A Skill to Traverse Any Terrain

In short, I want to tell you a great way I found to get around a crazy obstacle. It requires the help of 1-2 people, personal strength, and perhaps some gloves.

I was hiking on a trail with my mother and my girlfriend when we came upon a very rocky part of the trail that would be impassable without doing what we did. It’s called the wheelbarrow, a classic thing kids do at summer camp when racing other kids doing it. It’s when someone holds up your ankles and you walk on your hands.

That’s what we did, my mum and girlfriend each grabbed an ankle and I walked on my hands right past the rocky part. It was actually pretty easy for all of us. I recommend getting some type of gloves to prevent injuries from rocks or anything harmful on the ground.

The image below is the rocky part of the trail where I walked on my hands.

Whats the Point of Paraplegics Wearing a Belt

My insight from experience

Note: This is a belt for pants, not for a car.


Whenever I put on a belt, I wonder if anyone notices and then ask themselves why I would do such a thing seeing as I’m on a wheelchair. I ask the same thing of myself, and then don’t put on a belt only to learn what I already knew.


Whenever I wear pants, they’re usually too big. Mainly because my waist is pretty small and always has been. Before I used a wheelchair, I had massive (muscular) legs, and finding pants that fit my waist and legs was very hard, so I bought pants big and then wore a belt. Now that I use a wheelchair, the pants are still too big for my waist and whenever I do a transfer, there’s a risk of them sliding too far down.


Reason #1: Pants could slide down during a transfer


While in a wheelchair, I constantly adjust how I sit, in part because the wheelchair I have doesn’t quite fit right, to avoid pressure sores, and for comfort. When I do this, I typically lift myself from sitting on the chair, push my hips back against the backrest and then slide back down onto the seat (basically sitting further back in the chair so I can sit upright). Doing this makes the pants slide UP, making for a very uncomfortable situation.


Reason #2: Pants slide UP


The second reason is funny that I use a belt to keep pants down whereas the original intent is to keep them up

Thoughts on being in/on a wheelchair

There’s good in the bad and bad in the good. 

Although there are some benefits to being in a wheelchair, not everyone can take advantage of them because it requires more than JUST being in a wheelchair. 

Here are some benefits I’ve experienced:

  • Getting onto airplanes first
  • People respect me for how I live and think while being in a wheelchair
  • Getting access to job opportunities 
  • Getting better parking spots 

These are all nice, but I argue that everything is harder for wheelchair users, or at least more time-consuming. This isn’t complaining, but to me, facts. Sure I get better parking, but I’m also limited to specific parking spots, and any other spot won’t do. I once tried to park in a normal spot and then someone parked close next to me. I could hardly get into my car. At a grocery store, I was in a handicapped parking spot and someone parked illegally right next to me on the stripes, so close that someone else had to drive my car out for me. 

Getting into the car, putting on pants, and going to the gym. All of it, although not hard for me, takes a lot longer than someone not injured and can be very difficult at times. 

The point of this all is first to recognize that there is good in the bad – being injured, but getting a good parking spot.

Although everything is harder, if it can be stoically endured, then the benefits arise and multiply – once I go to the gym, I make friends and feel a lot better about myself. 

The bad in the good, then, is that although there’s a good parking spot, it is also a limited selection of parking spots and others won’t do. Something worth recognizing.

My takeaway is that it’s all possible, though challenging. When I was doing dips at the gym, I was talking with some people nearby and they said the classic “if there’s a will, there’s a way.” This is true and the inspiration for this short piece. I enjoy working out enough to make it work, even if parking is hard and I don’t necessarily enjoy changing into sweat pants – everything is more difficult, but also a test of determination, which others will see and respect. 

Paraplegics Getting Compensation From Airlines

Recently, I used an airline to go on a short trip somewhere. What happened was that once the airplane landed, I patiently waited for every single other passenger to get off, and then waited for someone with an aisle chair to come and assist me with getting off. They never came. Luckily I had my girlfriend carry me off on her back and then get me back into the wheelchair.

Of course, this is absolutely not okay. Myself, I’m most upset with the disrespect of my time. Here’s how my thoughts go on this subject: I am grateful that the global system and infrastructure supports accessibility needs/wants, however, with these systems in place there develops a factor of reliability and responsibility to perform. A similar situation is that in Greece, I’m not upset when a restaurant is on the second floor with only stairs to get in, however, in The USA, which has the Americans with Disabilities Act, I am quite upset/disappointed when a restaurant only has stairs and the stairs must be used (this happened in Boulder, CO).

This, by chance, happened to me twice! I flew out to Minneapolis, MN, and getting on the plane was smooth, getting off my girlfriend carried me. Then on my way back home to Colorado, getting on the plane was fine but getting off was the exact same issue, and the aisle chair never did come.

Here’s where the title meets the text. I eventually got off the plane, calm overall, but seeking compensation for my time. All the flight attendants were on MY side, they put into their internal messaging system the mishap and so on. I requested to speak to the manager of the company that is responsible for the aisle chair, etc. He apologized, but that doesn’t mean much to me, because of course anyone would be sorry but show it. I consistently asked for compensation for my time (getting off the plane, and also waiting for 20m to talk to him only for an apology).

What I learned later is that it (somehow) is that the company responsible for the aisle chairs is NOT responsible for giving compensation. It IS the airline itself. I learned this by getting a phone call from the airline manager, he gave me and my girlfriend each a $100 flight voucher. Very nice.

Here’s the takeaway. Not getting off the airplane can happen. The plane cannot board the next flight until you get off. The airline wants you off, so let THEM put the pressure on the company to come and assist you with getting off. Keep track of the time, if it’s longer than 20m (remember this is already after EVERYONE else has gotten off), ask who you can speak to about getting compensation.

Creativity Is the Rule, Not the Exception

A quick opinion

When it comes to being in a wheelchair it’s almost entirely up to you as to how much of anything you’ll do. Of course, this could be classified as an ableist statement, and if that’s what you think then I’m inclined to put you on my list of people that I entirely don’t respect – if you were to even care. The point here is that aside from being able to move your arms or not, and stuff like that, you truly can do a whole lot of things. There are so many programs for all levels of disabilities to do everything from rock climbing and ziplining all the way to basketball and basic fitness.

Here’s the thing: whatever you do, aside from nothing, absolutely requires innovation and creativity. There isn’t anything I can think of that isn’t made different by being in a wheelchair. However, a lot IS possible, given one critical skill. Creativity. This skill reaches broadly not only to being creative with respect to yourself but guiding help from others (which can require confidence).

For anyone in a wheelchair, creativity is not the exception, it’s the rule. Literally everyone in a wheelchair MUST be creative.

That’s my opinion. Creativity is the standard for wheelchair users. I really don’t think there’s anyone in a wheelchair who isn’t creative on some level, and the levels are determined by experience. Traveling requires an insane amount of creativity.

I just had this stuck in my head for a few days after hearing myself and others being acclaimed for creativity, whereas I don’t think I’m very special in terms of creativity (it’s the rule, not the exception). My creativity comes from the things I do AND being in a wheelchair.  

Finding Apartments For Paraplegics

cosmo and lauren in an apartment with some books behind them

What I’ve done

When it comes to finding an apartment for yourself (if in a wheelchair) or anyone else in a wheelchair, there’s a lot to consider and it’s not easy.

Let’s set the context: I was in Michigan and looking for apartments in the Denver, CO area. This is already a good bit easier since the city and the surrounding area (Boulder, Broomfield, etc.) has a large population and thus a good economy for options. The second thing is that I was doing this remotely and I would NOT be doing any apartment tours. Why? Because I was in Michigan and it wasn’t worth it for me to go to Colorado and spend multiple days doing tours of apartments, also I was in university and once I was done, I went to Europe.

THE very first thing you need to do is assess what’s the bare minimum you NEED in terms of accessibility. For me, since I’m fortunate to be on the lower side of needing accessibility, this is just that I need to be able to get around the apartment (this is a big one for everyone) and be able to have a shower.

Here’s what we’re looking for in terms of accessibility:

  • Sizes (large enough to spin around, etc. with the wheelchair that, for me, that’s a 3ft x 2ft rectangle, and to spin around I’ll need a 3ft diameter circular area minimum)
    • Bathroom
    • Bedroom + Closet
    • Kitchen
    • Entrance
  • Shower type – bath, walk-in, etc.
  • Kitchen layout
    • Sink
    • Fridge
    • Counter space
    • General style
    • Microwave (if one comes with the apartment, and is it high above the stove?)
  • Elevator?
  • The building entrance is accessible?

Now we shall elaborate and discuss how I searched for apartments

To start, I used apartments.com. I found the most filters here and it works well. The first thing I did was go to the general location and look at all the apartments in the area as a whole. The next few filters are for the price, move-in date, and room count (2bd 2ba for me) if this doesn’t matter then skip it. After that I filtered for “wheelchair accessible” and this will show you the apartments worth calling for one important reason: if they care enough to put it in their end of the system, they’ll care enough to treat you well and the rest of the apartment campus is likely to be accessible-friendly. For me, this reduced the number of apartments by about 70-80%. Ouch.

When you filter by “wheelchair accessible,” what you see are the apartment complexes that OFFER wheelchair accessible rooms, not that they have them available.

Here’s the important stuff:

  • I look at every apartment left after my filters (I also added an in-unit washer/dryer, a stricter location (<10miles from work), and the desired move-in date. )
  • I look at every apartment and look through the pictures, here’s what I look for:
    • Stairs in the apartment (some have lofts and I don’t want that)
    • What the apartment campus looks like (stairs?)
    • What type of showers are there? walk-in or tub?
    • Is the kitchen open or closed (closed looks like a hallway with stove and sinks along the sides)
  • I save the apartments that look nice and spacious because remember that even if they have wheelchair accessible rooms, they might not be available. (in my case, I couldn’t find any that fit my basic (price, date, bedrooms) filters and were wheelchair accessible).
  • I call/email each apartment and here’s what I ask:
    1. Do you have any wheelchair accessible rooms (just in general)?
      • If yes: are any of them 2 bed?
      • Will any of them be available around X date?
      • What are the changes made to make it accessible?
      • Do you have an elevator? (maybe I want to visit the other floors and see friends)
    2. If no, then they lied on their page because we filtered for wheelchair accessible rooms

One place I called had an accessible apartment but there were stairs leading into it. Shame.

As an aside, you can see most of this from the website (apartments.com or the apartment’s). But I always ask about rooms available, wheelchair access, etc. because the websites aren’t always updated each day. You should be able to see which apartments are available and the layout.

What I did was look at the floor plans of every apartment that was 2bd 2ba, available at my move-in date, within my price range, near my work office, had wheelchair accessible rooms, and had an in-unit washer/dryer. This sounds like a lot of filters, but honestly, there were a lot of options and adding these reduced the amount of apartments to about 20, which is plenty to call.

  • If the apartment has wheelchair accessible rooms but none are available, the next thing is to ask what IS available (within the given filters of 2bd 2ba, etc.) (we can usually see this online).
  • Once I know that they have 2bd 2ba rooms, though not wheelchair accessible, I then ask for floor plans with measurements.
  • If they don’t have measurements, take a look at the floor plan and then ask for measurements
    • Here’s what I look for in a floorplan:
    • Can I turn around in the bathroom(s)? For the wheelchair I use, this requires about 3-4ft between the closest walls (minimum).
    • Can I turn around in the kitchen? Some of the thin hallway-style kitchens would be a 1 way in, 1 way out.
    • Are the doors wide enough? 32 inches is the standard ADA width, ask them to measure this for every door unless they know
    • What type of showers are there? A tub or walk-in and does the walk-in have glass doors, or is it a curtain?
    • Where is the toilet location? This is a big one, the best thing is to have a toilet you can approach from the side and with sufficient room around it.

Basically, what I’m doing in my head and what you could do on paper, is having a scale layout of the apartment, and then place the “square,” that is the wheelchair, everywhere possible and see if it gets stuck or can’t turn around.

I know this is a lot, and I repeated myself to make sure the important points were driven home. It starts with knowing what you need and then being smart about finding it and ensuring all the details are covered. If you can visit, that’s good, but still calling and asking these questions will help find the places worth visiting.

Being Happy In A Wheelchair?!?

There’s being happy and being in a wheelchair, being happy despite being in a wheelchair, being happy to be in a wheelchair, and probably infinite ways to say it such that there’s a subtle difference.

Myself personally, I have only ever been happy despite being in a wheelchair. And that of course is important because at any point in time for anyones life, if held at gunpoint but most likely without much effort or threat, they can find something to be unhappy about. It’s quite easy actually. It’s naturally difficult to be happy. Did you just agree with that? Don’t believe everything you read or think. It’s actually natural and easy to be happy, but only because of the current state of the world is it actually hard.

With that said, my message is basically just a PSA. I’ve been happy and almost never depressed since and before being in a wheelchair. Usually when I do get depressed it’s nothing to do with a wheelchair but instead just the same questioning of life importance and greatness most of us experience.

I have NEVER been happy to be in a wheelchair. In fact, there hasn’t been a single day that I don’t absolutely hate it. I don’t let that hate ooze into the rest of my life. It’s compartmentalized.

I do not like it or any aspect of it. There has never been a moment I’ve been happy to not have motor function of my legs.

But I’m not unhappy overall.

End of message.

Very infrequently yours,

Cosmo

Thinking About What Accessibility Truly Means

I consider myself on the low end of accessibility because of everything I know I’m able to accomplish and have accomplished. Most of it with some help but a lot of it is just me figuring it out and using my strength and ingenuity. The larger part of it all is patience.

Although not everything is truly accessible by either ADA standards or just measured against me or someone more disabled being capable of independently doing it, that doesn’t mean it’s wholly impossible. But that implies time, effort and willingness.

At my university (Michigan Tech), there are a lot of things on campus that make it inaccessible by both measures (ADA compliance and general standards). I encountered this and thought of this when I went to go to a class and couldn’t get there because an elevator was down.

There is a building that is near completely inaccessible except that it’s connected to another building and between them is an elevator. Technically this makes that building accessible. However, it is very inconvenient. Which is my point here being that accessibility is also largely a matter of convenience.

These buildings have 6 floors technically. The first floor for each building (connected) are separated by about 6 stairs, so I go in one building and take the elevator down a few steps to get to the first floor of the other building and that’s the only way to get to those floors. I also am about sure that the only bathrooms are in one building meaning that while I’m studying in one building I’d have to take the elevator down a few steps to get to the bathroom.

One day, while on my way to my favorite study room, the elevators were down. This also meant that my class on the 3rd floor of the building with the offset was completely off the table as for going. Knowing my campus, there actually is a way to get to this room still. I could go in the library and up to that second floor, over a bridge connecting to the building where I study and then to my room which is on the second floor. However, though this is technically accessible, it’s really not.

My point in case is that convenience is what makes good accessibility. I could technically get up a set of stairs as long as there’s a sturdy hand rail. But installing a sturdy handrail doesn’t make a building accessible!

There’s another point here which is that there’s a building with doors hard to open, but it’s connected to another one that has button on the door. Technically, again, this makes it ADA accessible but I really don’t think so because you have to walk through an entire building and up a slant and through some fire doors (which don’t have buttons).

This is most likely the case everywhere. And although I hate having expectations like this, because I believe it’s my duty to adapt, I also would like to see some very simple considerations (such as having connected building with floor 1 level with floor 1).

Thoughts on Discretion

I was going to write about diapers, but then as I wrote this in my head, I found a larger topic to discuss. Here are my thoughts on discretion.

The main issue anyone will encounter when going to the store and buying diapers as an adult is their ego. The issue that anyone who sees you will have is trying to be polite and pretend they don’t see you buying diapers. Or anything categorically personal. 

When I’m going to the bathroom and using a catheter, I don’t exactly try to hide it. I’m not sneaking coke into the library bathroom, I’m just going pee. The more I try to be secretive, the more people’s interest will peak. I also don’t hold it up, explain what it is and have the world know my business. 

The way I go about it is textbook casual. Part of it is realizing that the other person truly, honestly, with all their heart, does not care. For them, it can range from noticing your attempts at extreme discretion and maybe talking or thinking about it before they lapse back to themselves, or if you’re too open, and maybe tell too much to the cashier about why you need diapers and then their image of you is probably tainted with knowledge they well could’ve died happy without attaining. Those are the extremes, but if you find the sweet spot, people will probably not notice and even if they do, they’ll only register what’s happening for the moments they’re noticing and then go back to their world.

I don’t small talk it – buying diapers or using a catheter – I don’t hide it either, but I do keep it out of sight. I’m discrete as much as is necessary to give respect to people who don’t want to see a bag of pee. That would be overly casual and ignorant. About the same as a grown man pulling his pants all the way down at the urinal. 

It’s nothing worth talking about or hiding, but it’s personal enough to be discrete by classical social standards. 

And if you’re wondering about when or why I use diapers, that’s coming next.

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