Monday, November 21, 2005

What Is The Number One Reason For Medical Evacuation Of Our Soldiers From Iraq? Bad Back.

The below article is from the USA TODAY and discusses the number one medical problem that our soldiers have in Iraq. A Bad Back. As a person that has problems with activities of daily living due to a bad back I see this as a big problem. We are creating a large number of people with disabilities that we are not prepared to help.
Gary Ray

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Soldiers in Iraq carry extra load
By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
More than half of U.S. soldiers who have been medically evacuated from Iraq and treated at two of the military's large pain treatment centers suffer not from battle wounds but from bad backs, researchers report.
U.S. Army soldiers search for insurgents in Mosul, Iraq.
By Jim MacMillan, AP

Most injured soldiers aren't hurt on the battlefield. In contemporary warfare, injuries are more likely to be the result of a motor-vehicle accident, falls or disease - the same problems a doctor would see in civilians in the same age range, says Maj. Scott Griffith, an author of the study. He is the director of the chronic pain clinic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Though soldiers are in better shape than the average citizen, they also face high-stress conditions. That, combined with sleeping on cots with little back support, standing on their feet for hours at a time, riding in convoys in crunched positions and wearing heavy body armor, contributes to back troubles, says Capt. Brian Kargus, who served with the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, Iraq.

Still, the high percentage of soldiers who leave Iraq because of back pain is disturbing, says lead author Steven Cohen, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves and pain specialist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

The study, which is published in the October issue of the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, examined 162 injured soldiers who were medically evacuated from Iraq and treated at the two pain clinics. Fifty-three percent, or 86 soldiers, had lower back pain. They were treated at large interventional pain centers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at Landstuhl Regional Army Medical Center in Germany. Battle injuries accounted for 17% of evacuations.

More than 65 million Americans develop lower back pain every year, according to the American College of Neurological Surgeons. It's the most common cause of job-related disability, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders.

And, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the most common ailments - experienced by 30% of veterans who return from Iraq and Afghanistan - are musculoskeletal problems, primarily joint and back pain.

Not that back pain in the Army is anything new. Doctors used to see something called "rucksack palsy," which is caused by nerve injuries from carrying heavy backpacks for miles, says Lt. Col. Frank Christopher, a medical doctor and chief of deployment health at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

"Inherent in being a soldier is carrying large weights. Historically, the ideal 'carry weight' is a third of your body weight," Christopher says.

The military is responding. Physical therapists are being deployed with some battalions, and chiropractic services also are available.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Today's (November 18, 2005) New York Times Editorial On Supreme Court's Ruling On IDEA

The below article is today's editorial concerning the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, known as I.D.E.A.. The Supreme Court ruled that the parents of a child with disabilities should "bear the burden of proof in determining whether a school had failed to provide an appropriate education."

Gary Ray

----
NYTIMES Editorial

Disability Law, Moving Backward
Published: November 18, 2005

The federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, known as the I.D.E.A., has greatly improved the lives of disabled schoolchildren across the United States. Before the original legislation was passed in 1975, children who were institutionalized with serious emotional problems could sometimes be found strapped to their desks and screaming at the top of their lungs. In the public schools, otherwise bright and capable children with undiagnosed learning disabilities were regularly shunted into corners and ignored.

The worst horror stories are behind us, thanks to I.D.E.A., which requires schools to give disabled children a fair and appropriate public education. There is still much to be done, and the financial burden can strain some school systems, particularly small ones. But the Supreme Court erred this week when it weakened the part of the law that allows parents to challenge the educational plan that the districts are required to make for each child.

The court ruling was the result of a controversy over whether the family or the school district should bear the burden of proof in determining whether a school had failed to provide an appropriate education. Some states argued, sensibly, that the school districts should bear the burden of proof, given their greater resources and public responsibility. But in a case involving a district in Maryland, where state law is silent on the issue, the Supreme Court ruled that the parents, as "the party seeking relief," should have that burden.

The court's ruling ignores the clear advantages that school districts almost always have over parents who challenge their decisions. The districts have the money, and many have lawyers and rosters of experts on their payrolls. But many of the families cannot afford legal representation at all.

With less pressure to justify themselves, the schools can simply stand pat - even when their educational plans have proved disastrous for the disabled children in question. This was clearly not the outcome that Congress intended when it passed this landmark law, and deliberately expanded the rights of disabled children and their parents.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Why Are People In Wheelchairs Dying In The Streets?

The below article is from Ragged Edge Magazine, a magazine about people with disabilities that speaks the truth even if you don't want to hear it.

You can find the article with all the links intact at
http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/departments/closerlook/000619.html

This article lays it all out about why cities and counties must install curb cuts. Without curb cuts people with disabilities who use a wheelchair have to ride in the street. When a person in a wheelchair rides in the street they get run over, they die.

Gary Ray



Dying In the Streets: Wheelchair Users Face Tragic Choices Nationwide

by Mary Johnson

The story of 40-year-old St. Louis resident Elizabeth Bansen, who was was struck and killed by an SUV on Nov. 2 as she drove her wheelchair in the street from a corner store near her home, is, tragically, far from an isolated incident.

On Sunday a Carmel Valley CA woman was hit and dragged by a vehicle as she traveled along the street. At the time of this writing, news reports had not identified the woman.

Two weeks ago, Thomos Lacy of Kountze, Texas died after being thrown several feet from his motorized scooter by a vehicle in what police have called a hit-and-run accident. The driver was intoxicated, say news reports.

In October, a Jacksonville, FL, man was killed while driving his wheelchair in the street -- the vehicle's driver wasn't at fault there either, said police. (Read story.)

Last January, Garden Grove CA resident Anita Plunkett was hit by a car while crossing an intersection, while across the country in The Bronx, Juan Jimenez was mowed down by a late-model black Mitsubishi sport-utility vehicle.

In February, Patricia Hofer was struck by a black pickup truck on West State St. in Rockford IL while wheeling down a dark street. There are no actual sidewalks in the area, and it was raining," police told reporters. The driver was not cited.

Last summer, 76-year-old Addison Whipple of Fullerton CA was killed when he was struck by a minivan while traveling along Almond St. in his motorized wheelchair. The driver was not charged. A year earlier, Hubert McDonald, on his way to the Veteran's Administration in Fayetteville NC, driving down the street in his wheelchair, was hit and killed -- ironically, by a driver who was also a wheelchair user.

From the February 12, 2005 Orange County (CA) Register:
Recent wheelchair-user deaths
CLAUDIA YOUNG, 60
Died: Jan. 20
Details: Young was strong-arming her wheelchair up Broadway Street in Costa Mesa at night when a motorist passing through an intersection at Westminster Avenue struck her, throwing Young about 100 feet.
The motorist, a 27-year-old Newport Beach man, told police he never saw Young. He was not cited.
CHANH NGUYEN, 84
Died: Nov. 6
Details: Nguyen was struck and killed while walking his wheelchair across the middle of a street in Westminster in the predawn hours. Police are still looking for the driver, who they say should have seen Nguyen crossing Hazard Avenue west of Stratir Place.
MIKE GILMORE, 25
Died: Oct. 20
Details: Gilmore, a student at Cal State Fullerton, was hit while piloting his motorized wheelchair under rainy skies through a marked crosswalk on Nutwood Avenue at Titan Drive in Fullerton. The driver, a 22-year-old Placentia woman, was not cited.

Wheelchair users nationwide risk their lives daily by being forced into the street because their communities, despite the Americans with Disabilities Act, have not bothered to install curb cuts or maintain sidewalks.

In St. Louis, Bansen was unable to travel on the sidewalk near her home, so she took to the street.

"Much of the sidewalk along Bansen's three-block route is either broken or choked with weeds," wrote Jeremy Kohler of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Curb ramps are absent in key places, blocking access to the few passable stretches." (Read Path of resistance from the Nov. 10, 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

But that story didn't come for a full week after Bansen's death. Early reports said police did not know why she had been driving in the street on St. Louis's "busy Delmar Boulevard."

Wheelchair user Kerri Morgan was frustrated by early reports of Bansen's death. "It was driving me crazy. In the reports in the radio, TV and newspaper about this woman in the middle of the street, why would she be in the middle of the street?" Morgan told KDSK-TV News that she figured it was the bad sidewalk. But that issue didn't surface until later.

Finally, angry disability rights activists began to speak out about the death.

"If this was something that the public cared about, Lisi Bansen wouldn't have had to wheel in the street," Colleen Starkloff, of the St. Louis-based Starkloff Disability Institute told reporters. "Our policymakers need to be aware of this and they need to get on it right away so we don't have people dying as they try to go about their day-to-day business."

No one had filed a complaint about the lack of curb cuts along Bensen's street, said police. Starkloff called that response 'a poor excuse."

The driver, Arnold Booker, told police he did not see Bansen.

Bansen's death is just the latest in a continuing litany.

No national statistics are compiled on the numbers of wheelchair riders' deaths caused by inaccessible sidewalks. No national group monitors these incidents. And far too many communities ignore legal requirements to install and maintain sidewalks, virtually ensuring that sooner or later some wheelchair rider, forced into the street, will meet with an accident or death.

In March, 2001, Fresno, CA wheelchair user Elias Gutierrez was killed when he was struck by a car as he was traveling in his power wheelchair next to the curb on Palm Avenue near Cornell. There were no curb cuts available to allow him to get onto the sidewalk. For more than a year, the 60-year-old activist had been complaining about the lack of sidewalks with curb ramps in the areas where he had to travel, saying he was being forced into the streets to travel to shopping and to visit friends. "It's our worst nightmare," Fresno disability activist Ed Eames said. Gutierrez had "become the victim of this city's wanton lack of concern with the issue of making sidewalks a safe haven for people in wheelchairs," said Eames.

The evening of Gutierrez's death, Fresno television stations broadcast the image of an overturned wheelchair on the sidewalk of Palm, and a single shoe in the street.

In communities where there are activist disability groups drawing attention to the issue, as in St. Louis and Fresno, some attention is paid to the issue. Perhaps, even, curb cuts become a priority. But in most U.S. communities, the deaths pass with little outcry.

And in what can only be called a bigoted double-whammy, wheelchair users often risk arrest for traveling the streets in their wheelchairs. Local communities' responses to the "problem" of wheelchairs in the street is not to provide curb ramps and safe sidewalks but to cite and ticket them for operating an unlicensed vehicle in the roadway.

in October, 2003, 14-year-old Bryce Wiley ran afoul of the law in Laurens IA when he drove his wheelchair in the street -- local law prohibited "personal transportation vehicles" -- and planned to fine him $15 until publicity got them to drop the charges. (The town, ironically, got its 15 minutes of fame in the movie "The Straight Story," about Laurens resident Alvin Straight, who drove his riding mower across Iowa to visit his dying brother.) Bryce Wiley was in the street, it turned out, because the town had not bothered yet to install curb ramps to its sidewalks.

In Alabama that same month, Betty Ingram ran up against police in Muscle Shoals as she wheeled down the highway; the next month, Denise Gilmore told of similar harassment in California.

Yet a Meadville PA man who sued his city over the lack of curb cuts was reportedly harrassed by fellow citizens, who evidently did not approve of his taking the city to court.

Perhaps the most famous case of someone harrassed for riding a wheelchair in the street because of missing curb cuts and bad sidewalks was Kelly Dillery of Sandusky, Ohio, who was repeatedly cited -- and arrested -- in the late 1990s for driving her wheelchair in the street. Disability rights advocates rallied to her cause. A lawsuit was filed against Sandusky, charging that the city violated Title 2 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The city appealed, asserting that Title 2 was "not enforceable as a private cause of action." The Sixth Circuit finally overruled the city's appeal, telling Sandusky that "Title II does not merely prohibit intentional discrimination. It also imposes on public entities the requirement that they provide ... meaningful access to public services. (The case was Ability Center of Greater Toledo, et al., v. City of Sandusky). More on the case from The Ability Center.

Disability groups continue to sue communities over a lack of curb cuts -- a suit was filed against Vacaville, CA in the spring of 2004; the previous year, the U.S. Supreme Court had refused to hear an appeal from Sacramento over a lower court decision that required it to make its sidewalks accessible.

And just a few weeks ago, the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans took Detroit to court over the same problem -- missing or poorly constructed curb cuts. (Read more.)

The problem is that these suits are spotty and infrequent. There's no nationally coordinated effort to require cities to install curb cuts and maintain sidewalks. And in many cases, even when a lawsuit is won, it's a long time before a city gets around to putting in the curb cuts, or doing them correctly. Money is always the excuse.

Meanwhile, people continue to die. And most commuities, like St. Louis, have no idea why disabled people drive their wheelchairs in the street, or realize that disabled people are dying nationwide while city councils wring their hands over the requirement for curb cuts.

See also: (Wheelchair "scooter" users nationwide have pressed their communities for sidewalks and safer highways)


Mary Johnson edits Ragged Edge.

Finally A New Post, Web Site About People With Disabilities In Movies

Sorry abut not posting to the Blog. I have had difficulties with my disability, my arthritis has been flaring up. And my beat up old brain decided it was not going to cope this time. That is a topic I will cover in some future post, the horrible depression that can and does happen to anyone that has a disability.

Anyway, to get back into things I thought I would post something a little light. So for your reading enjoyment I present a really interesting web page out of England that concerns movies and the depiction of people with disabilities in those movies.

Check out http://www.disabilityfilms.co.uk/index.html for a very comprehensive listing and discussion of most of the movies that have people with disabilities in them.


Gary Ray

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Call For Help For People With Disabilities in Pakistan Earthquake

The following request for aid for people with disabilities came from Pakistan. I note the call for help for the thousands of people who are now newly disabled; and the call for rebuilding the buildings that were destroyed so that people with disabilities have full access. I would ask for the same with our re-building of New Orleans. Re-build it so it is accessible.

Gary Ray


Forwarded by Yoshiko Dart: A Request for Help from Pakistan


Note: The following e-mail was written by Muhammad Shafiq ul Rehman, director of the Milestone Society for the Special Persons, the independent living center located in Lahore, Pakistan. It was sent to Masako Okuhira, Manager of the Japanese Society for the Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities. The JSRPD has a history of supporting the independent living movement in Pakistan, and since the earthquake it has been coordinating assistance from the outside world to the areas devastated by the disaster of October 8. The message was originally written in English by Shafiq himself. It has been slightly and most respectfully edited by Fred Pelka for easier comprehension, but the tone, content, and urgency of the original message remain unaltered.

Dear Masako san

How are you? Today we received the tents and clothes sent by our Japanese friends. Be assured we will send them to where they are needed most.

I was sleeping at the moment that our dreams were shattered, that terrible night of October 8. As my eyes opened I saw that the entire house was swinging. Everything was shifting, moving back and forth from its center. The ceiling fan started working without electricity, swinging around and around, and the voice of the earthquake was like the sound of a helicopter flying directly overhead.

It was a literal doomsday, and it felt like the end of everything. I crossed the threshold of my room and heard everybody crying in a most sorrowful manner. I started calling my friends at the Milestone Society for the Special Persons and learned that Asims roof was completely demolished, and that Akmals mobile was not connecting. But thanks be to God, I learned that Ashar, Hamid (Atif), and our other friends were safe.

The news on our TV was that the earthquake had a high intensity, but it was still too early for accurate news of the extent of the destruction. Still, what we did hear was troubling to us all. Thousands of people had died, and the destruction in Islamabad was visible to the entire world. I immediately called an emergency meeting of the Milestone Society, and at that meeting I learned that every member of the Society was ready to sacrifice even his or her life to do what we could for the earthquake victims.

We were penniless, but where there is a will there is a way. We went door to door in our community, and asked for blankets and eatables from the people we met. By that first evening we had a truck full of blankets, warm clothes and food. One of our sister organizations contacted us from Sesar Village situated near District Bagh in Azad Kashmir. As Milestone is known as a revolutionary organization that is always ahead in welfare works, we placed our wheelchairs on the truck and sat on the luggage, and started our journey that night towards Kashmir.

As we reached Neela Butt we could see that total destruction was the order of the day. We saw a dog in a demolished house tearing a childs corpse. At one side of the road was a destroyed village, and on the other side the rain poured down in a thunder storm. We were thinking that we might never get back home from such a dangerous situation, but we hoped that God had written more life for us, and so we started our mission in the rain. We distributed food and blankets among the neediest people, but we at that time had no tents to offer. The people we met were dejected by the disaster, but they were astonished to find people with disabilities among them, coming to them with assistance. They saw us sitting in our wheelchairs, wanting to help those disabled people buried among the broken houses. People came out running to greet us, but many of our disabled brothers and sisters were buried alive. No one could help them out and neither could they help themselves. Perhaps they did not want to come out, sensing the tragedy all around, and knowing how difficult it is to be a person with a disability in a world with so little access and so few resources. An old woman we met that night said that her disabled son was buried under his demolished house, and he had no such cart (wheelchair) like us.

And now, because of the earthquake, thousands of people have become newly disabled. Some have lost their hands and some their legs, and many have been spinal cord injured. We must not abandon these people. We must do what we can to help them live and thrive with their disability. We must spread the message that to be disabled is not something unnatural, and that people with disabilities are not alien in society but have rights and dreams like everyone else. Feeling overwhelmed by our emotions, and from hearing and witnessing so many heart breaking stories, we drove back to Lahore. Not a word was spoken, everyone was silent. Everyone was thinking how we needed to come back again to help our needy brothers and sisters.

And so the very next day we made plans to go again. Now our target areas were Pattan Kalan and Pattan Khurd. We had heard that as yet no one had reached there. On this trip we brought 500 blankets, medicine for 3500 people, 800 milk packs and numberless sacks of dry food. First we reached Abbottabad, where we shifted these things to trucks. Then we started our journey towards Pattan Kalan, reaching Pattan Khurd from Thundyani.

We then reached the city of Muzaffarabad, where destruction was quite visible, and the smell of dead bodies was in air. There were destroyed homes everywhere. There were children, old people and young ones standing on road sides, waiting for help. But with limited supplies, how is it possible to decide who most needs our help? And so we decided to distribute our supplies among the children and women first, thinking that the young men are perhaps more able to help themselves. A woman we met declined to accept our help, telling us she would eat only if her child was fed first. But we could see that the child she was carrying in her arms was already dead.

The homes here have been turned into graves. The survivors are homeless and dejected. It breaks our hearts to see these homeless people, but we have determined that we will fetch some life for them. Silently, covered in prayers folded in dreams.
And so we are now making a very solid action plan for the counseling of newly disabled persons.

Our first priority is to have an empowering program for the newly disabled persons.

Our second priority is to use our skills to educate the government to make barrier free constructions in the rebuilding process.

I will continue reporting on the behalf of my great team.

Shafiq

Note: to send assistance to the Milestone Society, please mail or wire
contributions to:
Name: Muhammad Shafiq Ur Rehman
Bank Name: Standard Chartered
Branch Name: Mall Road, Lahore
Account Number: 18-4501713-01
Shafiqs address is as follows:
451-D3 Wapda Town
Lahore, Pakistan
Mobile Phone Number is +92-300-948-0665
Go to website:
http://www.jicafriends.net/archives/2005/10/the_situation_o_1.html
for his first report and more information.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Jobs Creation Programs For Disabled
Help Only Fraction: USA Today

Hello All,
Below is an article that was in USA Today. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is much much higher that the general population. And the ADA has done very little to change this statistic. We have increased access to buildings but not to jobs. There are jobs that people with disabilities can do but never get the chance.

I have seen discrimination personally, more than once. That is one of the reasons that I have my own business, no one would hire a middle-aged man with a disability who has Masters in Engineering with 25 years of experience.

And we see that people with disabilities are fighting among themselves over these scarce jobs.

- Gary Ray

By Kathy Kiely, USA TODAY, October 20, 2005

(Washington) -- Two programs established nearly 70 years ago to create jobs for the disabled have made millions of dollars for a handful of companies but helped only a fraction of those who were supposed to benefit, a Senate investigation has concluded.

Investigators for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee reported that under one of the programs, companies run by those who are legally blind control $1.2 billion in cafeteria contracts at military facilities. But companies run by blind people don't always hire the blind.

As of 2002, the most recent year for which figures are available, the 2,681 licensed vendors in the program employed 337 legally blind workers, 278 with other disabilities and 6,507 persons with no disabilities, investigators reported. The findings were provided to USA TODAY by committee staff.

Programs Began In 1936

Enacted in 1936, the Randolph-Sheppard Act gives legally blind persons priority on government contracts to operate food services on federal property. Someone who is legally blind has vision no better than 20/200.

The Wagner-O'Day Act of 1938 required the federal government to purchase brooms, mops and other products from organizations that employ blind laborers. It was amended in 1971 by Sen. Jacob Javits, R-N.Y., to include other disabled workers.

Committee investigators discovered that the two programs provide jobs to roughly 48,000 disabled persons. There are 15 million persons with disabilities nationwide who are unemployed.

Major Military Money

Companies run by people declared legally blind control military cafeteria contracts worth $1.2 billion. The largest contracts (in millions):

Base
Contract

Fort Benning, Ga.
$305.9
Fort Jackson, S.C.
$112.5
Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
$88.0
Lackland Air Force, Tex.
$86.1
Fort Knox, Ky.
$72.0
Source: Department of Defense

Executives Paid Too Much

The committee investigators also reported that some companies with contracts pay executives "excessive" compensation. "It is unconscionable that private companies and employers exploit federal laws to make millions off people with disabilities," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Melanie Brunson, executive director of the American Council of the Blind, said "nobody can be expected to hire only blind people." She defended the program created by the Randolph-Sheppard law as one "that provides blind persons with an opportunity to run a business."

Situation Pits Disabled Against Each Other

The two programs have created bitter legal fights between groups representing the blind and those representing people with other disabilities. Brunson acknowledged that lawsuits have been filed when lucrative military cafeteria contracts that had been held by companies controlled by people with any disability were transferred to ones run by those who are blind.

"We've tried to negotiate a compromise," she said, adding that the law gives priority to blind vendors.

The Senate committee is considering the possibility of combining the two programs. "We can and must improve on these laws by creating more and better opportunities for more persons with disabilities," said committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

Enzi plans to air the findings at a hearing today.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Just a Regular Shopping Day

Today I finally decided to join Costco and do a little shopping to get acquainted with the new store and see what they have that Santa Maria Costco does not. This is not a story about the politics of shopping at Costco or what a big box store can do to the local economy. That is a different post, lets just say I think Costco employees are paid better than the industry standard and I like their meat department and especially the bakery. Neither of which we should be eating, that would be my wife Angie and me.

I have a strange reactive arthritis, it's in my ankles, back, and a little in my hands. I can walk ok for a short distance and I can stand for maybe 10 to 15 minutes at a time before I need to sit down. But I can't walk inside a regular supermarket like Vons, it is just too far, and I sure as hell can't hike through Costco, so I use my wheelchair. I have been a wheelchair user for at least 7 years.

The parking lot at Costco was full, and I mean all the blue striped accessible parking spaces were taken up. Looks like Costco is frequented by people with mobility impairments so severe that they need to have an accessible parking placard or license plate. All of the cars that I could see that were parked in the accessible spots had the proper placard or plate. (That is one of my hang-ups, I don't like people that don't need the accessible parking places to use them. But this time everyone had the accessible placard or plate.)

Aside - a couple of years ago I did some research about the number of "disabled access" blue placards or licence plates that allow a person with a mobility impairment to park in marked stalls. Using the California DMV records at the time I found that one out of seventeen vehicles (1:17) in California has an accessible placard or tag. Now the law stipulates that one out of every twenty-five (1:25) parking places have to be a blue painted accessible parking space. And one out of every eight accessible (1:8) parking spaces and at least one accessible space must be a larger van accessible parking space

So if the state has 1 out of 17 vehicles that have access to the blue parking spaces and the law says that you are only required to have 1 out of 25 accessible blue parking spaces you can see that many times in busy facilities all the accessible spaces are filled. And I would suppose that this is equal access in a way because these are usually places where everyone has a hard time finding a place to park. But in a parking lot situation where there is plenty of parking available, I recommend to business owners that if they consistently see that all the required blue spaces are full most of the time, that they first count and make sure that they have the required number of blue accessible parking spaces and, if they do, then think of increasing the number of accessible spaces. As a person with a mobility impairment I can say that if I can't park close to the door, I can't get into your business. Now, for me it is not really that bad, because I can haul out my wheelchair and roll to the entrance. But most people with mobility impairments don't use a wheelchair and they just can't walk far. Many businesses realize this and have free wheelchairs and power scooters for use by their patrons that need assistance. And Costco has both.

But I did have to park a long way out in the parking lot. Let me tell you it is dangerous for a person in a wheelchair to roll around behind parked cars in a parking lot. It is hard for drivers backing out to see persons in a wheelchair and people in wheelchairs can't get out of the way very fast. In fact, the law states that accessible parking spaces cannot be installed where a person has to roll behind any other car than their own. And accessible parking spaces should be placed as close as possible to the accessible entrance. But the point in this story is that I almost got run over by a person who was driving and totally not paying attention. But, I am in a wheelchair and hard to see.

The entrance to Costco had the largest accessible entrance sign I have ever seen. It must be at least 2-feet across and proclaims for all to see that Costco considers the store accessible. The lady at the entrance was very polite and asked if I needed any help, when I told her I wanted to join, she pointed me to the membership sign up area where there was a line of people waiting to spend their money on large amounts of goods. As we stood in line I noticed that there was a stack of clipboards with a form to fill out for prospective members. The sign up counter did have one short lowered section of the counter that appeared to be the required 34-inches above the finished floor, but there were no forms or clipboards available to a person in a wheelchair at the required height of 34 inches. When I reached the head of the line I wondered if they would notice that I was a person in a wheelchair and let me use the lowered section of the counter. But, I am in a wheelchair and hard to see. I did not say anything and just used the higher counter and I was able to fill out the forms and pay my $45 a year for our membership.

Having a counter too high or not accessible to me when I am using my wheelchair happens to me every day. That happens to me all the time to me at the credit union. They have a lowered section of a counter for people with disabilities to sit at and do business and do not have it open.

Back to my Costco story, I did get my membership card and they even had the camera for the photo set up so a person in a wheelchair could use it easily. When I got my membership I rolled back to go to the restroom and on the way out a person cut in front of me with a cart full of items, enough that I had to stop and let them pass. But, I am in a wheelchair and hard to see.

As I rolled out to get a cart so I could finally go shopping the lady at the exit asked if I needed any help and I said, no thanks. I got a cart and a different lady at the entrance asked me if I needed any help, I said no thanks. As I rolled around inside of Costco many people were polite when there was not enough room for me in my wheelchair pushing my cart and for them pushing their cart to pass or make a corner. But too many were not.

I was back at the meat aisle, browsing to see what all kinds of cuts and prices of meat they had. Costco does have good meat. One gentleman about my age was also looking at all the different cuts of meat and was standing at one section for a long time kinda staring at the meat, I do that too. I was inching up trying to get to the pork roasts and I pushed my car ahead of me and to the outside of the gentleman who was staring at the roasts. He looked up and said "You are trapping me!" I apologized for being in his way and backed up immediately, he was cussing, not really under his breath, he was really pissed that I had gotten in his way. He glared at me a couple more times.

As I was rolling around I noticed the ubiquitous carts of free food being handed out to the hungry hordes in Costco. Now this is something else that I have noticed, people that are serving the free food in a store will often ignore a person in a wheelchair. Many is the time that I have rolled by a person handing out free samples of some sweet or savory nugget and looked longingly at the food and been ignored. For some reason I like to be asked, "would you like some?" especially if I see the person doing that for every other person that goes by. That same thing happened at every free food sample place I rolled by in Costco. I noticed that they were asking people "Would you like to try a cookie?" or "Would you like to try a little bit of this latest greasy fat filled junk that we are trying to sell?" And, at every single free food sample joint every single person handing out the free samples ignored me. Most would quickly look away as I rolled up. But, I am in a wheelchair and hard to see.

As I was approaching the checkout lanes, I was cut off by at least one other cart that cut in front of me. Now this really kind of chapped me today cause I only had two things in my cart, a nice big bottle of Jack and a package of steaks. But I let the lady go ahead of me. I am in a wheelchair and hard to see.

After I paid for the items the checkout lady was confused as to where I was going to put the sack of booze and meat. I just said, "Put it in the cart I can push it just fine." As I left Costco I was in line to have my receipt checked against what was in my cart and was cut off, yet a fourth time, by someone that just had to get out of the store ahead of that cripple guy in the wheelchair. Sorry, I should not put words in her mouth. And I only get to say crippled because I am.

As I left the building I was asked again if I needed any help getting to my car. I said no thanks.

As I was telling all this to my wife at lunch I realized that this was quite a little morality tale. What the hell is it with people and their attitudes toward people with disabilities that may use a wheelchair? But that is a question I ask every day, every time I go out of the house. But, I am in a wheelchair and hard to see.

Gary Ray

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Slightly Off Topic - How To Build Your Own Segway (Self Balancing Two Wheeled Scooter)

Being a Mechanical Engineer and a bit of a nerd, or more than a bit if you ask my lovely wife Angie, I am fascinated by the Segway, the two wheeled self balancing 'scooter'. There is also a wheelchair that is made by the same folks that made the Segway that also can balance on two wheels and climb stairs but that is a different story.

I found a gentleman named Trevor Blackwell that is a modern day Edison and a renaissance man that has built his own version of a Segway. He has a great web page that describes this device and how he built it and how it works.

If you are interested in technology and want to learn more about this I highly recommend that you go to the web site

http://www.tlb.org/scooter.html

Laters Gary Ray