Stacy Ellingen

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Stacy’s Journal:  When Obvious is Too Obvious


By Stacy Ellingen, 2018-07-31

A tv commercial demonstrating how to interact with those with disabilities has been running in my area.  While the commercial is positive and has accurate advice, when I first saw it, I questioned why it’s even needed.  After all, we’re in the twenty-first century.  Shouldn’t people know to treat a person who happens to have a disability like any other person?  Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  Although, it has significantly improved over the years, the general population still isn’t comfortable with people with disabilities.

 “She’s drooling.”  That’s what a man walked up and said to my mom as he handed her a paper towel in a congregational meeting after church one recent Sunday morning.  Very shocked and not wanting to make a scene, my mom quietly said, “thank you.”  I, on the other hand, was ready to walk out of the room right then and there.  Mom made me wait until we voted on the issue and then we left.  Words can’t describe how utterly embarrassed I was.  I don’t even think that the people sitting at our table realized what had happened (which is a good thing), but that’s not the point.  I’ve been going to that church all of my life and know that man has seen me many times before.  I realize that in his heart, he probably meant it well, but If these things are still going on in a church of all places, there is a lot more educating to do.  Most of the time, people with physical disabilities are well aware of what their bodies do or don’t do, and to have an adult point it out, is a real slap in the face (kids are a different story because they don’t know better).

Articles about “disability etiquette” have surfaced on social media in recent years.  One thing commonly discussed in those articles Is how not to automatically help a person with a disability without first asking.  While it’s human nature to want to help somebody who appears to be struggling with a simple task, often people with disabilities and other conditions take pride in being able to do things independently.  If someone jumps in and tries to help without asking, not only could it hinder the person’s independence, it could also unintentionally harm the person or his/her equipment.  Another common thing often discussed in those articles is how people should always talk directly to the person even if he/she appears to unable to communicate or not cognitively aware.  This happens all the time to me.  Rather than asking me a question directly, they’ll phrase it in third-person and ask the person who I’m with.  This drives me crazy!  Granted, the people I’m with often answer questions for me just to save time, but questions should be always directed toward the person it’s about (if he/she is present) .

While those articles are great, I often wonder who reads them besides those who live and work in the disability community.  Generally speaking, most family and friends of someone with a disability learn fairly quickly what’s considered offensive to people who have disabilities and health conditions.  I’m betting that most of the people who read those articles certainty agree with the etiquette tips, but aren’t the ones who need the information.

I haven’t seen too many things about “not pointing out the obvious” for lack of a better words.  In my opinion, a lot of it has to do with the way people were brought up.  As I’m writing this, something else dawned on me.  Fifty years ago, people with disabilities were rarely seen in public.  That probably has a lot to do with why many older adults often aren’t sure what to do around people with different abilities.  It certainly isn’t an excuse by any means, but it explains a little bit—some older adults were never around people with disabilities while growing up.

Dealing with other people’s reactions definitely takes an emotional toll.  As I’ve said before, unless a situation presents itself, I usually don’t think of myself as having a disability.  However, it doesn’t sit well when I’m reminded of my differences due to someone pointing out a flaw.  Regardless of whether it was intentional or not, it still hurts.  I’ve learned to laugh most of the comments off, but there are some that really sting.  It’s when those happen that I need to be reminded that I’m a pretty unique person, and sometimes people are totally unaware that their comments are very degrading.  All we can do is keep educating society in hope that one day each and every person—regardless of his/her unique differences—is treated just like everyone else.  It’s apparent that we still have some work to do! 

***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.

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Who is going to get me up in the morning?  Do I have lunch covered?  Who has the dinner shift?  Is the bed shift covered tonight or will I have to sleep in my wheelchair?  Did everyone submit hours?  While these aren’t things people typically think about, questions such as these run through my head usually many times a day.  When you rely on others for help with almost all of your basic needs, you’re practically forced to constantly think about these things.

Recently, thanks to “Facebook Memories,” I was reminded that it has been two years since I started hiring my own caretakers through Self-Directed Personal Care (with IRIS).  What a learning experience it has been!  Before I switched to SDPC, I had been with many different home care agencies over the years.  As I explained in a previous entry, I started with home care in junior high or high school.  Back then, it was just for like an hour after school just to help me off the bus, get me inside the house, help me to the restroom, and feed me a snack.  It was when I moved to UW-Whitewater that I truly learned what home care was.  Although, I didn’t realize it at the time, the care agency that I had down there was by far the best agency I’ve had.  Sure, I had some issues with them, but they worked with me, and always made sure I was well cared for.  Granted, I realize a lot of it probably had to do with the people I became friends with, but the administration worked with clients to endure they were happy with services.  After college, while at my parents, I worked with two different care agencies which for various reasons didn’t work out.  When I moved to Oshkosh, I started with an agency that was connected to the apartments I moved into.  I was with them for over five years.  Unfortunately, due to a rule change, I had to switch agencies.  I was with another agency for eight months and I had a plethora of issues.  Tardiness, no shows, and the caliber of workers were just some of the problems I had.  It wasn’t safe for me to stay with the agency, so I switched to SDPC.

Hiring and scheduling my own staff is like a full-time job.   I post ads online on places such as Facebook and indeed.com.  Fortunately, my mom helps me with the initial process.  We may be changing how we do things in the near future, but, for now, when I get a name of a person, I forward the information to my mom.  She calls the person, tells them a little bit about me, and sort of does a phone interview.  If the person is interested, I then email the person the packet.  I tell them to print the paperwork off, fill it out, and to email me to setup a time to drop it off.

Unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to find people.  Most job websites now change to post jobs.  I’d maybe consider it if I thought It’d help get more applicants, but I honestly don’t think that’s the case.  One of my biggest problems is that I have short shifts.  My longest personal care shift is two hours.  Understandably, many people don’t want to work for an hour or two at a time.  On the other hand, though, what’s a person like myself supposed to do?  I don’t need, want, or quality for around the clock care.  I just need assistance during certain times of the day.  Of the hundreds of employee packets I send, I’d guess I hear back from less than 25% of the people. When I do get a person’s paperwork, it’s a gamble whether or not the person will still be interested in the job by the time the paperwork gets processed.

With the Fiscal Employer Agency (FEA) I have, the amount of paperwork people need to fill out is ridiculous, and it takes at least two to three weeks (longer most of the time) to get people approved.  By that time many have often found different jobs.  Yes, I’ve thought about switching to a different FEA, but there are different factors that go into that., First of all, the last time I checked, the FEA I have was the only one that had an electronic time sheet system.  For me, that’s a must.  I have to do everything electronically.  I haven’t looked into it recently, but I did hear that another FEA may have started an electronic system.  Secondly, there are only certain dates when they do transfers, and you have to get all of your workers to fill out and sign paperwork months prior to the date.  Frankly, that’s just not feasible in my situation.  I have staff turnover almost monthly and I can’t imagine having to work between two different FEAs during the transition trying to figure everything out.  In the future, I may reconsider because other FEAs are said to have faster turnaround times for new workers, but, for now, I plan to stay with one I have.

I currently have about 13 workers (besides my parents), but only six or seven are really active.  I’ll just say you learn a lot a people when you’re the boss.  It’s amazing how much work ethic vary from person-to-person.  I’ve learned that with some people nothing gets done unless I’m right there watching.  I’ve also realized that some just don’t care about how they treat otters.  In addition to people giving me attitude when I ask them to do things, some people try to rush my cares so they can leave early.  I’ve had multiple people quit on very short notice.  Last year, a person who had been my main aide for several months, decided to quit showing up for shifts without any notice, and stopped responding to texts and calls!  On multiple occasions, people have called in on short notice, including in the middle of the night, or not shown up at all.  When that happens, I message everyone in my group right away to see if anyone can help me.  Unfortunately, not many people are willing to pick up shifts on short notice.  Depending on what shift it is, I often go without substantial food or using the restroom until the person for the next shift comes.  I’ve learned to always have some finger foods (like pretzels and fruit snacks) in baggies on my table where I can access them.  I’ve slept in my chair a few nights when nobody could help me to bed or get me up in the morning.  It’s unhealthy on multiple levels, but you do what you have to.  My parents always offer to come help, but, unless I’m stuck in bed in the morning, I usually say no because I don’t want to rely on them all the time.

Even with that many workers, I still constantly struggle to fill shifts.  Since early May, I’ve been at my parents every weekend but one because I can’t find people to fill shifts.  It’s incredibly frustrating because my parents just retired and want to travel, but, until I get more secure staff, they feel like they can’t go anywhere.  Often, they want me to just travel with them so they don’t have to worry about me being stranded without anyone, but that’s a catch 22 because then I’m not here for the staff I do have or to collect paperwork from new workers.  Plus, I sometimes have no desire to go where they want to go, and I feel like they should be able to travel without me.

The direct care shortage is nationwide, so I know I’m not alone in this battle.  Agencies, nursing homes, and hospitals are struggling to find caretakers too.  People say higher wages would help.  While I agree it’d help some, I don’t know that it’d be a “fix all” to this—especially in my situation.  I wish I knew what the answer was, but I don’t.  Until a solution is figured out, I guess we just have to continue to try our best working with what we have. 

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Stacy’s Journal:  The Yearning to Fit In


By Stacy Ellingen, 2018-06-03

“Never judge someone by the way he/she looks.“  Most people are taught that beginning at an early age.  While we all know it’s not right to judge one another, everybody does—it’s human nature.  Regardless of age, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability, as a society, we are taught to believe that everyone is equal and nobody is the better than anyone else.  Theoretically, this means that everybody should feel like they “fit in” everywhere all the time; however, it’s not realistic.  Most people experience feeling “singled out” negatively more than once in their life.  Often, it’s unintentional and purely situational, but, regardless, “sticking out” usually isn’t something to be desired.  People with disabilities often “stick out” more than most—it’s just a fact.

My disability is pretty noticeable.  Some people have very mild cerebral palsy and the effects often go unnoticed by many.  I happen to have a pretty severe form of cerebral palsy.  In addition to using a power wheelchair, I can’t verbally speak clearly and because of my fluctuating muscle tone, my arms and legs often move unintentionally.  My head often droops and sometimes my mouth hangs open or my tongue sticks out.  I also drool. There’s no way around hiding the fact that I’m “different.”

As I’ve explained in previous journal entries, I accept that I have a disability, but it doesn’t define who I am.  Unless a situation presents itself, I don’t think of myself as being disabled.   Growing up, I guess I became accustomed to “sticking out.”  Since I was in regular classes, classmates got used to having me in class and understood what I was capable of.  It wasn’t a big deal.  College was unique.  UW-Whitewater specializes in serving students with physical disabilities, so I certainly didn’t stick out on campus.  In classes, sometimes I felt like I stood out because I was the only one with visible limitations, but again, after people got to know me, it wasn’t an issue.

As I get older, I notice I feel I stick out more at social gatherings.  Whether it’s a retirement dinner for my mom, a friend’s wedding, or a cousin’s graduation party, I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb.  I think it has a lot to do with meeting new people who are unaware that the person that the event is for has a relative or a friend who has a disability.  Now, obviously, in all three of those scenarios, I was invited because the person wants me there and they see past my disability.  Often, at such events, the harder I try not to stick out (besides being in wheelchair), the more my muscles tense up which causes unintentional movements and noises.  Unfortunately, it’s just how my body works.  My mom, dad, and sister know not to tell me to try to fix it because it only makes it worse when I try harder. I also need to be fed at these events.  Being fed automatically draws attention to oneself.  Again, the harder I try not to make a scene, the more my body will react while eating causing me to cough and food to drop.

Admittedly, I also have some social anxiety when attending events where there are people my age.    While I know most people don’t expect me to get married and have a family, it doesn’t mean I don’t crave that.  I realize most people probably don’t even think about it (which is good), but I often feel singled out because I don’t have that.  Seeing friends and cousins with significant others and children at events can be pretty hard.  As happy as I am for them, it makes me wonder if it will ever happen to me.  The older I get the less likely it is and that’s not an easy thing to accept.  I try my best to experience happiness through other people’s eyes, but, sometimes, when everyone else around you seems to have what you desperately want, it can be hard.  As hard as it can be, I’m eternally grateful that I have amazing friends and family who always include me despite my circumstances.  I’m one lucky girl!

I’d love nothing more than to actually walk down the aisle and stand with the other bridesmaids at my friend’s wedding this weekend; however, I have a different path in life.  Instead, I will proudly roll down the aisle thinking about how lucky I am to have the bride as one of my best friends for over 25 years.  Will I stick out?  Definitely, but I’m honored to be in my friend’s wedding.  She obviously doesn’t have a problem with my circumstances, so why should I?

Having a pronounced physical disability often makes fitting in difficult.  Some people are completely okay with not fitting in because of their limitations, and others work hard to hide theirs.  I think I’m somewhere in between.  While usually I don’t have a problem with being seen as different, there are times where I desperately want to fit in.  It’s during those times that I need to remember that I was chosen to have a different path in life.  My purpose in life is different than most; I’m here to show people what is possible despite the curve balls life throws at you! 

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Stacy’s Journal: The Repercussions of Change


By Stacy Ellingen, 2018-05-01

As the saying goes, “if it works, don’t fix it.”   In today’s world, where it often seems like we’re trying to improve everything for one reason or another, that saying is frequently forgotten or ignored.  While it’s human nature for people to want to make things better, sometimes people forget to consider the repercussions of changing things will have on others.  Change is hard for everyone.  Due to a variety of reasons, people with disabilities often struggle with change.  Whether it be a change in a material good or a change in an essential service, changes affect all of us.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t do well with change.  I’m convinced a big reason for this is because I live such a scheduled life.  As I’ve shared in a previous entry, due to having drop-in cares, my whole day is scheduled—everything from the time I get up in the morning, to the times I use the restroom and eat meals, to the time I go to bed at night, everything has a set time.  When I’m out of my routine, my body often starts to react in weird ways.

Changes in material goods often have mixed effects on people with disabilities too.  Many times, when material things are improved or upgraded, it often makes life easier for everyone.  However, sometimes when things changed, people don’t realize how it will affect others.  Recently, I read an article online about how the United Kingdom is trying to ban disposable plastic straws because they’re not environmentally friendly.  The article explained why this wouldn’t be good for people with disabilities.  To the average person, this probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Why wouldn’t banning plastic straws have such a negative impact on people with disabilities?  For me, personally, being able to drink from a straw “independently” didn’t come easy.  For many years, I either had to drink directly from a cup (someone had to pour liquid directly into my mouth) or someone had to literally hold my lips closed on a straw so I could suck the liquid up.  I think it was nearly college before I was able to use a plastic bendable straw by myself (meaning I’m able to suck liquid through a straw without somebody having to hold my lips shut).  It’s much more socially appropriate to independently drink from a straw than to have somebody pour liquid into your mouth or having someone hold your lips shut on a straw.  Having said that, most hard reusable straws aren't feasible for me (I don't have the ability to get enough suction to get the liquid up with hard straws). Lots of hard straws aren’t bendable either which poses another problem.  Some people, like myself, have a hard time positioning himself/herself to access a regular stick straw; bendable disposable plastic straws are often easier to get at.  Paper straws often aren’t a realistic option for some people with disabilities either.  In my case, because of the way I latch onto the straw, I’d ruin a paper straw even being able to try to suck on it.  Many of my friends with cp have the same issues with straws.  While I’m all for being environmentally friendly, I’m not sure eliminating disposable plastic straws would do much good.

Advancements in technology have made a huge positive impact on lives of people with disabilities.  However, advancements sometimes bring on more challenges that people don’t often think about.  For example, flat screen TVs have become the norm.  While they save a lot of space and are neat, the one thing they normally don’t have are controls on the front of the TV.  Most people wouldn’t even think about this; however, for me, having to use a remote to control the TV presents some challenges.  Due to my fine motor limitations, I can’t just grab the remote and press a button to turn TV on.  In order for me to work a TV remote, it has to be on a hard surface (like a table) and aimed at the TV.  Depending on the setup, the remote often has to be velcroed to the table so it doesn’t fall off when I try to hit the buttons.  Before when buttons were on front of TVs, I could just press them on the TV itself.  Another example of how technological improvements have made some additional hurdles for me is with the adaptive keyboard I use.  Since I was really young, I’ve used enlarged keyboards with mouse functions built-in (meaning I control the mouse by pressing buttons on the keyboard).  I’ve used the same brand of keyboard for over 15 years.  These keyboards wear out because of just over usage.  A few years ago, it was time to get a new computer and It was then I realized that the keyboard I’ve been using hard been discontinued.  I had an assistive tech evaluation done to see if there was anything similar out there.  Unfortunately, to my surprise, there isn’t another enlarged keyboard that has a built-in mouse on the market.  Luckily, the discontinued keyboard still works computers with newer operating systems, so we bought quite a few used keyboards off eBay.  I’ll use those until another keyboard with a built-in mouse is developed.  I can only guess that the keyboard was discontinued due to more advanced products being developed; however, before something is discontinued, there should be something similar made to replace it.

Some home products are often adapted to be made “handicapped accessible.”  Most of the time, these accessible products make life easier for people with disabilities.  There have been times, however, where I’ve found it’s actually more difficult to use adapted products.  One example that comes to mind is when the housing authority tried installing a high-rise toilet in the bathroom in my apartment.  While I can normally use high-rise toilets, because of the way my bathroom is setup, I would have had a much harder time using a high-rise toilet.  Fortunately, the housing authority eventually listened to me and let me keep the regular toilet.  That’s just one example of where an adapted product didn’t work in my favor.

People say change is good, and I agree most of the time that it is.  However, sometimes with all repercussions of the change, it can do more harm than good.  We, as a society, just have to remember to consider how it will affect everybody involved when making a change! 

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Stacy’s Journal:  Secondary Effects


By Stacy Ellingen, 2018-04-12

Unless a problem presents itself, most people don’t think about their medical well-being on a regular basis.  Sure, people try to stay healthy by doing things such as eating right and exercising, but, unless something feels wrong with our bodies, we normally don’t think about what could go wrong or what we would want done if something catastrophic were to happen.  People with disabilities are no different.  Granted, we often have some extra baggage to deal with (cares, medications, accommodations, etc…), but most of the time, those things become second nature to us—we don’t even think about it

Some disabilities and health conditions are progressive which means the symptoms of the condition get worse as time passes and the effects are eventually terminal.  Fortunately, cerebral palsy isn’t considered to be progressive.  I’ve read in multiple articles that the average life expectancy for somebody who has cerebral palsy is around 70 years old.  Although, cerebral palsy itself doesn’t get worse, people often develop secondary conditions due to cp.  Research also points out that treatments used to help people who have cp sometimes can take a toll on the body eventually leading to premature death.

A few years ago, I wrote about how I was learning to navigate my way through the health care system.  In that entry, I shared a little bit about how I had started having some health issues.  In summer of 2012, I had a Baclofen pump surgically inserted which helps relax my muscles.  Three weeks after that surgery, I had major emergency gastrointestinal surgery.  Since then, I’ve had ongoing issues.  I had another surgery in 2014 and have had a few hospital stays since.  About three weeks ago, I had another emergency surgery and spent a few nights in the hospital.  I had yet another gastrointestinal issue.  Due to my past surgeries and the effects of cp, we found out that I’m unfortunately prone to having more of these types of issues and there really isn’t anything I can do to prevent it.

It’s often said that there isn’t enough focus on treating adults who have cerebral palsy.  There is quite a bit of information about treatments and research to help children with cp, but there’s not much out there for adults.  I’ve had many conversations with friends who also have cp, and many of them feel the same way—although we know cp isn’t progressive, we feel the effects of it impacting our lives more as we get older.  I haven’t done much research lately, but I haven’t seen anything recent on how cp effects the aging process.  It’d be interesting to see studies done on that. 

Like everybody else, each time I go in for surgery, I have to answer those dreaded questions.  What measures do you want taken to keep you alive?  Do you want to be on life support?  Questions such as those aren’t the easiest to answer especially when you’re headed into emergency surgery.  I understand why the questions need to be asked, but, regardless of the situation, they are never easy to answer.

Often times, people, especially those with disabilities and health conditions, are encouraged to have a Power of Attorney of Healthcare on record at the medical facilities they use.  The purpose of the medical POA is to give health care professionals guidance as to your wishes in case you’re ever in a medical condition where you’re incapable of making those decisions yourself.  You can designate two or three people who you would want to make decisions for you and on the form you can answer specific questions about your preferences for sustainability.  People should have the medical POA on record, but a licensed doctor must “activate” it if a situation arose.  Ashamedly, I admit, I have yet to get mine on record.  Every year, during one of my screenings for IRIS, I’m asked if I have one on record.  I’ve had the paperwork printed out for three or four years.  It’s just a matter of filling it out, getting signatures, and sending it to my medical providers.  What’s the hold up, you ask?  Well, aside from finding witnesses (they can’t be family members) to sign it, there’s a psychological aspect to it.  It’s obviously a sensitive issue to begin with, but, for me, it brings up another issue.  For most people my age, their next of kin or their designated person would be their significant other.  Thankfully, I have great family who have agreed to be my designated people, but there’s something about putting it on record that just makes me feel hurt.  I know I need to get it done though.

When I was young, I had no idea secondary health issues were come among people who have cp.  Dealing with health issues definitely isn’t fun, but it’s part of my life and something I’ve learned to deal with.  Having to make tough decisions about “what if” situations isn’t easy either, but I guess that’s called being an adult.  While, at times it isn’t easy to do, I try not to let my issues get in the way and live life to the fullest.  That’s all we can do, right?

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Is it safe to go anywhere anymore?  Regardless of political beliefs, it’s a question is on many people’s minds lately.  Years ago, questions about safety weren’t very prevalent, but due to recent events, we have no choice but to consider “what would you do?”.  As unbelievably disheartening as it is, we have to think about what we would do in a violent situation.  While most people would know what to do (generally speaking) and could physically react to the situation, people with disabilities and health conditions don't have the ability to try to protect themselves.  Truthfully, we, people with disabilities, are among the most vulnerable in violent situations.

I’ve been watching the news coverage of all the horrific events going on, but I hadn’t really ever thought about what I would do if I was in a shooting situation until a friend tagged me in a Facebook post.  The post was written by a teacher in Ohio.  The day after the Florida school shooting, the teacher got the dreaded question from a student—“what will we do if a shooter comes in your room?”  The teacher explained that she cares about her students very much, but since she was in a wheelchair she couldn’t protect them like an able-bodied teacher would.  She told them to escape if they could and not to worry about her.  A student in a class then explained that they had already discussed it and if anything would happen they would carry her.  That post touched me on so many levels.  As I’ve explained in previous entries, if my circumstances were just a little different (mainly if I had the ability to speak), I would have been a teacher.  It made me think about how I would have responded to the question.  I would have said the exact same thing.  Of course, I’d want my students to escape if they could rather than worrying about me.

The post also made me think about other situations.  Unfortunately, these awful things seem to be happening all over the place in today’s world.  I’m blessed to have the cognitive ability to know what was happening, but physically, I wouldn’t be able to do much to protect myself or others.  I could move my wheelchair around, but I’m unable to get out of my chair myself.  I can kind of cover my head with my arms, but with cerebral palsy in exciting or stressful situations my body tends to really tense up.  I can only imagine how tense my muscles would be in a situation like that.  Oftentimes, under dangerous circumstances, you are supposed to be as quiet as possible.  For me, the harder I try to be quiet the more noise I unintentionally make.  It’s just the way my body unfortunately works.  Also, many times in those situations, herds of people often run to escape danger.  When a person uses a wheelchair or another mobility device, it’s often very difficult to navigate through a crowd of people. 

Those with mobility limitations aren’t the only ones more at risk in those violent situations.  People with intellectual disabilities may not understand what’s going on in dangerous circumstances.  This could cause behaviors that could provoke the situation even more.  Screaming and lashing out could attract the suspect’s attention.   Depending on the circumstances, running could also cause danger.  Some people with intellectual delays may not understand the importance of following directions under the circumstances.

It’s troublesome to me that this even has to be a topic of conversation.  As a person with a disability, it’s my reality that I’d very vulnerable in if I was ever in a violent situation.  Like most people, I’d rather have others save themselves than risk their life helping me; however, I truly believe most people in this world have a good heart and would risk their own life to save others.  It’s getting to the point where it’s a risk to even leave our homes, but we can’t let a few bad people ruin life for the rest of us.  Although, at times it’s hard to believe, the good still outweighs the bad in the world, and we have to continue living life like we always have.  If we put ourselves in a bubble, we would conceding be to those few evil people, and we don’t want to do the that! 

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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! 

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Stacy’s Journal:  Comparisons


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! 

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