Thursday, September 27, 2012

Get Out! Equal Enjoyment of the Great Outdoors

Get Out! Equal Enjoyment of the Great Outdoors

Every neighborhood needs a Walden Pond in their back yard, a place where people can be in nature and reconnect to themselves, to the land, and to each other. ~ Open Spaces, Sacred Spaces (

Years ago, when I lived in New Hampshire, I remember desiring the opposite. Occasionally, I would find myself in pursuit of an enclosed mall because I was surrounded by open spaces. This was especially true during the winter months, when cabin fever would hit me the worst. I have never really enjoyed shopping in malls. It was more of an issue of having the ability to move around freely without any obstacles that was important. Now, after over twenty years of living in the suburbs in a less severe climate and environment, I truly understand the importance of accessibility within the home landscape as well as to public outdoor spaces to the fullest extent possible.

My first house on 6 acres in NH.

As a person who uses a wheelchair, I understand the necessity of concrete and other compacted materials that permit easier maneuvering for anyone who has any type of mobility disability. I’ve incorporated a stamped concrete path into my own landscape to enhance my own ability to travel independently throughout my yard. My pathway circulates completely around the entire property, front and back. (My lot is less than ¾ of an acre.) As a homeowner, I knew beforehand that I would probably never recoup this expenditure. The expense was for my own sanity. I am a gardener, and I simply enjoy gardening. To a large extent, my ability to connect with nature has been my therapy, both physically and mentally.

Even though I have created this environment within my own suburban oasis, I still love that feeling of getting out to the countryside. Maybe it’s simply the escape from the obnoxious sound of leaf blowers. Who knows? I am quite fortunate in that it only takes me 25 minutes to find farmland. (That is, if there is no traffic.)

Once again this week I have had the opportunity to get out and review a farm for a proposed accessible garden. (This is the part of what I am doing that I truly love.) I always tell myself beforehand that it is a farm, and generally that means it’s probably off of a dirt road too. Regardless of its location, if it is open to the public, the same basic regulations and requirements for accessibility apply. The ADA requires equal access to goods and services. This includes accessible parking as well as accessible routes of travel whenever possible. Pushing or lifting an individual with a disability is not considered a reasonable accommodation.

Sometimes honestly, I’m actually a little bit caught off guard when I visit someplace that I expect to be very accessible and I discover it isn't quite up to my expectations, especially when they offer outdoor programs to people with disabilities.(I don’t know why I’m still surprised considering the number of doctor’s offices that still don’t provide compliant access.) Yet, you still assume that any place that works with people with disabilities on a daily basis would be accessible to the fullest extent possible. Obviously and understandably the foremost priority has been towards program access, and I fully understand that non-profits often have to squeeze by with very limited financial resources.

I honestly believe that in most cases it is more of an issue of not knowing, rather than of not caring. I am also convinced that Building Inspectors could help eliminate many potential issues by informing any business, whether it is a restaurant or a farm, of their entire responsibility under all laws, and not just when the entity changes the use of a facility.

Unfortunately for the business owner, partial accessibility and “not knowing better” do not give them redemption under our judicial system. The obligation to provide access when it can be provided without an undue hardship is still there.

Fortunately for me, there has been a genuine interest and desire to provide greater access from the people who have asked me to visit their farms and gardens. This is incredibly encouraging! After all, I am ‘Access to the Garden.’ People with great attitudes are always a pleasure to work with. It simply makes sense that in order to have an accessible garden you have to be able to get to it easily first and foremost. One less barrier, is one less obstacle to overcome and is one step closer to promoting greater independence. Fantastic! Whenever possible, my objective is to help identify what needs to be done, and to help do something about it.

It is exciting for me to be a part of a project that will provide an opportunity for more people with disabilities to get outside and garden. An outdoor environment with a little extra attention given to firm, stable and slip resistant surface materials will provide an opportunity for everyone to benefit from the outdoor experience. The fun part will be creating a variety of raised beds at various heights that will accommodate children and adults with a variety of disabilities. Everyone deserves the opportunity to connect with nature. Garden on!

Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” ~ Former President George H.W. Bush

"The time is always right to do what is right." ~
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Making a Difference: Dedication and Hard Work

And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.
by Joni Mitchel

Sometimes advocacy requires collaboration amongst individuals and groups of individuals representing people with disabilities. Years ago, I remember being nominated to serve on our Governor’s appointed Independent Living Council and since then I’ve been asked to serve again, even very recently. I’ve always declined this nomination because I consider equal access to be only a part of independent living, and there are specific groups throughout the entire state that represent the complete philosophy of independent living more comprehensively than I would ever wish to.

I once chaired our Mayors’ Commission on Disabilities and later served as the chair of the Mayors' Accessibility sub-committee. I was also a past president of a local wheelchair sports and advocacy association. I served on our state’s Spinal Cord Injury Association’s Council and have served on a few other committees throughout my time here in the south. I realized years ago that my main interest is accessibility, and I have always tried to focus on that issue specifically. Eventually I will focus entirely on access to parks, farms and all forms of gardening. (I'm enjoying this endeavor thus far.)

Advocacy often requires a union of all disability related non-profit organizations and individuals. Sometimes personal or family relationships hinder our individual ability to advocate. There will always be conflicts, and negative repercussions do occur. (We all have to eat and pay our bills.) Recently, I made a comment on a friend’s video of a beautiful aerial view of a nearby city. When I travel throughout the region, I see ramps, curb-cuts, and buildings that I have had direct involvement with regarding accessibility, whether individually or through an association. I had stated that I see my mark within the city and surrounding areas, even though I know a lot more needs to be done. I take pride in knowing that I have been involved with and have lead many efforts which have resulted in many great accomplishments throughout, as a therapist would feel with the gains of a patient. Even though a therapist works with a patient directly, there are many others involved in that particular patient’s recovery. I also see the marks of many more advocates before and after me.

My blog this week is a dedication to all of those who have made a difference within their community or are in the process of making a difference now. My appreciation is truly heartfelt! There is no way that one individual alone can make all the change that is necessary. No way! As we all go about our individual lives, it is important to know that we can all make a difference. To those of you who have had no other option but to exercise your legal right, thank you too. Sometimes an owner's refusal to cooperate and provide access leads to this too, especially since it is 2012 and these regulations have been around for a very long time.

My long time friend Gilbert Smith with his great grandson.

I was once misinterpreted as telling someone to sue an institution. At the time, I was working as a paid Contractor for an Independent Living Center, and it was my responsibility to inform any consumer of all of their options, legal ones as well. Although legal action is often necessary, it has never been my personal approach to resolving accessibility issues. In retrospect, it probably should have been in a few instances, results are often obtained much faster. Equal access is a Civil Right, and yet we are still denied that right of equal access to goods and services.

On a positive note, things are improving because of the efforts of many. Business owners are recognizing that improved accessibility benefits everyone. To me, it’s more about universal design and going beyond any regulation whenever possible. A perfect example of this is with a required ramp slope. Regulations require 1 foot of ramp per 1 inch of rise, 1:12. In other words, an 8 inch step would require an 8 foot ramp (96 inches long). If space permits, why not make it less steep and build a ramp that has a slope of 1:20 (160 inches long)? Sometimes, it’s just a matter of common sense.

I once attended an Independent living symposium and the keynote speaker asked the audience, “How many people would like to live in a nursing home?” No one raised their hand. Yet many people design houses with tiny bathroom doors, and don’t take into consideration what their homes would require if accessibility became necessary. The same is true with our gardens and farms.

With the right kind of adaptive equipment, gardening is possible for almost everyone. People living with disabilities as well as aging adults can benefit from the many benefits of gardening. As we age, our gardens have to evolve with us, and even gardeners with disabilities change their gardens as they age to compensate for any decrease in stamina. Knowing that limitations are present both physically within us and within the environment itself and understanding what adaptations are necessary is the key to our successful continuation and ability to garden or farm.

On one of my last farm visits, I met the proprietor whose means of mobility on the farm was a golf cart. The golf cart allowed him to move about the entire farm with ease. He was actively training an intern with his vast amount of knowledge on farming. Even though he has workers to help out in the fields, his contribution of knowledge is valued and necessary for the survival of the farm. His fingernails were dirty enough to tell me that he still enjoyed digging in the dirt too.

My belief has always been that for our survival we do as much for ourselves as long as we can. Sometimes we just have to be a little more creative with how we’re going to do it. Sometimes we have to ask for help, that’s life. My husband repeatedly tells me, “Let me do it, it is easier for me to do it,” and my response is always the same, “It is easier for you to do almost everything, so does that mean I should do nothing?” I may be slower, but I get it done. End of story.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
by Joni Mitchel

Well I came across a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him tell where are you going
This he told me
Well I am going down to Yasgur's farm
Going to join in a rock and roll band
Goin' to get back to the land to set my soul free
We are stardust, we are golden
We are 2 billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden
Well then can I walk beside you
I have come to lose the smog
And I feel like I'm a cog in something turning
And maybe it's the time of year
Yes and maybe it's the time of man
And I don't know who I am
But life is for learning
We are stardust, we are golden
We are 2 billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden
By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers jet planes
Riding shotgun in the sky
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation.
We are stardust, we are golden
We are 2 billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Success: One Seed at a Time

Success: One Seed at a Time!

Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can. ~ John Wesley

For the first time in months, I have gone over a week without writing my blog. It would be incredibly easy for me to get out of sync with my writing. Since it was Labor Day last Monday, I felt that I needed the break too. It can be especially difficult to write or do any kind of paperwork when the weather is gorgeous and when you know that there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the garden. If you're not feeling very motivated or are upset, it can make writing even harder to do as well. To be misunderstood or blatantly ignored can be a real kicker sometimes, and we all need to take a little break every once in awhile.

The cold front finally made its way to the east and the windows were opened briefly, but are now closed once again to make the inside environment of my house more conducive for work. By late afternoon, the temperatures within the house still rise and it becomes extremely uncomfortable. The air conditioner has been running non-stop since April. I’m ready for fall to be here, even though I do not look forward to days with less daylight.

One big reason that I moved to the south was because of the incredible number of sunny days per year, 230 days on average, compared to where I was living up north that had significantly less. If I waited for ‘bad weather’ I would never get anything done on the inside of my house.

Unfortunately though, last week I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in my garden other than on Monday. It’s a fact of life sometimes that other obligations take precedence. It’s also a fact that I would rather be doing just about anything else other than paperwork. Needless to say I spent enough time just keeping everything alive in the garden, but that was relatively easy because of the surprising amount of rain that we had during the week. Enough rain to harvest a healthy crop of mosquitoes too.

I realized after laying my seeds out very uniformly and quite sparsely in my containers, that I was a little too conservative with their placement. Very few had germinated. I was really proud of how I had used my specially painted pencil with one end marked as 1/4, 1/2, and 1 inch for depth and how I used the eraser end to pick up each tiny seed.

I believe I planted my seeds at the right depth. What I didn’t take into account was the incredibly high outside temperature (High 90’s) for the optimal amount of germination for each variety of vegetable that I planted. I also didn’t consider the overall germination rate for the seeds. I was somewhat stingy because of the amount of seed that I had wasted in the spring.

I know that an experience vegetable farmer would be laughing at me. Although, electronically all of this information is readily available to anyone, I personally didn’t take the time to figure it out. I used the color code on each packet assuming the month listed was okay without taking into consideration the outside temperature. I went with the spacing requirements as suggested by Mel Bartholomew, in The All New Square Foot Gardening book. I even refrigerated my spinach seeds to help with germination as recommended by the Grumpy Gardener, Steve Binder.

As I was handling the seeds, I couldn’t help but think about how tiny they were. The red lettuce seed was tiny and dark. If I dropped one, I couldn’t see it on the soil even with my glasses on. I’m able to lean over, and even with being able to do so I know that I would have a difficult time if I was trying to place the seed in the ground. I’m also notorious for dumping the whole pack of seeds out at once if I’m supposed to sprinkle them out onto the ground. I personally refer to this as a ‘quad moment’ because of the decreased dexterity in my hands.

I would have to create some sort of seed tape or I would have to mix the seeds in with an inert material before attempting to spread them uniformly in a row. My father when he was weak from cancer would use a piece of plastic pipe and he would drop the seed down through it one by one. I can’t help but wonder if the lightweight lettuce seed would stick to the inside of the plastic. For me, it is easier to plant the tiny seeds in my elevated beds and containers. Hopefully this time I planted enough to allow for better germination. The slightly cooler temperatures should also help.

The percentage of any seeds to germinate is maximum at the optimal temperature for that species. As the temperature declines or advances from the optimal temperature, two things happen at the same time. While the percentage of seeds to germinate decreases, the number of days to germination increases. That is the fundamental relationship between germination and temperature.

•Ideal Germination Temperatures:
•When to plant in my area: (consult your State’s Extension)
•Germination Rates:
•Effect of Temperature on Germination:

This morning I checked the progress of my seeds and my lettuce is happy. My spinach is still a little reluctant to germinate. Time will tell I guess. Next, I will have to figure out where to plant the other vegetable seeds that I bought before it is too late to plant them. I also have to relocate some of my containers on my deck to ensure the availability of better sunlight.

I think to be a good gardener a person has to be patient. I think the same thing is true about being an advocate. More than fifteen years after my initial accessibility evaluation of the armory building owned by my town, the town has finally built a ramp to the building that only had one step. The armory has been used for numerous political elections as well as many other public events throughout the years since the passage of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 and other prior access laws.

I’m really good about giving people and entities the time they need to comply or to complete what needs to be done. Others may not be quite as patient, but then again equal access is a Civil Right and they are completely within their rights to pursue things however they wish to pursue them. My suggestions are there as a means to possibly prevent injury or legal action. Should this have taken so long to fix? Definitely not!

I think what is most upsetting for me is when I know that I have taken my time to tell someone or I have offered my time in advance to review a facility, or park, and my suggestions are seemingly ignored or not valued. It is pretty upsetting to go to a newly renovated restaurant or any place that still isn’t compliant even after recent renovations or new construction is completed. The Building Inspectors shouldn't allow it and when a person inquires about it, the town is required to respond to your inquiry. No one likes feeling as if their time has been wasted, regardless of what the entities intent may have been. For now, I'll simply rejoice over one more victory.

What I have to focus on and what is most rewarding is when I see entities, public and private, utilize the suggestions and go beyond what they’re required to do. It's refreshing to travel to other places that have already made outstanding efforts for better accessibility. This really shouldn't be such a large issue in 2012. It is not just me that will benefit from this, everyone will. We're all growing older. That said, I think I need to get out to the garden. I have seeds to tend to and containers to move. They don’t like being ignored either.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Update from Access to the Garden

Just a little update to let everyone know that I'm still writing, I just took last Monday off. I have decided to have my blog come out on Wednesday instead of on Monday. I'll send the usual link through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Thanks for following Access to the Garden! Brenda B. Parent