Confessions of an Outdoor Junkie with a Disability
by Bob Wassom
It’s not that I can’t leave. I’m not under house arrest. My lifestyle won’t let me. I’ve become spoiled by the abundance of accessible recreation available to me–accessible by every definition, including the one used by the ADA. Utah is an outdoor recreation paradise … especially for people with a disability. It’s all about freedom, and I have a lot of it here. There are also a lot of resources for equipment, training, rehab and social connections.
Utah is fast becoming an elite World Class training ground for athletes of all disciplines. And that bodes well for all of us who call this home. Because we get to play on the same World Class playground. For that we can thank the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. In the years leading up to the games, Utah saw a flurry of construction, as new winter sports venues from skating rinks to ski jumps popped up like mushrooms. Utah’s winter resorts added lodging, ski lifts, new runs, and restaurants in anticipation of the world’s arrival. For a local (a true local, since I was born here) it was like Santa Claus had come with deep pockets and filled the landscape with toys of every kind.
I live in Salt Lake City, near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, 13 miles from the snowboarding and backcountry skiing hot-spot of Brighton. Solitude, with its charming European style ski village, is just one mile closer. About a mile and a half south is the entrance to Little Cottonwood Canyon, portal to the legendary steeps and deeps of Alta and Snowbird. Park City, Deer Valley and The Canyons are a 25- minute drive.
A former ski instructor, I can barely stand up on skis now thanks to one ill advised dive into a reservoir, a broken neck, and quadriplegia. Yes, I’m upright and walking, but balance and agility on skis is sketchy at best. But I keep trying. The mountains that are literally in my face won’t allow me to ignore them. They keep calling and I keep answering. I used to be quite a bit more proficient on skis than I am now, even after my accident. I guess aging with a spinal cord injury speeds up the loss of agility and balance. At any rate, I don’t venture beyond the groomed intermediate slopes anymore. And when I fall, it’s a major event getting up, usually requiring me to remove at least one ski. I think I know what a turtle feels like on its back. With not much abdominal strength, it’s a struggle to get vertical again.
Allow Me to Backtrack
After my accident, I had given up on the idea of skiing. But one early fall evening, I found myself at a Warren Miller ski movie. (I’m old enough to remember when Warren Miller himself used to come and narrate his movies live, while his 16 millimeter projector clicked and clacked away in the background. Now that’s old school.) The movie had a segment on blind skiers. I remember watching this blind guy skiing down the mountain behind a guide, who would yell “left” and “right” to keep them in the middle of the run. I also remember the broad grin on the guy’s face as he made one smooth turn after another. It was like a bolt of lightning hit me. “If that guy can ski and enjoy it…then maybe I better get off my butt and get back up the mountain.”
So the next day, I went to The Sport Loft, local ski shop owned by an ex-Alta ski instructor named Earl Middlemas and bought a pair of Kneissl Super Shorts. At the time, the current technology – the Graduated Length Method (GLM) – had everyone skiing on shorter, slightly wider skis. I went from the 210 centimeter Hart Javelin that I had used as a ski instructor to a 150-centimeter Kneissl. It was a whole new world, in more ways than one.
My first time back on skis I went to Snowbird, the last place I skied before I broke my neck. But instead of taking the tram to the top of 11,500 foot Hidden Peak and blasting down the black diamond run known as Regulator, I took the beginner lift to the top of a run called Chickadee, Snowbird’s version of a bunny slope. I was shaking badly. I could barely buckle my boots. But on December 6, 1979, seven years after I broke my neck, I made my first turn on skis again.
Fortunately, my mechanics were still in place from my days as a ski instructor, and the new equipment made it much easier. I was able to negotiate the 50-foot vertical drop of Chickadee without falling. But I was back in the mountains standing on a pair of skis and soaking in the magnificent scenery. My world had suddenly expanded.
That’s what happens with a disability – your world shrinks. You feel isolated, different…like you don’t belong anymore. At least that’s how I felt. I still battle those feelings. I’m caught between the able-bodied and disabled (I hate that word) world. I’m somewhat mobile and when I’m standing without moving, I don’t look like I’m disabled. But when I move, I walk like a wounded duck. Slow, jerky, stiff. My right ankle is fused, in an effort to provide more support for injury-weakened muscles. But I can’t complain. Maybe it’s a stretch to call me disabled…maybe impaired is a better word. I just know that every step takes a lot of concentration and it’s hardly natural. But back to where I began.
Today, 35 years after my accident, I feel more fortunate than ever to live where I do, and I know that bicycling, skiing, golfing….any of my outdoor passions, is a privilege that I will never take for granted. There are so many resources I can take advantage of here…nearby playgrounds, state-of-the-art training facilities, well-trained instructors and people dedicated to helping those of us with medical limitations. I’ll get into more detail about all of those people and places in my next article. Stay tuned.
Reprinted by permission of DisaboomLive.
JTrek Announces Crime-deterring Software for Smartphone Users
JTrek LLC, a division of Xtel Communications Inc, just announced openings for beta testers to check out its personal security surveillance software.
Ever since I learned about JTrek, I’ve wondered about the many ways people can use their Smartphones to record situations that appear dangerous. Or situations where there’s been an accident or other incident. And how might this work for many people with disabilities?
Why? Because people with a JTrek account can, in such situations, hit a panic button, and begin recording an incident or person who appears questionable, and the info immediately appears on the JTrek website. At the same time, hitting the panic button will notify pre-arranged contacts via texting or email.
And JTrek uses Geotagging, as well. Everything is recorded on the website, and can later be edited (except anything to do with GPS, which can’t be edited).
Think about runners who constantly put themselves in harm’s way.
Think about students on campus who need that extra feature to protect them both in dormitories or on campus.
Think about people on night shifts who must use isolated parking garages.
Think about people out walking dogs (exceptions: German Shepard, Rottweilers, etc.).
Think about people in hotels who often leave and arrive at night. And many of these same people must use darkened parking garages as they travel.
Think about nannies and parents watching children in a park.
Think about people with disabilities who often must move more slowly in a given situation.
And JTrek has its beta testing open. If you have a Smartphone, consider testing this amazing software, and while you’re doing so, think of all the ways it can be used to deter crime and record incidents that need photos.
Here’s how JTrek sums up its product and the potential for deterring crime:
…once the application grows in popularity and the public becomes more generally aware of technology used in this manner, the application will undoubtedly provide a degree of deterrence to other crimes. For example, see how crime has diminished now that video cameras are installed in automatic teller machines.
We don’t claim to be able to prevent anything like this from happening to you, but once perpetrators learn of our video/photo technology with cellular-based Smartphones, we are confident they will likely avoid confrontation with you, rather than risk being identified.
Many of us are on the streets, in shopping malls, on campuses, walking, running, and traveling. Constantly. Consider being a beta tester for JTrek, and give your opinions to the JTrek team and via social networking.
Legislature created its own Katrina
By Timothy J. Schmaltz
Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition
Imagine if Scottsdale’s entire population was struck with a natural disaster. We would rush to their aid immediately. We would marshal the resources of the state, community organizations and the faith community, like we did with Katrina refugees, even in the midst of our current economic disaster and take federal disaster relief funding.
When you add up all the people impacted by the Legislature’s health and human services cuts, without including the people who are being thrown into unemployment by these cuts, the results impact about the number of people living in Scottsdale or Gilbert. What the state Legislature has done in the state budget cuts for health and human services is to create our own state disaster on the scale of the City of Scottsdale.
Many children, adults and children with disabilities, seniors, their caregivers and their families will suffer tremendously and needlessly. The Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition (PAFCO) condemns the consequences of 2009 budget cuts imposed by the Legislature on the departments of Economic Security and Health Services and AHCCCS for children, people with disabilities, seniors, their caregivers and families. The cuts shred the tattered remains of the current state safety net.
The department cuts remove fundamental protections for our most vulnerable children, persons with disabilities and vulnerable adults by actually downsizing and restricting our child and adult protective services systems. Children will be forced into the foster care system increasing that caseload, trapping children in the state system for many years to come and actually increasing the state’s costs. Vulnerable adults will be at risk of abuse and exploitation, forced into more social isolation and lack of dignity.
These cuts will force low income single mothers and other families to give up their work and financial stability by losing child care essential to their financial independence. They will drive already poor families deeper into poverty and financial dependence. They will throw families into homelessness and abandon families stuck currently on the street. Elderly
will be forced into nursing homes or other institutions.
People with disabilities will languish in dependency. The cuts remove critical public health and mental health services for people who need them most. For the vast majority of people being cut from services, they have no other options.
By the department’s own admission, areas of the state will be left with no services. These reductions will fly in the face of many federal regulations for accuracy, accessibility, and timeliness of services and benefits.
Beyond the large number of layoffs being experienced in various state agencies, community services and health and human services agencies are being forced to lay off thousands of staff further contributing to the state’s economic woes and putting more families at risk.
Community agencies and faith organizations are being overwhelmed by rising demands at the same time that donations are down sharply. These cuts only compound the current lack of current community capacity to respond while adding to the economic downturn with more unemployment and decreasing economic activity.
We acknowledge the state’s dire revenues and recognize that actions on the state budget needed to be taken. However, there are options to all these cuts forced on the departments of Economic Security and Health Services and AHCCCS by the Legislature.
The governor with the Legislature must take immediate action to stop and restore funding of these cuts by immediately accepting and using all available federal stimulus funds for health and human services.
There are tremendous opportunities with that funding to undo much of the harm done by the Legislature. The state would take any federal relief if the crisis we faced as a state was a natural disaster and it is only right do the same now.
For the 2010 budget, the governor and the Legislature must take any further cuts off the table to essential services in the areas of health and human services to avoid more destructive actions against children, families and vulnerable adults. The 2010 budget must not do more harm. We must not repeat the current manufactured disaster of the 2009 cuts.
Long term, the state must do tax reform to create a fair, equitable and adequate revenue base and tax system to enable government to address its responsibilities for the common good.
The measure of a civilized humane society is how it treats its most vulnerable members particularly at their time of critical need. Government actions must not be sources of destruction and despair, but in partnership with community based organizations and faith communities, must be a sources of hope, support, and resilience for families.
Reprinted by permission of Timothy J. Schmaltz