjoy, and everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy them.

My companions are those who understand the importance and significance of all of this. It is easy for many to complain, but often difficult for many to make the necessary change. I love the saying, "If not you, who?" Plants in my garden also benefit from having the right companions. As long as we choose wisely, all will benefit.


  1. Wow! Can this blog get any better? Extremely well written with well thought out real-life situations and solutions. Bravo!