Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wheelchair Near Death Experience #1 - Slippery Surfaces

That's right, you are reading the title correctly. "Near Death Experience Number 1." I can honestly say I've had a few of these types of moments in my life. And I'm not just saying that to add dramatic effect to otherwise mundane situations. You can ask my friends and family members that were there to corroborate my statements, but I could've died had the end results been a tad different. Now I know some people say they see death and laugh in its face. Not me. At the time each "event" happened, I was scared out of my mind. I'm not afraid to admit that shit. I was. But looking back, each instance had tons of hilarity to me, and I laugh every time I recount them, and most people laugh when I tell the stories. So here's one, not necessarily the first sequentially, of my near rendezvous with death.

I think the year was 2005 or 2006. I was in college at Seattle University at the time, and as a part of a class I was taking, we were going on a field trip to the super abstract looking, Central Library downtown. Now if you're not familiar with the locations around Seattle, Central Library is located in the heart of downtown, and Seattle U is located about 10 blocks away on Broadway. So since it wasn't that far away, we were going to walk as a class to the library. It's a straight shot walking to the library from the school, so it was easy enough of a stroll.

For the most part the walk was smooth. We walked straight down Madison St. This is Seattle so the day was a little dreary, but it wasn't a downpour or anything, and as a result there were no issues for our on-foot travels. Things changed however, when we got about a block away at 6th Ave. and Madison St. Now at this corner is the Renaissance Hotel. I've never stayed at the place, but my high school post-prom festivities took place there, so I'm a little familiar with it. :) Anyways, on that corner, the sidewalk area is actually made of tile as opposed to the standard cement everywhere else. Now being that even though the day was kind of wet, this wouldn't normally be an issue for me since my chair has decent traction and I'm a pretty good driver. However, and you may not know, Seattle is actually quite a hilly city. We're no San Fran, sorry 40 Whiner fans by the way, but we have quite a few hills. With that being said, this particular corner is directly up hill from the library. Add to that the slippery nature of the tiles on the sidewalk and the fact that they were wet due to the day's weather, and I unknowingly was about to go for ride. Fun times! (Not really)

So as I approached the corner, everything was fine. It starts off level, and then slopes downhill, so I made sure to be cautious. But as soon as the descent began, caution went right out the damn window. As soon as my chair was pointed downhill, I felt the negative consequences of the combination of the rain, tiles, and the hill. I wasn't even going fast, but my wheels had zero traction, and as I pulled back to reverse my wheels, the lack of traction made me go even faster. I started picking up speed but I knew I had to do something. So these were my choices:
  1. I could keep going downhill until the path evened out at the bottom, but I knew by that time I'd be going damn near 25 miles an hour and I'd probably shoot straight into the street and probably die anyways. So that was a no go.
  2. I could steer to the left which would result in me crashing into the side of the Renaissance Hotel. But crashing into the building while headed downhill on a slippery surface would probably end up in me flipping my chair over ultimately. There were also stairs on that side so that was dangerous too. And as fast as I was going, death surely would've been a possibility. I'll pass on that route.
  3. Veering to the right would actually end up with me going off of the curb, into traffic, and probably getting hit by a car. And getting hit would happen after my chair falls over from jumping the curb at the speed I was traveling. That choice sucked too.
While this might seem like I had all day to ponder about what was my best course of action, remember this was a split second decision. So which choice did I decide to take you might add? Neither. Since they all resulted in my death in my opinion at the time, I chose an alternative. There was a tree about 15-20 feet away on the sidewalk. While I knew I was going to be flying by the time I reached it, I figured that it was the least lethal of my options. So I literally steered my chair as good as I could towards the tree, given the present circumstances, and I closed my eyes. You can call me whatever you want. That shit was frightening. I was sure I wasn't going to die or anything, but I knew I was going to break or fracture something. Damn it was going to hurt.

Bang! That's all I heard and I felt myself hit the tree footrest first. When I opened my eyes I noticed I was actually unscathed. I was leaning up against the tree and the first thing I was thinking was "seat belts do work!" When I looked down, I saw that one of my footrests had snapped clean off. It was dangling by a thread, but had zero function. As soon as the whole thing happened, my classmates, who were behind me at the time, all rushed to my aid. I always wonder what they were thinking when they witnessed what had just happened. "The guy in the wheelchair just crashed into a damn tree!" I almost wished someone would've recorded it. It was far from funny at the time, but I imagine it would've been funny as hell to see from the outside looking in. Anyways, one of my classmates helped me sit back, and another propped up my broken footrest. They asked me was I OK and I let them know that I was. I went the rest of the field trip and day with my feet crossed since I only had one functioning footrest. The show had to go on.

Crazy right? As I stated at the beginning of this post, this is only one of a few death defying experiences that I've had. I'm not glad that I broke a footrest in the process and had to pay to get it fixed, but who can say they've had a ride like that? Can you? Cripple Please! But I've got more stories where this came from.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Accessible? Hell no!

So I have to ask. Who in the hell defines what is and isn't accessible? If you know, please by all means tweet me, email me, or something because this shit is getting ridiculous. Last time I checked, elevators are the sole means of going up or down stairs for someone like myself. So why do so many have so many damn obstacles preventing myself from accessing them? Let's are some of my favorites:
  1. An ashtray or garbage can right in front of the buttons, stopping me from being able to get close enough to the buttons.
  2. Buttons inside and out that are literally 5 feet up. The average wheelchair user height is probably closer to 4 feet tall, so I'm sure you can see the issue there.
  3. Buttons that I swear require like 5-10 pounds of pressure. Why do I have to press so damn hard?!?
But it doesn't stop with just elevators. Doors. Yeah that's right. Boring ass doors. But what looks like something mundane to you, can be the most annoying thing. First of all I think everyone, and I mean everyone, should try to navigate doors and such while sitting in a wheelchair. Holding a handle/knob while trying to open a door and keep your chair clear at the same time sucks! And what's even worse, is when you go somewhere where the door actually has one of those automatic opening buttons, and the damn button doesn't even work! Seriously?!? Yeah that makes sense.

I hope anyone reading this, if you have/own your own business, don't you want customers to patronize your business? Last time I checked, people, not just certain people, are all potential customers. So therefore everyone should be able patronize it. Therefore, it would be of benefit to make sure your place of business is accessible to all people.

Lastly, the so-called standards of accessibility need to be updated pronto. I recently communicated with a Seattle based architect, and they informed me that they believe that not a single building in this city is 100% accessible. Not one! There are parts, but none totally accessible. One of the technology capitals of the world, and not a single building could be totally maneuvered by muah? I'm a patient person but c'mon.

Well that's enough venting for now. I could go on and on, but I gotta have something to keep you entertained next time. Stay tuned, because like I've said before, you can try to find something this real somewhere else. But cripple please! It's not happening.


Monday, January 20, 2014

MLK said to embrace differences...and I LOVE being different!

Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream was all about people being one united group, judging one another by their character and not their skin color, and embracing and accepting everyone's differences. So with that, let me say that I love being disabled. Or should I say differently-abled? Or maybe physically challenged? Wait, how about special? To be honest, It doesn't really matter to me. There are so many different ways you could say what I am, but I really don't see my "difference" as anything taboo, unique, or significant. I can't walk, need help with some things, and I'm in a wheelchair. And some people are short, some are tall, some are skinny, some are fat. That's life. So we all have differences. Not only that, but if I had to start over, I'd be the exact same as I am now. In my opinion, living with the concept that I wish I could walk or not have the obstacles I have or have always had, is like wishing I wasn't the person that I am. Not only that, but the definition of disability is "a physical or mental condition that limits a person's movements, senses, or activities." You show me one person that doesn't have a limit to their movements, senses, or activities. Bradley Cooper and Superman are the only ones that are "limitless," so yeah, we're all technically disabled in one way or another.

Now don't get me wrong. I always have and always will be involved in spreading the awareness of Muscular Dystrophy (MD) and the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). People need to understand what the disease is all about, and realize that it takes the lives of many people every year. Also, I will continue to help with the funding of research to ultimately cure MD and it's accompanied diseases. This life comes with challenges that I would want future generations to not necessarily have to learn to adapt to or overcome.

But with that being said, having Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a type of MD, has made me who I am, and I'm for the better because of it. It's because of it and the "challenges" I face that I don't sweat the small shit. I'm not religious, but I know every second is a blessing because I've seen way too many awesome people lose their lives at the hand of MD, and therefore I live everyday like it's my last. It's also the reason behind my resiliency, being able to problem solve because of some of my limitations, and, according to medical research, I probably have a higher IQ because of it. Not walking also comes with advantages like reduced prices, great seating at events, shoes that stay perfect forever, and some other things I'll brag about later. :)

So like I've already said, I love me. I don't want anyones pity. I'll take the credit people give me for simply doing regular shit that they somehow view as courageous because of my "situation," but I could care less. This is the life I was given, and I embrace every single piece of it, good or bad. Should I not? Cripple please! I'll tell you like I tell everyone else...Walking is overrated!

Friday, January 10, 2014

The First of Many!!

So hear me out. I've been sitting, no wheelchair pun intended, on this first blog post for a while. Being that I don't have any experience writing blogs, I was a little nervous about making a good first impression. I've spoken to large groups a bunch of times in my life, and I'm a talker by nature, but putting exactly what I want to say in written form trips me out. I mean, hook the reader in, show my true self, and then get them to want to continue following you? Totally new to me. But then again, if I'm just being honest and telling it how it is, or at least how it is to me, I'm sure I'll catch your eye.

So let me just tell you a little bit about myself and what this blog is about. To be blunt, I'm 27, Black, in a wheelchair, and I have something to say about EVERYTHING! I was born and raised in Seattle, WA. As I just stated, I do have an opinion about everything, and after a little thought, I came to the conclusion that I had to let the rest of the world know just that. Here, you'll get a peak at how I view the world, what life is like in shoes you can't technically walk in, and what I think about the random shit I see and hear from time to time. Will you agree with everything I say? Nope. Will you laugh about some things I say? Maybe. But the whole point of this blog is to get what's in my mind, out.

Now what that means is that I'll talk about my own first-hand experiences, my opinion on different topics and issues and things I see, and whatever comes to mind. So expect everything from my own driving a wheelchair under the influence, annoying accessibility issues that bug the hell out of me, getting pushed to the front of lines because I'm "special," to getting asked dumb questions like "how do I keep my shoes in such good condition?". I have no problem talking about myself, so be prepared for anything.

So for those that read this first post of many...Thanks. I'm just glad I got this first one out of the way. The rest is downhill from here. Which by the way, because of the rain here in Seattle, the hills have nearly killed me twice! This is just the beginning, and stay tuned for more randomness. Because do you think you can find this anywhere else? Cripple Please!

- Jonathan P.

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