By Stacy Ellingen, 2018-02-04
What would the world be like today without cell phones or mobile devices? It’s nearly impossible to fathom. We, as a society, have become dependent on these devices for nearly everything we do. We use cell phones for everything from getting travel directions to ordering dinner to be delivered. The capabilities of mobile devices are endless. Some people feel that we are “too connected,” but for most people, their cell phone is like another body part. For many people, including those with disabilities, mobile devices have become a real lifeline.
When cell phones became popular in the late 90s, I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d own one—let alone depend on one. Due to my limited fine motor and speech abilities, having a cell phone didn’t seem beneficial to me. I remember my mom was the first in our family to get one. She had to get it for work and she merely used it to make and receive phone calls. It was so big it barely fit in her purse. Funny to think that that was only about 20 years ago. How times have changed!
It wasn’t until midway through my second year of college that I got my first cell phone. My parents got it for me for Christmas and thought it would be good for me to have in case of an emergency. I could call one of them or my sister, and, even though I’m nonverbal, they knew my speech and schedule well enough to figure out what I needed. My first phone with a stick phone (back then, most phones were flip, but since it had to be my tray, I couldn’t use those). It also had to have protruded buttons because I couldn’t press ones that were sunk in. Finding a phone like that wasn’t easy. My first phone was velcroed on to the mount for my communication device. As I explained in a previous entry, unless I was going to class, because it was so bulky I normally didn’t have my device on my chair; therefore, I really didn’t use my phone very much when I first got it. Eventually, I figured out that I could call my friends and they could pretty much figure out what I needed because again they knew me so well. Actually, I remember I had a lot of night classes, and if they got out early, I’d call a friend and she knew I needed her to call the transportation service to come pick me up early. It worked pretty well.
It wasn’t until a year or so after getting my first phone that I realized that I could text. I was playing on my phone waiting for my Art History class to start and I found the text message option. I texted my sister asking when her knee surgery was. Back then, I didn’t even know there was word prediction on my phone, so I typed the message out using the number keys. We didn’t realize it at the time, but sending that message changed my life. Because of my limited fine motor ability (I do everything on the computer on an enlarged keyboard with a keyguard using the last two fingers of my left hand), nobody ever thought I’d be able to text.
While I’m sure I did to some extent, I don’t remember texting nearly as much in college as I do today. For me, it was definitely an access issue, but I also don’t remember texting being as popular it is today. After graduating, when I moved back in with my parents, my dad figured out a way to mount my phone to my wheelchair. Thankfully, he’s a pretty handy guy and used a footplate from an old wheelchair to create a phone mount that fits right by my joystick. Needless to say, having my phone on my chair has changed my life!
After my first phone, I went through two or three more button cell phones. By then, touchscreen phones had become popular, but again because of my fine motor limitations and spasticity, nobody, including myself, thought I’d be able to use a touchscreen phone. After realizing button cell phones were going to quickly become nonexistent, I began looking at my options. After playing with other people’s phones, I surprisingly realized that I could maneuver touchscreen phones pretty well. I’m now on my third touchscreen phone and I absolutely love it! Somehow, I’m blessed with double-jointed thumb which I use to do everything on my phone with. I don’t even use an enlarged keyboard!
Much like everyone else, having a smartphone has opened up a world of possibilities for me. I do everything from emailing, to checking Facebook, to surfing the web, and playing Words with Friends on it. I also text a lot. Undoubtedly, most adults my age text, but, since I’m nonverbal, I use texting in place of talking to people on the phone. I text if there’s an emergency; I text if I need help; I text if I have a question; and I text if I just want chat. Friends and family know that’s the best way to get ahold of me.
Like most people, I have lots of different apps on my phone. Everything from ESPN to The Weather Channel, I have the popular apps. In addition, though, I have some apps that are unique to my circumstances. One of the apps is an emergency app which just a simple text box that has basic information about me and tells about my disability and explains how to best communicable with me. If I would get stranded somewhere, I could open the app and have people read how to help me.
The second app that really has made a huge difference for me is Proloquo2Go. It’s the communication app that I’ve had on my iPad for a few years now. I didn’t realize I could have the app (it’s a paid app) on more than one device until late last summer. I was playing around on my phone, and I tried installing it. I was so excited when it worked! Although I still don’t use the app like I’m supposed to (I don’t do much programming unless I have a presentation or something), I still use it to spontaneously talk to people. I type out what I want to say and it speaks. It’s really cool because now I have a communication on my chair that I effectively use because it doesn’t get in my way! Who would have ever thought that a regular touchscreen cell phone would be the answer? I only wish we’d have discovered this years sooner!
Lastly, my parents got me a video doorbell for Christmas. It’s kind of scary to think about, but for years I had been opening the door to my apartment without knowing who was door. I have a power door and when the doorbell would ring, I’d press the opener on my chair to open it, but I wouldn’t know who was there. Being nonverbal and in a wheelchair makes me pretty vulnerable—it’s just a fact of life. This new doorbell works off my WiFi and when it rings, I get a video of who is there on my phone that--so I’m able to see who is at my door before I open it. It’s really cool and makes me feel much safer!
So, for someone who didn’t think she’d be able to use a cell phone to now completing relying on one to help her live independently, I’m very thankful for the evolution of cell phones. I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg with technology; I’m excited to see what’s next!
By Stacy Ellingen, 2018-01-07
“Don’t compare yourself to others“. It’s something most people are told beginning at a young age. When people compare themselves to others, it’s often either to invoke pity on himself/herself or it’s to make him/her feel superior over someone else. Though we are told not to, it’s nearly impossible not to compare ourselves to others. It’s human nature. There are several different facets that people compare to. Whether it’s economic status, sexual orientation, religious preference, physical appearance, lifestyle preference, or something else, comparing is something most of us do on a daily basis.
People with disabilities are no different. I can’t speak for others with disabilities, but I probably compare myself to others more than most. Since my disability only affects my physical abilities, as I’ve said before, my expectations of myself coincide with what my friends without disabilities are doing. As I’ve written about in past entries, growing up my parents had normal expectations of me. Sure, some of them were modified, but, basically, I was expected to do what my peers were doing. Those normal expectations continued through college, and, even finding a job. It’s because of these high expectations that I’m as successful and independent as I am today.
However, after college, I began to notice that I wasn’t keeping up with my “normal” friends. Things such as finding significant others, “moving in together,” engagements, weddings, and pregnancies were and continue to be happening to many of my friends. Like I’ve said before, I’m very happy for them; I just wish those things would happen for me. Even though I have those expectations for myself, others don’t. I’ve heard things like, “honey, we don’t expect you to get married,” and “if it happens, great, but if not, that’s okay too,” from close family members. While I understand where they’re coming from and I’m grateful to know that my family doesn’t care if those things never happen to me, it also makes me sad that those normal expectations stopped. I’ve discussed this with a friend who has very similar circumstances (and whose family feels the same way), and we agree it’s an interesting conundrum. We wonder why those normal expectations stopped for us, but, yet, in our hearts, we know and understand it’s because our families want us to know that it’s okay with them if we don’t accomplish those monumental milestones in life.
That being said, it doesn’t stop me from comparing myself to others. Like many people, I find myself comparing my life to others when things aren’t going right. When things aren’t going right because of having a disability (my wheelchair breaks down, staffing problems, health issues, etc…), I often think about what my peers have going on. Of course, during times such as those, in my mind, everyone else unrealistically has a seemingly perfect life. An example of this happened in December. I was having problems filling my care shifts for January. One night I was really frustrated and told my mom, “Everyone else is worrying about what to get their kids for Christmas while I’m sitting here wondering who’s going to get me out of bed in January.” Obviously, I was venting out of frustration which does no good, but it goes to show how I sometimes compare my life to others.
Oftentimes, comparing ourselves to others is irrational; however, there are times when it can boost one’s self-esteem. While it’s not a very kind thing to do if one is boastful about it, comparing yourself to others who have similar situations can boost one’s confidence when realizing how well you’re doing compared to someone else. Of course, it could work the opposite way too. If you witness someone with similar circumstances doing better than you, it likely will cause some mixed feelings. In that case, you may have some bad feelings about yourself, but it also will hopefully make you want to improve. I sometimes see this in the disability community, and it’s not necessarily a negative thing. At least for me, when I see someone with similar circumstances succeeding at something, it makes me want to at least try it. Seeing people who have similar abilities accomplish amazing things ignites a spark in me. I can only hope I do the same for others.
Whether we realize it or not, comparing ourselves to one another is a part of life. Oftentimes, comparing ourselves does no good, but sometimes it can ignite a spark in us and make us realize what is possible!
By Stacy Ellingen, 2017-12-03
Everyone dreams. When people dream, amazing things happen. People do the unthinkable in their dreams. A dream can be funny, scary, inspirational, enlightening, and motivational. Dreams can be a source of hope, but they can also be a reality shock when you wake up and realize it was truly just a dream.
Once in awhile, I get asked if when I dream, I’m in a wheelchair or not. Fortunately, for me, in the dreams I’ve always had a disability. I don’t remember many of my dreams, but from the ones I do, I never recall being “normal.” I’m thankful for that because I think it’d be hard to wake up from a dream where I didn’t have a disability, and realize it was truly just a dream.
For whatever reason, it seems like I have memorable dreams during stressful times like the holiday season. This happened three or four years ago, but I still remember the dream as clear as day. I dreamt that I walked down the hallway of my elementary school. It wasn’t a normal walk; I had leg braces on and I was teetering, but I walked independently down the hallway. I remember for some reason my confirmation leader was there, but I unfortunately don’t remember anything else. I have absolutely no idea what brought that dream on, but I find it very interesting that it was so vivid. I wish I hadn’t woken up so quickly, so I could have “seen” what else happened.
I’ve also had dreams where I’ve been in a relationship with a significant other. I think these dreams are brought on by upcoming gatherings with family and friends. As much as I try to be ok with being single, when I’m around family and friends who have seemingly perfect relationships, it’s human nature to desire that as well. When I dream that I’m in a relationship, I still have Cerebral Palsy, but the significant other usually doesn’t have a disability. While dreams like these are fun to occasionally have, as one would guess, they aren’t the greatest to wake up from. It can be a pretty big reality check when you realize it was just a dream.
I’ve had friends and family members tell me that they’ve had dreams where I’ve all of a sudden gotten up and walked or said something perfectly. Years ago before she passed away, my grandma told me about a dream she had. Her sister who passed away and I were in it. Out of the clear blue, I said three words as clear as possible. The words were “I love you.” My grandma couldn’t believe it. She was so excited to tell my grandpa in the morning. I find it fascinating that my friends and caretakers have had dreams where I’ve stood up and walked or randomly verbally said something perfectly. Dreams like those must be awesome to have, but I don’t know how I’d react if I a dream like that. I think it’d a be reality shock.
It’s always fun to dream. I never knew what it’s like not have a disability, so I don’t usually see my disability until I’m faced with challenges related to it. In my dreams, it seems natural to me that I have Cerebral Palsy because I’ve always have had it. As much as I’d love not having a disability, I do and it has become part of life that I’ve learn to accept.
We all dream every night. Dreams energize our imagination. They give us a glimpse of what in some cases is the possible. It’s nice to dream, but we have to remember it’s truly just a dream!
By Stacy Ellingen, 2017-11-14
Most children are taught not to discriminate or segregate at a very young age. Regardless of age, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability, as a society, we are made to believe that everyone is equal and nobody is the better than anyone else. In theory, all types of people should be mixed together all the time. While thanks to laws passed in the 1950s, this notion should be technically true, but it isn’t realistic. Segregation still happens in today’s world. People may not realize it, but we all have bias. When most people hear the word “segregation,” they automatically assume it’s a negative thing. However, at times, that’s not the case. It’s human nature for people to associate with others like them.
As I’ve shared in past entries, I was brought up believing I should do everything like everybody else despite having a disability. Obviously, there were things I wasn’t able to do, but that was life. Attending therapies isn’t a normal activity for most families, but it was for mine. My parents did whatever they could so I could participate in normal childhood activities. My dad adapted hundreds of things so I could use them. My mom was a Girl Scouts leader so I could participate in activities. My parents never put me in respite; instead, I had regular baby-sitters. I never went to special needs camps; I went on vacations across the US (and beyond) with my family.
The only time that I was classes with other kids with significant disabilities was when I was in Early Childhood classes when I was really young. From Kindergarten on, I was in all regular education classes. Some years, I had with a modified gym class where there were other students with all types of disabilities and health conditions, but that was it. Since my disability is so apparent, I made a very conscious effort to try not to associate with students who had intellectual disabilities—especially in high school. That sounds really bad of me, but it was so important to me to do all that I could to prove my cognitive abilities to my classmates.
When I got to UW-Whitewater, obviously that all changed because Whitewater is known for serving students with disabilities. There was no need for anyone to prove their cognitive abilities since we were in college. It’s true; people with similar circumstances tend to befriend one another. I made friends with people who had various disabilities, but I also had friends who didn’t have disabilities. It was when I first really realized that there were other people who had similar abilities. It was also the first time I got involved in disability advocacy. Whitewater had a student organization for disability advocacy. It was the first time I was a part of something that focused on disabilities. Again, students with and without disabilities belonged, and there wasn’t a need to prove anything to anyone. It was a cool experience.
It wasn’t until after college that I realized just how seemingly segregated adults with disabilities are. Everything from finding appropriate cares, to finding an apartment, to finally landing a job, it took lots of time and effort. There are lots of services available for people with disabilities, but the reality is that most of them are geared towards people with intellectual disabilities. Yes, most services are customized to the individual, but generally speaking I’ve found that many of the services were developed for those who have intellectual delays. Those of us with physical disabilities like myself often have to pave our own path and piece together services to meet our situations. While personally I’m happy I can do this, sometimes it does get frustrating that it seems “people with disabilities“ get thrown into a general category. In no way am I belittling people who have intellectual disabilities, but, for me, especially since my speech is affected, people assume that I have cognitive delays. As one would guess, this can be incredibly frustrating.
Services aren’t the only thing like this; many of the disability conferences and trainings are more for those with intellectual disabilities. This by no means is a negative thing, but, personally speaking, I find it hard to fit in at those events. A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that while I obviously understand and accept that I have a disability, I normally don’t think of myself as being different; I don’t focus on that. I’m also not used to being with lots of people who have various disabilities. Recently, I attended the Self-determination Conference. I worked the exhibit table for InControl Wisconsin. I loved meeting and talking to so many people, but, even before we got there, on the way there, I told mom it was segregation. Again, it doesn’t mean it’s a negative thing. It’s just a fact that people with all types of disabilities were gathering in one place. I personally again felt the need to prove my cognitive ability. In my opinion, a lot of the events and activities were meant more for people with intellectual disabilities. I understand that it’s the majority of people who attend these events, so it has to be catered to that population; sometimes, I just wonder if I should be there.
Thanks to my amazing family and friends, I don’t usually think of myself as having a disability; I know people I love see past my challenges and see me for the person I am. People with disabilities in general are in a minority; those of us with physical disabilities are even fewer in number. We just have to continue fighting for what’s right and paving new paths!
By Stacy Ellingen, 2017-10-08
As the saying goes, “family is forever.” Every single human being on Earth has some sort of a family. Obviously, there are several different kinds of families. Whether it’s blood relatives, a church family, a family of friends, or another combination of people, families are what get us through life. Family members celebrate the good times together and are there to embrace one another during the difficult times in life. In past entries, I’ve discussed how my disability affects my immediate family (my mom, dad, and sister). I’ve also shared about how I’ve been blessed with an amazing group of friends who accept and embrace my unique circumstances, but my disability also affects another group of people who I dearly love. My extended family—my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
My mom and dad each happen to be the oldest of four children in their families. They were the first to get married, and they were the first to have a child. My grandparents were filled with excitement with the expecting of the first grandchild. My aunts and uncles were eager to meet their first niece or nephew. As I’ve shared in previous entries, my mom had a completely normal pregnancy and I was born on my due date. The complications happened during the last few minutes of delivery. I can’t even fathom what it was like for my grandparents, aunts, and uncles to get that call saying that there were complications and it was unclear if I’d survive. What an awful phone call to get—especially when they were anticipating joyous news. In the days following my birth, my grandparents and some of my aunts and uncles came with my parents to see me in Neonatial Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Visiting the NICU isn’t a walk in the park. It’s a frightening place. Even though medical professionals assured my parents that it was a fluke mishap, my traumatic birth put a scare into the entire family—especially since some of my uncles and aunts were planning to have children soon after. Thankfully, the initial shock did wear off, and it was realized that it wasn’t anything genetic.
During the first few years, my grandparents, aunts, and uncles did whatever they could to help. My grandparents and aunts and uncles who were in the area learned how to take care of me. It’s not uncommon for grandparents or aunts and uncles to babysit, but my relatives had some additional responsibilities when they watched me. That didn’t stop them though; they were always more than willing to take me for a night or weekend so that my parents could enjoy some time out. I had one set of grandparents who lived very nearby. Some of my best memories from my childhood are when my grandma took me to physical therapy in Oshkosh on Friday mornings (because I didn’t have Early Childhood that day) and then I’d spend the day with her and grandpa. It wasn’t what grandparents did with “typical” grandchildren, but that didn’t matter to them; they wanted to spend time with me.
My first cousin was born when I was two or three years old. Relief came in the family when she was perfectly healthy. My parents were overjoyed to have their first niece; however, I think at times it was hard for them to see her meet the normal milestones like walking and talking because I hadn’t done those things and they knew I’d likely never would. My mom has told me she remembers having to explain to me why my cousin was able to walk and talk, but I wasn’t. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been, but I know she did it in a positive way.
My sister and many more cousins came in the following years. It has never been discussed in front of me, but I’m sure my aunts and uncles had to have conversations with their children about my disability. I’m sure that they made it clear to their kids should greet and hug me (we’re a hugging type family) when they first see me. I’m sure they were told to try to include me in everything too. Having to explain my disability to my cousins couldn’t have been easy for my uncles and aunts—especially since there’s quite an age range among it my cousins. Like most little kids, many of my cousins went through a stage where they were scared of me because I was visibly different, but my aunts and uncles did their best to try to encourage interaction with me. I’m sure my cousins asked lots of questions after seeing especially when they were really young, and I can only assume that my aunts and uncles did their best to answer them.
My grandparents and relatives continue to help as I get older. When I went to school at UW-Whitewater, I was fortunate to have my other grandparents and an uncle and aunt close by. My grandparents came up every week to do my laundry for me. It was very nice to see them so often. It also gave my parents piece of mind that if I ever had an emergency, people were close. When I’ve had medical issues the past few years, my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins have been always right there to offer support in any way they can. I also think they realize that seemingly minuscule achievements for most are often huge accomplishments (graduating college, moving into an apartment, getting a job, etc…) for me; they understand we celebrate the small victories in my life.
As my cousins have grown up, they have gotten better about interacting with me. Obviously, like in all families, some cousins are closer than others. Overall, though, in recent years, I’ve noticed that many of my cousins are taking time to interact with me without being prompted to. I can’t tell you what an awesome feeling that is. I’m well aware that it takes some extra effort and patience to have a conversation with me. It’s to the point where many of my cousins are dating, getting married, and having babies. I know that my aunts, uncles and now cousins probably have to explain my circumstances to their significant others and children. Again, I know that it can’t be an easy conversation to have, but they do it because they want them to feel comfortable around me.
Having somebody who has a significant disability in a family has its challenges. Extended family has a choice whether or not to accept the circumstances the person has. I’m beyond blessed to have an incredible extended family who not only accepts, but embraces the person I am. For that, I’m forever grateful!
***The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of InControl Wisconsin, the Network or any of our sponsors.
By Stacy Ellingen, 2017-09-11
Lately, it seems like all of the news coverage I’ve seen has been about the catastrophic storms that are happening around the world. Back to back major hurricanes in the south, wildfires in the west, earthquakes in Mexico… it seems endless. It’s true—disasters like these bring out the best in humanity. The stories of survival and of people helping one another are truly amazing. Having said that though, thousands of people’s lives have been turned upside-down. Watching all of this has really made me think about what extra steps people with disabilities have to take when Mother Nature throws curve balls.
I’ve seen a couple of different posts on social media about extra precautions people with disabilities need to take when major storms hit. Of course, needs widely vary depending on individual circumstances, but it’s recommended that everyone—especially those with disabilities—have a plan. Obviously, it’s important to have things like extra food, water, and batteries on hand, but it’s often critical for people with disabilities to have items like extra generators and extra medication ready. For people who rely on ventilators, backup generators are a must.
People who depend on others to help with personal cares needs have additional worries. What if your care assistants can’t get to you? How will you survive if nobody can get to you? The answer to these questions again depend on individual situations, but it’s important that people have a backup plan in place. People with mobility issues also need to think about how they would physically evacuate or take shelter if a major storm were to come. It’s a lot to think about, but it’s so important to have a plan in place.
In Wisconsin, it’s very rare that we get a real catastrophic storm. It seems like every few years a part of the state gets hammered with a huge blizzard or a major thunderstorm/tornado. While these storms aren’t usually too major, often times, they can cause some major obstacles for people with disabilities. Personally, I think winter is the worst. Between the bitter cold temps and the snow, I find it challenging to get out. I don’t have this problem anymore, but when I was at UW-Whitewater, I never wore a coat or gloves—even in the dead of winter. Yes, people thought I was crazy, but I didn’t have a way to bundle/unbundle when I got to class and home. I hate being hot, so I wasn’t going to sweat to death waiting for my next care shift. I usually got rides to/from class, but, admittedly, it wasn’t very smart. Snow brings another whole set of challenges for people who use wheelchairs. Sidewalks, curb cutouts, and ramps are often not cleared in a timely manner. Depending on how much snow there is, it can be nearly impossible to get anywhere.
Summer thunderstorms and tornadoes can bring on obstacles as well. Many people with disabilities rely heavily on electricity. Whether it’s charging a power scooter, charging a communication device, or using it to keep a ventilator running, electricity is crucial for sustaining life for people who have disabilities and illnesses. For me, when the power goes out, the first thing I worry about is my door to my apartment. It’s an electronic door, so when the power goes out, I can’t open the door to let my staff in (I have a clicker on my chair that I push to open the locked door). I do have a keybox outside of my apartment in case I’m unable to let people in, but it’s a matter of getting ahold of the person who is coming ahead of time, so they know what to do.
Tornado warnings are another interesting event when you have physical limitations. Fortunately, there haven’t been too many tornado warnings since I’ve been living in my apartment. There isn’t a basement where I live, so when there’s a tornado, I just go in the innermost room in my place which happens to be the bathroom. If something were to really happen where I needed help, I always have my phone on my chair. Another thing I have to worry about is when the weather gets bad (both in winter and summer), is whether people going to be able to get to my place to my help me. Fortunately, I’ve never had somebody not be able to get to me due to weather conditions. People have been really late because of the weather, but they eventually did make it. If things were to get really bad where it was going to be really dangerous for people to travel, I’d probably make arrangements beforehand to either have somebody stay with me or to stay with someone so I could get the help I needed.
Major storms can cause havoc for everyone; people with disabilities often just have some extra things to figure out. Planning and acting ahead of time can definitely help. It’s known how unpredictable Mother Nature can be; it’s best to have an action plan in place!
***The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of InControl Wisconsin, the Network or any of our sponsors.
Stacy’s Journal: The 27th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act: How Far We’ve Come, yet More Work is Needed
By Stacy Ellingen, 2017-08-07
Most people don’t think twice about stepping off a sidewalk curb or running up a flight of stairs to get to their favorite restaurant. People normally don’t think about things like making calls to companies or being able to use public transportation either. Tasks such as these seem simple to most Americans. However, for people who have disabilities, being able to accomplish these things is a sign of major progress.
July marked the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Act which became law in 1990 which is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Some of the things it does include: it ensures that people with disabilities have the same employment opportunities and benefits that those without disabilities have and that employers provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, it requires that all public programs, places, and events are accessible to those who have disabilities, and it prohibits places of public accommodation (hotels, restaurants, stores, doctor’s offices, etc) from discriminating against people with disabilities. In addition, the law requires telephone and Internet companies to provide a nationwide system of interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services that allows individuals with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate over the telephone. Among many other things, it also requires that public transportation be accessible to everyone.
Another significant law for people with disabilities was also redone and renamed in 1990. Previously known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (until 1990), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a piece of legislation that ensures students with a disability are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education that is tailored to their individual needs. In short, the goal of IDEA is to provide children with disabilities the same opportunity for education as those students who do not have a disability. Some of the elements it includes are Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), Least Restrictive Environment, and Transition Services. Among others, these components allow students with disabilities to receive education just like their peers do. Public schools have to provide support and services to students with disabilities to meet their educational needs. Today, more than half of children with disabilities are in general education classrooms for most of the school day.
Fortunately, for me, I was born at a pretty opportune time as far as accessibility is concerned. I was just five years old when the ADA took effect, so I really don’t have much recollection of what things were like previously. Same goes for the IDEA. The first version of it took effective in 1975, but I think students with disabilities were still pretty segregated back then. It disheartens me to think that there were so many people with disabilities that were left behind before these laws took effect. Society lost out on millions of Americans with great potential. It truly breaks my heart to think about all of the children who were institutionalized all of their lives just because they had some sort of a disability. Children weren’t the only ones effected either. Millions of adults with disabilities lost out on the opportunity to lead successful and productive lives because support wasn’t available.
Personally, I’ve greatly benefited from the IDEA and the ADA. Thanks to the IDEA, starting in Kindergarten, I was able receive the services and support I needed to be able to be in all regular education classes with my peers. I was then able to receive vocational rehabilitation services which provided me with the support I needed to earn a college degree and find employment. The ADA allows me to be able to go almost everywhere I want/need to go. It also protects me from getting discriminated against because of my disability.
Having said that, I believe that there’s a lot that should be done with the ADA. Under the law, when businesses add on or remodel, they have to make the entire building accessible; however, as I recently found out, there are some stipulations to the rule. A popular restaurant in my hometown recently added a rooftop deck. I was excited because people were saying how cool it was; I figured that since it was an add-on they had to have put in an elevator to make it accessible. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Since they serve the same food and “have the same décor” inside the restaurant (which is accessible), they don’t have to make the upper deck accessible. To me, that’s unfair. A rooftop deck obviously has a different atmosphere than an inside of a restaurant. Another thing that really irritates me is that many older businesses choose not to remodel or add-on just because it’s too expensive to bring the building up to code. While I understand it from the economic standpoint, I also believe it’s time to put some time stipulations on those businesses. Airline regulations are another topic that should be looked at and improved. Everything from check-in desks, to security, to plane accessibility could vastly be improved in my opinion.
So, while laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act have immensely improved lives for people with disabilities, there is a lot that still needs to be done. A lot of progress has been made in the last 50 years; I’m looking forward to seeing what will be done in the next 50 years!
***The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of InControl Wisconsin, the Network or any of our sponsors.
By Stacy Ellingen, 2017-07-10
Whether it’s going to the store to get milk, going to work, going to a doctor apportionment, or meeting friends for dinner, most people get out of their house on a daily basis. It’s the natural thing to do. For many people with disabilities, going out isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s often one of the biggest barriers.
Growing up, I was blessed that my family was able to take me places just like any kid. As I’ve written about in past entries, I’ve probably traveled to more places than most people my age. Before getting our first wheelchair accessible van, my parents took me places in a car and took either my stroller or manual wheelchair. I was young enough that the independence factor (when I use my manual chair as opposed to my power chair, I have to depend on others to move me around) didn’t really matter. When my parents got their first wheelchair accessible van, I remember thinking it was so cool being able to go places in my power chair. It brought a whole new meaning of independence to me. As I got older, we used the car and my manual chair less and less. My independence became more prevalent, so the van became my main means of transportation. Now, we just occasionally use my manual chair for things such as visiting relatives and vacations where we fly.
When I started at UW-Whitewater, I found a whole new means of transportation—my wheelchair! Yes, UW-Whitewater had a service that gave students with disabilities rides around campus. In most cases, I think the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) funds this for students who need it. For a few years I was there, they also offered off-campus rides. Students paid extra for this service and vans would take people to places such as stores and restaurants. I used the service for a couple of years, but the service hours weren’t very convenient and it just wasn’t worth it. I think they have stopped offering off campus rides now actually. I used the on-campus ride service pretty regularly, but I also just went around in my chair quite a bit. Whitewater is a pretty small town and the campus is small, so I could go anywhere in my chair (as long as the weather was decent). It was awesome! Whitewater also had a decent accessible cab service that my friends and I frequently used. I had my manual chair down there as well, so oftentimes, my friends would just put me in their cars, and we’d go places.
It wasn’t until after college that I realized just how big of a barrier transportation was going to be in my life. My parents live outside of the city, so public transportation wasn’t an option. I couldn’t cruise very far in my chair either. I solely relied on my parents to take me everywhere. That was a huge adjustment from college. I had to schedule everything around their availability.
When I moved to Oshkosh, things got a little better, but not by much. My apartment is in the city, but no stores or restaurants are real close by. I used to go for long cruises all around town in summer. However, unfortunately, that came to an end two summers ago when my chair quit on my way back from the park. My whole family was out of state at the time, and it was a huge mess. Fortunately, some nice people stopped to help me and they were able to figure out to call my care agency I had at the time (I’m nonverbal and of course didn’t have my communication device with me, so that added to the circus). Needless to say, I don’t venture further than around the block by myself anymore!
Oshkosh does have accessible public transportation available. Their bus system is accessible. A few years ago when I was working with DVR to try to find employment, they actually had me do bus training to see if it’d be a reliable source of transportation for me. Unfortunately, due to many factors, it didn’t work out too well. The closet bus stop is about two blocks away from my apartment which isn’t far, but if it’s raining or snowing, I have no way to protect my electronic equipment. Plus, the bus schedule is very confusing, and it’d be nearly impossible to coordinate it with my care schedule. There are two or three accessible cab companies in Oshkosh. One is connected with the city bus system; that’s the one I use to go grocery shopping every week. I have a standing ride to and from the store every week, so I don’t have to have someone call in each time. They pick up and drop off my staff and I right in my apartment driveway. It works okay. Again, timing is an issue. It has improved recently, but there have been times where we’ve waited well over an hour for a scheduled ride. This wouldn’t be a big deal except that I only have staff for a certain amount of time. I also wish there was some way that I could setup rides and ride the cab independently. Currently, the only way to schedule a ride is over the phone. Eventually, with technology advancing, I’m hoping that will change. They also only take exact cash from people like me (I’m not on the MCO so I don’t get ride tickets). I’m physically unable to hand the driver money, and I don’t feel comfortable having them root through my stuff to get it. I wish that they had some sort of a pass or something I could buy. Maybe in time they will.
Cabs are affordable for in-city daytime trips; however, if you want to leave the city limits or go somewhere outside of normal business hours, the prices skyrocket! I live less than 40 miles from my parents, and if I wanted to take a cab to their house, it’d cost me over $250 one way! I think that’s insane! For now, thankfully, my parents are able to cart me around to most of the events I want to go to.
Relying on others for transportation definitely puts limits on a person’s life. Not being able to go where and when you want can be very frustrating. Self-driving vehicles are becoming more and more advanced. I don’t know if it’ll be in my lifetime, but someday there will be self-driving accessible vehicles widely available (and affordable). All a person will have to do is program where he/she wants to go using a phone or computer and then the vehicle will automatically go there. How incredibly amazing will that be? It’s hard to even fathom, but it will be life changing for many of us with disabilities. I can only hope I see that day come!