I AM More Important Than Your History

Random thoughts as I woke up this morning, and began my daily motions crept into my head. I have been thinking about the acecssibility of my city, or the lack there of. The excuse I am given in new buildings is that the sticker on the door should be enough. Some places obviously tried and usually it shows in grand ways. Other places give the excuse that to put a ramp in, or wide enough doors would be destroying the historical importance of the building that their business sits in. I am more important than the history of the world. All people are.

I know that this makes me appear to hate history, yet this is the opposite of truth. My first passion in life was history and I have always loved taking part in reenactments. I am for preservation but not when the preservation includes the history of excluding others based on arbitrary things such as skin color or ability. I suspect that the place I live is far from the only one guilty of such crimes, yet I look at the excuses and they no longer work.

The first time I approached a historical building and there was no ramp, the excuse worked, because then I did not know my rights under the Americans with Disabilities act. The second time I was told this, the excuse did not work but I had no power. Since then I have regularly avoided the section of town that is considered somehow worthy of preservation. Even going along the side walks outside is difficult as the inclines on the “accessible” places are so steep my power chair cannot make it, and coming down the other side of these inclines would likely be an act of suicide. Old Town is lovely, and often has events that are free and meant to gather the entire community. These events only count if you are willing to burn out your chair engine, sink into grass, or sit on the only part of the side walk that you can get to that is safe. The excuse is history.

None of these buildings retains their original purpose. They are all shops selling the same tourist crap. There are a few restaurants but they too are selling the tourist crap. People claim native ancestry and sit out on the side walks, because this is apparently historical too and barricade the way. I have had people get angry at me for asking them to move so I can go past. Then there is the staring. For some reason people react more strongly to my presence in this section of town. The idea that a disabled person may be near these expensive shops, may want to see some old time gun battling, or in general may want to be on the side walk that has curb cuts at BOTH ends (an extreme rarity in this town no matter the section) boggles their minds.

I have found my response finally, for why they need to have access for me and others who are disabled. I am more important than your history. It is not my history if I am prevented from learning about it. It is not a history I can embrace when a store that is selling the same tourist thing as the one next door can have stairs and no entry and their excuse is history. I realized this morning that the lie does not work for a very simple reason.

All of these buildings have restrooms. Every single one has a place to go when your bladder is full, when the tourist trap food gives you a stomach ache, or when you need to check your make up. Every single one. All of these buildings were built without restrooms. Every single one. They were built with out houses in the back, all of which are torn down. If access is less important than poop, you are obviously not thinking straight. If you prize history over poeple, you lose vital lessons about people that history contains. Yes, the stories here are amusing, amazing, and important. So are the people who want to hear them and might not be able to.

So there it is, my reply has been cemented finally. Whenever someone plays the history card in this never ending game of poker for bigots, I have my answer. If you can put in an outhouse, you can put in a ramp. I am more important than your history.



After writing my post earlier I left some voicemails with handy men, my friend M said he will pay for it so I can get my bed. I am tired, more so now but as I felt like I was going to scream and couldn’t find peace in my heart I needed to move. I felt pulled, and so remembering I had a ramp decided to risk the scooter breaking down leaving me out in the world. I took my cellphone, my keys, and left the cat at home. I went the way of the pulling sensation, and wound up outside of a beautiful temple. This Buddhist temple is just a block from my apartment. I sat outside and looked at the Lotus blossoms and butterflies, and realized, I belonged. I find that Buddhism has helped me keep calm and not give in to the darkness that pain makes so tempting. Buddhism is not a religion but a path and a way of living, as I was taught. It is compatible with my beliefs.

I sat outside for a half an hour before I decided to go in, and the Abott himself greeted me. He asked me why my heart ached and we talked. I had secretly hoped he would give me permission to continue my relationship with my mother but, “The poison of the heart can poison the soul. Such a pain as you endure was preventable. The poison of the heart will spread. You must remember that your heart is yours.” It wasn’t a way of saying to reject her but a reminder that it is my life and I must come first. Something I knew all along.

I was asked to please come again, as often as I wish, and to bring the cat next time. I ventured out and found the peace that I couldn’t quite grasp. I charged the scooter again while we talked, and decided to risk Walmart. Walmart is a half an hour with these batteries and once there I had to park and charge again. I had another encouter with englightenment. A world war two veteran saw my unique chair and decided to ask if I knew how to get one. I could see his pain, he proudly told me he forgot how old he was and we laughed a bit. I gave him guidance on how to get his wheelchair, as for any of us to admit we need the help of a chair is hard. He told me I reminded him of someone he met long ago in the war. My face, my eyes, but he commented that she had red hair. I didn’t tell him my natural hair is red, and felt a longing for it again. This is twice that I have longed for my hair back at the vibrancy of it’s nature. The black lets me feel safe and I know I look beautiful either way. It is merely difficult. She was a nurse, and he was injured. She was injured as well but hid it so she could continue to serve, her time with him was spent building a trust and she taught him to understand that the enemy wasn’t seeing us as we saw ourselves. It was an interesting story, frightening in some ways but he found comfort in me, and I in him.

I did some shopping, I got a copy of the key to the gate so that my caregiver can actually get in (oops) and a pair of padlocks for my gate. My batteries held so I looked in a few stores and found many things I need, so I took pictures of them with their prices. I bought the nail trimmer that I desperately had to get William, and found two jacket style harnesses one pink and one black on clearance. I sprang for both, and they rang up even cheaper than they were marked. I also got a bit of halloween decore, a little sign that was three dollars and made my entire day. “Wicked Wanda’s Witch Shoppe.” It’s green and a light orange. I named the stuffed witch I got at the dollar store Wanda and she is also green and orange. It’s too perfect to deny. So far this is also my most expensive decoration!

I feel good, if sore. The side walk only has two in accessible areas, one on each side of the road between the shopping center with a grocery store that carries gluten free food, three discount stores, and has everything I could need or want accessibly. I even found the curtains I want for the price I can afford.

I did notice a difference in this neighborhood, normally when I go out I feel invisible and in danger. This time drivers made sure that I knew they were there, and that they saw me. One man stopped when the scooter almost died on the way home and asked if I was alright, since it was going so darned slow. He watched me to the gate of the complex so that I could get home. Normally I wouldn’t want that but I cut it close because I had to backtrack for the gatekeys. Oh I also got some gummy bears. I just needed a small treat and my entire day became such.

Thank you all for supporting me, it gives me strength I cannot find with in myself. I may fear, I may mourn, but I will never surrender. This neighborhood seems very much handicapped friendly, as I found special access points for wheelchairs in areas where it may be more dangerous for a chair to be in the street or normal foot traffic. I’ve never even heard of these things! I dreamed of them. I know better ways around some of the rough spots for next time, though I will wait until the scooter is repaired, I shouldn’t have pushed it. It was stupid, and a mistake. I also feel way better for it. It seems doing what I want is a rarity, and that must change.

Sharing the Dream

I have a dream. It started small, with the idea of teaching other women with disabilities how to get their doctor to adapt to their needs, to make certain that they have proper medical care and it grew. A part of this is the rumor that in California there are accessible facilities for medical care. This access should be for all women and men with disabilities as well as those who are aging. A second portion is a discussion I recently spent two weeks taking part in. The third part is my own experience and the frustration that is omnipresent with my current medical needs.

I am sharing this dream with you for two reasons. The first is that I want your input. I am not an expert on all disabilities and I want to make this dream a reality. The other is that this will be my platform when I make my run for Ms Wheelchair USA. So, here it is, my dream.

I want to create not just an accessible doctor’s office but an accessible facility that has several purposes. First and foremost I want an accessible mammogram, one where you do not have to call, beg, and push to get access but where it is expected that you will need access. This will be furthered by a program to teach you how to adapt to your bodily changes and limitations while being able to fulfill the self exam for breast health. If you cannot adapt, either due to paralysis or other limitations then I want to offer the option of having a doctor or nurse perform your exam for you. Breast cancer risk does not magically vanish the minute you are suddenly disabled. It often goes up!

This goes further, I want accessible exam tables and facilities to offer every woman regardless of function and mobility a pap smear. I have an annual cancer scare, something tries to trick us into thinking it is cancer yearly. This year’s cancer scare surrounds my pap and it’s abnormal results and other tests that scream, “You might have cancer!” I am more worried about the high table, embarrassing lack of hospital gowns that actually fit, and my physical issues hampering the test than the actual possibility of cancer. I am loathing the idea of half climbing half being shoved up on that table, half naked and without any chance at privacy because I need help at times to even move my hips. There are accessible tables. Other forms of accesibility will be needed. I want to hear from any persons of short stature, what are the needs you face in the doctor’s office that are not being met? Even the most accessible table for a tall person will fail you, so please tell me what you need so that you are not excluded from my dream.

I want accessible facilities for rape victims with either severe injuries due to the actual rape or a previous disability. Writing these words has me panting with fear, but, how many women could be protected with evidence that is not obtained? There is enough of a violation with in rape itself, but being violated and treated like you do not matter after is a crime as well. This alone could be my platform focus, this alone could impact the lives of countless women. Accessible rape kit access with proper training for those taking the kit is a must. this is the part of my dream that is frightening, this is the part of my dream that feels the most out of reach. I must reach this goal however, for every victim and survivor that exists now or may exist.

I also want a center for adaptation. The Center for Adaptation would include a kitchen, a bathroom, and other areas that the once-abled take for granted. I still have not managed to cook a meal without harming myself in years, but a place where I had the safety to learn without being in danger of literally killing myself would help. This adaptation center must include potential assistive devices so that before the money is spent by the individual they know if the device will work. I wasted so much money on items that I cannot even use. Everyone does. Most persons with disabilities or freshly disabled persons have a very limited income, therefore this is a key component to creating universal access. Imagine learning how to cook around your limited energy, ability, and strength? Imagine learning how to clean again, and imagine too learning other things such as crafts, or finding ways to adapt so that you can create art? Dream with me and see it, a place of learning for all levels of ability.

Not just learning but socialization. I want people of all ability levels to commune together. There need to be varying support groups, socialization groups, and even a place to coordinate activities for the single individual and the couples. There needs to be a safe place to discuss sex with in ability, there needs to be a safe place where intersetion occurs. If you are gay, bisexual, a lesbian, or a transgendered person with a disability you deserve this just as much as someone who does not overlap two subgroups with in the realm of minority. The able bodied need to be welcomed here too, so that they can learn, assist, and so that there is a lack of segregation.

There needs too, to be a place to work with Service Animals. This facet will have to have answers to questions about the legalities of service animals in the given area, certification challenges, and training suggestions. Although it will not be a place to get a service dog, there needs to be a place where safe support can be found easily. Safe support that can come and help you advocate, safe support that teaches you to self advocate, and safe support for the process of accepting your animal partner.

Less medicalization of life needs to happen, and the focus on that aspect is a place to find good fashion, perhaps this could even become the funding source for my facility. The fashion needs to be adaptable to the wheelchair users needs, most likely this will require custom tailoring. The clothing needs to be affordable but also fashionable. Persons who have disabilities cover all age groups and the institutionalization of clothing is unacceptable. The clothing must also be in a broad range of sizes. Just as wheelchairs need to fit everyone from the small child up to the very large adults, the clothing must as well. Giving a place to access good, quality, stylish clothing for men and women with varying abilities will be a huge part of this, simply out of my own desires. I desire affordable clothing that works with my ability. I do not want to trip over skirts that are too long, I do not want to have my sleeves caught in my wheels if I use a manual chair, and I am presuming this is a universal frustration.

There need to be classes as well to train those with degenerative conditions to adapt, or those with compound disabilities to adapt. Perhaps the adaptation center is a new spin on the idea of an accessible home to learn in, yet, the focus on this portion includes teaching skills you might not have. What brought this to mind is my own degeneration. I lost my ability to walk and my sight is endangered. What adaptation can I have if I cannot see to drive my chair? I must learn and there needs to be a safe place for this. There needs to be a place where it is safe to feel the fear, the hope, and a place where there is hope. There is too little hope for the disabled demographic in this world.

A part of preventative care is dentistry, though I have yet to find a dentist who can work with my limitations. There needs to be a facility for dental care. I have a cavity I cannot get tended due to my combination of allergies and inability to bend backwards in their chairs. This cannot be. This is discrimination, yet to stamp out discrimination there needs to be action. If the facility cannot have a dentist, then it needs to have an office where accessible vision and dental care is listed, where referrals can be given, and it needs to be a place where there is acceptance that every body has a different need.

Disaster Safety is also a concern. During the disasters that hit the world, such as Hurricane Katrina, the disabled are often left behind. Their families may stay so that their loved ones do not die alone, and therefore these devalued people are murdered. It is murder to leave someone behind because it might be hard to deal with their wheelchair. A part of this facility needs to house a program that teaches people how to advocate, adapt, and prepare for emergencies. This program also needs to teach FEMA and other rescue organizations how to rescue the disabled. We are people, we deserve life, and being abandoned because of a wheelchair or cognitive disability is murder. It can be helped, it can be changed.

A lot of the focus here is on prevention and adaptation. My focus is not to cure disability, to wipe it out. That is impossible and I have gained from my own limitations. I cannot imagine a world without Autism as being beautiful, for without it I would not exist. Therefore the focus needs to be on preventative medicine, there needs to be a focus with in the facility on adaptive medicine, and there needs to be a focus on demedicalizing the bodies that have limitations. There needs to be a personalization of existence. I exist beyond my disabilities, though they are a part of me. We need to foster acceptance of self, of difference, and we need to offer a safe harbor for all people with all abilities to commune.

A lot of people are unable to work, are fighting for government assistance, and are dying without durable medical equipment. I want to offer rentals, loaners, and at times even the purchase of needed medical equipment such as CPAP machines, wheelchairs, and walkers. These are just examples. There would be a qualification process, and yet the freedom I felt that first time I sat in a manual chair and had more than three hours of coherent function haunts me. I have nightmares of being trapped without my chair now, I have nightmares that others feel that same terror. Those nightmares are realities. This program could use older equipment that was donated, purchased equipment, and could perhaps eventually include low interest/zero interest loans with minimal payments to allow people to obtain equipment. This could help those with a copay and a minuscule income to make ends meet. This could help someone who is choosing between homelessness and a wheelchair to get the chair and keep their home.

A second facet on employment is access to workforce training. There are already facilities yet at times access is denied based on a lack of visible potential, so, I want to coordinate with them to try and educate and prepare those who want to work but are being told they aren’t worth the training. An entire segment of this facility needs to be coordination with existing organizations to get people what they need, to get people connected with the programs that exist. A lot of people who ask me for help do so because they cannot find programs that fit their needs, even when they exist. A hub in the network could make their impact broader, while in a way delegating some of my dream over to their offices. I know one facility cannot possibly do it all.

This is my dream, this is also why I was so quiet this past week. I was dreaming, trying to put into a coherent idea what is needed. This facility will need funding but the insured can be charged. I do not see this as a fee free environment but money should not cause a person to not be able to participate. If a person can pay, or if their insurance can allow coverage then they should pay. Much of what is offered should be covered under Medicaid/Medicare and other insurances without issue. The rest could be funded via donations and grants. I have no idea what I would call this facility yet, but, that is not the most important focus at this time. Branding must come after a plan for action is laid out.

Share the dream. Share what you see as a need. Please feel free to pass links to this post around, I want to offer a taste of freedom to a set of people that anyone can join, to the only equal opportunity minority. If we band together, we can change the world and create universal access. This plan is flawed, this dream is imperfect yet it is merely a start.


The Antidote for Discrimination Is…

I have felt the urge to blog repeatedly, but until now I have not given in. Blogging can be as personal as writing. I have spent the last week in preparation mode skimming the internet reading other blogs, seeing what I liked, what I didn’t like, and the power behind the words. Some of these bloggers brought me to tears, and that is no small feat. Others made me laugh, some caused me to feel sorrow, and a few gave me the chance to feel angry.

I wasn’t sure how to start my first post, but, since I am an advocate for all disabled, all women, all men, all people in need I will start there. The topic nearest and dearest to my heart is Service Animal Law. Some of you who read this might think you know about service animals, and you might be right. Others will presume that a service animal is only for a blind person. You are not correct. A service animal, by the federal definition, is any animal trained to assist a disabled person with a task. This does mean that if you have a seizure alert dog, it has to do more than that. The law even gives behavioral guidelines.

I have a service cat. She is trained to do things including retrieval, seeking assistance from specific humans in the case of an emergency, medication reminders, object retrieval, and she has also been trained to help me balance. A lot of these tactics came out of her instinctual responses, but those needed to be honed. She also had to be trained to handle a crowded mall. Now she handles it better than I do. People often ask me why a cat, and my response is simple. I am not allergic to cats, most of the time but I am allergic to dogs. I also trust cats, and I haven’t trusted many dogs in my life. I have to trust my service animal partner.

I have faced some serious discrimination because of being disabled. When I was still walking most of the time, it was harder because I was in extra agony since forcing myself to walk through a store took all of my energy. The more tired I am, the more pain I feel. There have been times when I have had shopping carts jerked out of my hands, causing me to either fall or nearly fall. I have been denied the right to buy groceries, and recently I have been illegally denied medical care.

I am perusing legal action but I am well aware that other people might not know how. Today, one of the blogs I read, reminded me that not every person is trained in how to handle discrimination. When you are disabled, you might feel more vulnerable to attack, and when people threaten to take away your service animal or refuse access, it can be terrifying. I feel often as if I am going to be hit if I push forward. I was an abuse victim for most of my life, but, adulthood came and I found a way to break free. Not everyone is that lucky.

So, here it is, my guide for other disabled people with any LEGAL service animal on how to advocate their rights. A side not before I begin, if you do not need a service animal, do not lie. We will catch you eventually, and the crime has a punishment. Depriving people of their rights through your shallow behavior is the worst thing you could possibly do, and, whether you believe in Karma, Hell, or just recriminations in this life from other people, you will pay for it. The law will get you, Advocates will get you, and if Karma gets you, it will be worse than anything I could dream up.

The Guide– Dedicated to Renne, Helen, Aimi and Snow, but especially Bree. (All Links will open in a new window/tab.)

Step 1. Stay Calm. This is for me the hardest part of advocating for your rights. Sometimes I want to run, other times I want to scream and cuss. Neither tactic is helpful. As hard as it is, you have to be the bigger person, and stay nice. You can have anger in your voice, do not deny the emotion but do not let the emotions over ride your goal.

Step 2. Calmly as you can, state that they are breaking the Federal Law. This is what I have practiced saying in the Mirror daily for the last two years. “You are violating the Federal Law. The Americans With Disabilities act provides protection for my use of my service animal.” When I say this I hand them a copy of the law. You can get a copy of the service animal laws from the ADA.  I  have the business brief printed with my state law on the reverse side. You can obtain access to your local service animal laws at http://www.animallaw.info/ I carry  my print out in aUSB case on my scooter keys. You can also buy laminated cards from various businesses with the law on it that explain your rights. For some people this is easier. Those cards are usually kept on your animal’s harness.

Step 3. Explain the law in simple terms and how they are violating it. This does mean you need to know the law. Not only does knowing the law protect you from discrimination, but, it lets you educate people. The biggest cause of discrimination in my experience is a lack of knowledge. If someone isn’t willing to learn, or admits they know, then you have a larger problem. One of the main causes of confusion with service animal awareness is that few businesses train their employees. It is illegal to require a service animal to wear a vest or show an ID tag. When someone asks me for this for my cat, I show them the law and educate them. Often, they will try and state she cannot enter because she is not a dog. My local laws state only dogs can be service animals. The laws are written so that the stronger law prevails. This means that if the Federal law says I can have any animal, that is trainable and meets the standards and the local law does not, we refer to the federal law. However if you live in a state like California that requires ID tags for all service animals, then, the law requires you have an ID tag. This is another source of confusion, but, it is an attempt at increasing the rights of many.

Usually by this point I am either in the building or they are just going to break the law anyway. If you have reached this point, it is time for Step 4.

Step 4. Take a very deep breath, and remember Step 1. Then ask to speak to their supervisor. If they refuse or are the supervisor you can try explaining the laws again, or calling another advocate to try and help. I keep the number handy to the local advocacy organization, and they have helped me countless times. Even knowing I can call day or night, is helpful because I do not feel alone. At this time I have no national links, but if you are in New Mexico, contact Service Animals and the Law. (Link forthcoming). If you have links nationally to websites that can help, post them in a comment. I want this page to be a resource for any person in need.

At this point you should be through the trying time, most managerial staff listen well and correct their employees. Recently I had to fight my way into an apartment complex using this tactic for three months. Even when I had food poisoning I had to try and follow my rules, but, eventually I prevailed. Advocating for yourself is the hardest part of having a service animal.

Not every person responds to this and if you still cannot get through to them, you need to contact the ADA. You can email them a detailed complaint, include names, addresses, contact information for both parties, and send it to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov . If you would rather call you can contact the ADA via their hotline using these numbers: 800-514-0301 (TTY-800-0363).

Remember, you are strong, you are beautiful inside and out, and you are not alone.

Other posts in this series: What is a Service Animal?

Additional Resources will be added as I find them:


Service Dog Vests and Supplies:
http://www.petjoyonline.com/ADA_Federal_Law_Information_Card_for_Service_Dog_p/svd-0054.htm The Law Info Cards

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