February was busy and sad

February has always been a rough month for me. Being cold actually hurts and it’s exhausting. My hands and feet are always cold in February unless I’m in bed or wrapped up in an electric blanket on the couch. But, you can’t stay horizontal all day or nothing will get done so it’s up and at ‘em.

We had to put our beloved dog, Val, down early in the month.

Our beautiful Val

It was one of the most difficult things Ron and I have had to do during our 30 years together. Val had been with us for 14 years. He was part of our little family and we loved him dearly. When he went he was blind, deaf, and had a bad skin condition. His quality of life was severely curtailed and he slept all day and night, only rousing to eat as often as possible and roam about the house a bit bouncing off walls while he looked for me. We loved him, he loved us and it has been hard without him. I still tear up when I think about him or look at his picture. A little cedar box containing his ashes sits on our bookshelf and in the spring I’ll put them in the garden where he used to chase squirrels.

I finished an online course on Visitability through the University of Buffalo.
The concept includes:
– An entrance without a step or threshold that is on an accessible path of travel from the street, sidewalk or driveway. An accessible path of travel has no steps, is at least 36 in. wide and is not steeper than 1:20 (5% grade) for walkways or 1:12 for ramps.
– Throughout the ground floor, doorways designed to provide 32 inches clear space and hallways that have at least 36 in. of clear width.
– Basic access to a half bath or full bath on the ground floor. As defined here, basic access simply denotes sufficient depth within the bathroom for a wheelchair to enter, and for its user to close the door behind it. Basic access to a full bath is preferable to a half bath, but is not required.
– Electrical switches and outlets not lower than 18 inches to center, nor higher than 48 inches to center. (This element is included in some, but not all visitability initiatives.)
and, some people add lever handles on doors. Lever handles are easier for everyone. A room on the main floor that can easily be converted into a bedroom is also a plus.
Habitat for Humanity Niagara and the Niagara Centre for Independent Living are interested in furthering the concept in Niagara.

Alison Langley of the Niagara Falls Review wrote a really good article on my AccessibleNiagara.com website and my Access is more than an Open Door DVD. You can read it at: http://www.niagarafallsreview.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2960279
That article lead to several more Niagara pages being created on other accessible travel sites in New Zealand and the U.K.

I also attended a day long workshop on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Customer Service Standards and wrote a column for the paper on it that will be published next Saturday. Because I cannot get off a normal toilet I had to come home during the lunch break. This is what stops me from doing a great many things. Don’t know the answer but I’ll likely sort something out. No use of my legs, no push, and extremely weak hands mean I cannot pull myself up using grab bars. No finger strength means I cannot pull up my slacks even if I sit on the side of my scooter and use a urinal. It’s a delicate, frustrating situation that causes social isolation.
Sister and I took in an orchid repotting

Luna

workshop at a local greenhouse where we met Don Davis and his gorgeous parrot, Luna.
The publisher of the newspaper where I worked from 1959-60 and then 1970 to 1982 died at 61 of cancer. Henry Burgoyne was someone I’ll never forget. He was in line for the job of publisher of the paper after his grandfather and father. I first met him when he was only 11 and still in short pants. We worked municipal night election results together in The Standard editorial room in 1959. He loved fast cars and having fun but, most importantly, he was a boss for whom you wanted to do your best. He grew up with us all looking on and I like him a great deal.

Mother is going downhill and we’ve been told she’s lost 10 pounds in the last month. I personally think it’s her way of shutting down whether she’s totally aware of it or not. Not eating is something she can control in a world where everything else is controlled for her. She’ll be 96 in about a month. I’ve written her obituary.

Funding for a big job is due to come through, one way or another, in a week or so and I’m in discussions for even more funding for another huge project I want to do before I’m unable to do anything.

I still haven’t learned to use Dragon Dictate properly. Still typing with the knuckles of my little fingers. Somehow the words come more easily typing my fingers …er knuckles, than they do on my tongue. I was at a meeting last week and said a few things that simply didn’t come out the way they should have. I think much more clearly on the screen.

Snow, snow, snow. We’ve been dumped on several times this month and the world is often softened and quieted by tons of the white stuff.

So, off we go into March. The snow will soon melt away, the ditches and rivers will run high and the sun will shine a little more often; another Canadian January and February behind us.

House arrest in Niagara… or Venice?

Yesterday my colleague, Eileen, and I, visited the 100 acre Safari Niagara theme park in Stevensville near Niagara Falls, Ontario. I won’t get into it in depth because we’ll have it up on our AccessibleNiagara.com website in short order.
Now I absolutely abhor the thought of keeping anything caged for humans to ogle but if it has to be and can’t be changed, this place is very clean and the animals are housed in huge enclosures with ponds, trees and hiding places. The fact that most of them were lounging in the sun made the entire visit even nicer. There’s nothing like an upside down 10 foot long tiger

Tall and handsome

looking at you as he yawns his way through the afternoon or a 14 foot giraffe reaching to sniff your hair to get you into some serious animal watching.

As we turned toward the trail to the entrance after almost four hours of exploring, I couldn’t help but think that the animals were all experiencing something akin to being under house arrest in very nice apartments. Some are likely terribly frustrated. They are natural explorer/hunters. Some, like the monkeys, seem quite happy. They hoot, scream and scratch and have their own little world within their enclosure. They make the best of it.
I feel like the ones who want to get out. I’v always thought that the world was mine to explore and now I’m under house arrest in Niagara. I haven’t been away for about 15 years I want out. I’ve been to the U.K. twice, across Canada, and to many states in the U.S. but my dream is to go to Venice, Italy for about three weeks to take pictures of the architecture. I’d especially like to zero in on the aged parts of the city: the rust and rot, layers of peeling paint and stucco. That kind of thing really excites me.
But, and it’s a huge but, can I manage the plane trip without exhaustion setting in before I even get there? Are there hotels or private accommodations for someone using a scooter? Can I use the toilets? I can’t get up off a normal height toilet. My legs simply won’t lift me and my hands are too weak to pull my body up using grab bars. I need to push up and that’s very difficult or impossible if you are on a low toilet. Would here be a couple of big strong men available to help me get to the places I want to go: up and down stairs, into gondolas and over door sills? I know there is a map of Venice for people who use scooters and wheelchairs but would I be able to manage? Who would or could go with me? How much would it cost?I know Venice is expensive. I’d take out loan if I had to. So many questions and no answers. I even thought of asking Oprah to help me find a way and we could film it. Sort of like Survivor in the City on Wheels.
While I’m trying to find a way to get me there, I have my lovely Niagara including the falls and Port Dalhousie just down the road. Both are beautiful and a respite from the work world but a gal has got to have a dream and mine is Venice.
Every corner explored, every question answered, no matter how little or seemingly insignificant, is one step closer to being there. Any ideas for me about how I can get there?

National Access Awareness Week

It’s National Access Awareness Week here in Canada.  Not every place celebrates it or even knows it exists but the Ontario March of Dimes here in Niagara knows and does.  They put on an awards ceremony every year to celebrate people who have made jobs possible for the seemingly unemployable, made buildings accessible after architects have done their worst and best of all in my books, acknowledges people with disabilities who have taken on the challenge of making their world a better one by forcing those who aren’t disabled to take a hard look at what they offer up.

I’ll be giving an award tomorrow to a group of individuals who work on a volunteer board concerned with making part of the Old Welland Canal here a recreational venue.  The Welland Recreational Canal Corporation has made docks accessible for disabled rowers, put accessible family-style bathrooms on walking trails and made a unique tourism venue, an amphitheatre built into the side of a hill facing the water, all accessible. The amphitheatre looks out onto a floating stage surrounded by fire pits.  At night, it must be absolutely glorious and it’s all accessible. The venue is called IlluminAqua.

The AccessibleNiagara.com Award, given by me for the last four years to let people know that my website AccessibleNiagara.com exists, goes to these people who have given Niagara yet one more accessible and incredibly neat tourism venue.

If you haven’t seen the website yet, check it out.  It took my colleague, Eileen Zarifinitis, and me 14 months and hundreds of hours to update and we’re pretty proud of it.  We were lucky to get an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant in March 2009 that made things go smoothly and certainly added incentive. I’m still finishing up a few venues but on the whole, it is done…for now.  There are always additions. For an accessible vacation in Niagara including the falls, this is the website to see.

If you know of a website just for people with disabilities in your country would you ask them if they’d link to it? I even have a lovely logo for it but haven’t had time to figure out how to put graphics in this blog yet. Spread the word for us, please.  So many people with disabilities would like to travel but haven’t a clue what is accessible to them.  This website tells them what we have and how to enjoy it on wheels.