Monday, April 30, 2012

Accessible Gardening Resources

While in Michigan earlier this month, I stopped by an Ann Arbor park to see what was growing in their accessible community garden. Not too much except spinach in a few boxes, which made me wonder why this amazing space wasn't showing more visitation and use. I found raised beds a various heights, for use while standing, sitting in a wheelchair, or sitting on bench walls surrounding a raised bed. Short trellises nearby showed me that vine plants like peas and morning glories could be kept within relatively easy reach.

Gardening is one of my favorite outdoor activities. I love growing flowers, herbs and vegetables. Since I live in the woods, I cultivate flowers and kitchen herbs in containers on the deck where the sun shines for half the day. For full sun growing I help a friend in her garden and reap the abundance of fresh air and vegetables throughout the season. The benefits of gardening include mild to rigorous exercise and social time with others. A hands-on connection to the earth, living food, and nature are also a deep part of the experience for me. I also enjoy a sense of connection to my ancestors, who grew much of their own food.

Seniors and those who have disabilities need not be excluded from this spring time reconnection to the earth. Raised beds and adaptive tools are two popular solutions that help facilitate easier access to the soil. Gardening buddies can do the heavier lifting. With a quick search on line to see what is specifically available, I found Accessible Gardens, a Rhode Island based company founded by Ray LaRoque, a wheelchair user who has "raised gardening to a new level" with portable raised garden structures much like what I found in Ann Arbor.

Other resources available to the budding gardener include basic articles such as those offered by the University of Minnesota's Extension Services, a spinal cord injury support site called Apparelyzed, and garden supply companies such as Natural Yards. There are a few good books on the subject as well - just Google "accessible gardening" on Amazon to find out more.

If gardening appeals to you, now is the time to explore your options!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Freedom and Speed

The following is a Guest Post from Alejandra Taco. She is a Nutrition Coach and Founder of Holistic Health Empowerment ( who has, in the last few years, discovered the fun and health benefits of adaptive recreation through Piers Point Sailing, participating in the Boston Marathon, and DCR's Universal Access Program. Thanks Alejandra, for sharing your words and experience!

Sports to me were for the able bodied. Growing up with cerebral palsy and using a wheelchair meant that sports were not for me. I would tell myself that if I could walk I would have a more active life. That all changed when I got invited to go sailing for the first time.

On my 24th birthday I had the opportunity to sail with Maureen McKinnon-Tucker, a gold medalist in sailing at the 2008 Paralympics in China. It was my first taste of adaptive sports and meeting Maureen opened my world to endless possibilities. The moment we left our chairs behind and got on the boat my perspective of what was possible for me changed. A sense of freedom took over as I experienced the thrill of speed which I love! Watching Maureen sail and be in control of the boat showed me that sports could be part of my life as well. This inspired me to find out what other adaptive sports were out there for me to try.

Growing up in Boston and going to see the marathon each year always stirred something inside me, making me want to be part of it someday. That dream became a reality in 2010! With the support of my family and the guidance of three wheelchair racers I embarked on one of my biggest challenges. With very little training and not much time on my side everyone thought I was a bit crazy but supported me anyway. On May 19, 2010, I raced 11 miles of the Boston marathon. It was an experience that I will never forget showing me what I was capable of.

My adventures didn’t stop there, when I found out about DCR’s Universal Access Program and their adaptive skating program in Revere. I decided to give it a try and see what it was all about. Marcy and Heidi welcomed me with open arms, and the next thing I knew I was on a sled with short hockey sticks skating! It took three sessions for me to get the hang of it and I felt free once again, to go as fast as my arms could take me! What I love about the program is the way it connects me with others just like me - people who are looking to feel normal for a day and enjoy themselves. The activities include everyone no matter what your disability is. I wanted to do more so I decided to become a mentor for the program so I could share my experience with others and tell them that sports are for everyone.

As a nutrition and health coach, I help people improve their eating habits and teach the importance of physical activities. Not only do they help us be healthy but they empower us to believe in ourselves and know that we are capable of accomplishing far more things than what society expects from us. Once I leave my wheelchair and transfer to a boat, a racer, a sled skate, or a sit-ski I leave the cerebral palsy behind and feel like any other athlete.

My next stop was skiing and once again I fell I love with it! Brenda from Outdoor Access greeted me with a funny hat and a big smile. She helped me into a sit-ski and taught me all I need to know about skiing that day. With the help of great volunteers I took to the snow at the Weston Ski track. I’ve been skiing two years now and it’s the best part of my winters. Another great thing about these programs is that you don’t need to have any prior experience or skills, all you need is to show up, and they will take care of you by adapting to your needs. The important thing is to have fun, and if you fall try, try again.

In Universal Access programs I skate, ski, hike, sail and much more. In the end I didn’t need to walk to enjoy sports and the thrill of speed. All I needed was to meet the right group friends and mentors and the right toys!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Abilities Expo In New York May 4-6

The Abilities Expo is a national trade show event that showcases assistive technology in major cities and is dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities. For the past 30 years, Abilities Expo has opened new doors for people of all ages with all kinds of disabilities, their families, health car providers and service professionals. The event offers the latest products and services relating to home, auto, travel, health, fashion, sports, recreation and more. The 3 day trade show is held in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York each year.

These FREE events feature workshops, demonstrations, assistive technology and retail pavilions. In recent years the Abilities Expo has expanded its offerings to include career fairs, artists markets, performances, animal demonstrations and people with disabilities as ambassadors to link local folks to the regional event. If you haven't been to one in awhile, you might be surprised. It looks like a fantastic opportunity. I've been to locally organized assistive technology expos and they are wonderful community events where new connections thrive. Such an event on a regional scale could have a whole lot more to offer. One benefit is that there are great discounts for attendees on products.

This year's Abilities Expo in New York is coming up May 4-6 at the New York Metro in Edison, NJ. Some of the highlights for this particular show include wheelchair dance performance and workshops, quad rugby demonstrations, assistive dog demonstrations, and the Horse Boy method of working with kids with autism.

I got intrigued by this last entry, never having heard of the Horse Boy. Turns out The Horse Boy is both a book and a movie chronicling one family's journey with a son with autism and how working with horses improved his ability to communicate. From their backyard to Mongolia and back, they pioneered a new dimension to therapeutic riding now known as the Horse Boy Method, which helps those with neuro-psychiatric disorders improve their lives. Demonstrations will be offered by Allie's Kids, a horse riding stable in New Jersey that specializes in working with kids with disabilities and their siblings.

Adaptive recreation and sports organizations presenting in New York this year include Freedom Concepts (adaptive bikes), KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now), SATH (Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality), Action TrackChair (all terrain wheelchair), and Journey Forward (SCI exercise program). There are many more - check it out!