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

1 comment:

  1. Yes, YOU have made a difference in more ways than you can ever imagine, positively affecting the lives of so many people and institutions. No one ever said it would be easy or quick. Yet you move forward, now onto making gardens and parks accessible to all. And we as a species need this if we are to evolve to a healthier more tolerant society.