This is what I’ve been talking about.

I’ve been away from this blog for quite some time, dealing with some complicated shit. More about that later. But for now:

This is what I’ve been talking about. Ordinary people, doing ordinary things. Ordinary people who happen to be in wheelchairs, featured in commercials. Better they should be in mainstream TV shows and movies, but I’ll take what I can get.

  • The wheelchairs are not the focus of the story, they’re not even important to the story. This little screenplay could have been acted out equally as powerfully were the actors not in wheelchairs.
  • I love the fact that this drama shows people in wheelchairs being physical, active athletes, able to give and take on the court. I love the fact that this is not about people in wheelchairs. This is not about disability.
  • I love the fact that it proves that wheelchair users are not “bound” to their chairs. Just as we are moving towards more inclusive “person first” language we have to move away from the image of people in wheelchairs being dependent and stuck or trapped. For these men, like for everybody else who uses a wheelchair, the chair is a vehicle for liberation.
  • I love that the story empowers the men in the wheelchairs.
  • I love the fact that the kids are fully included in the father’s life and accepting of his disability, perhaps not even seeing it anymore.
  • I love the fact that Toyota stands aside, and can promote their message and their product (I still don’t know what model vehicle is being promoted, but, like the wheelchairs, it doesn’t matter.) without having to shout.
  • I love seeing myself, or someone who looks like me, portrayed this way in a mainstream commercial. Perhaps only marginalized people will understand this. (A topic for a further and lengthy, discussion.)

In the end, what makes this a really great commercial is that the product (some sort of car, I think…) is only a vehicle (pardon the pun) for the drama of a group of men playing a very physical game of basketball, ending the day without holding grudges.

I hope this film can lead the way toward more fully inclusive roles for people with disabilities.

Did I mention that I love this little film? What do you think?

Cruisin’, part 2

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I ‘ve been out and about with my bad motor scooter – taking the short bus to Freeport (home to Maine’s #2 tourist destination, L.L. Bean, and a very accessible little downtown), and to Falmouth, and yesterday into Portland for a spin around the Museum of Fine Arts (to be dazzled by Georgia O’Keeffe, Marguerite Thompson Zorach, Florine Stettheimer, and Helen Torr) – and I was immensely pleased with the SmartDrive‘s performance at every location – brick concourse, concrete sidewalk, museum floor. The only hesitations were from my inexperience and lack of trust. Even when it popped off the chair, it was doing what it was supposed to do. It was easy to reattach, and each time I learned a little something new. Brilliantly simple.

There is always a “but…”. I wonder why there isn’t some sort of geared wheel hub that would offer a transmission brake to slow the chair when going down hill. Relying on my grip on the handrims is both difficult (was that smoke rising from the palms of my gloves?) and dangerous if my hand strength should give out – look out below! Bike mechanics, engineers, makers and tinkerers – can this be done?

Allow me one more ranty rave – the SmartDrive is a life changer. My solo outings I would never have even attempted under my own power, knowing how limited my strength can be. One of the things I used to love to do, and one of the dearest things I lost to disability, was wandering the streets with my camera. Thanks to the SmartDrive, I have that back again. Now I look at the bus map and realize that, theoretically at least, I can go from Yarmouth to destinations on my local route, including the Downeaster train in Portland, which offers me essentially…everywhere. That might not seem like much to most people, but as someone for whom those horizons previously came with enormous obstacles, being able to look at the map and see such possibilities is, pardon the expression, huge. A simple hunk of technology like the SmartDrive is empowering and liberating.

Discuss: “It’s exciting that a woman who is transgender can go to the bathroom that she identifies with, bizarre that the disabled community can’t.” (I cannot find the attribution for this.)

Cruisin’!

It’s cruise control for your wheelchair.

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After waiting a few months for Medicare approval and delivery, a week or so of weather delays and a few false starts (due to user error – d’oh!), I finally got to venture out with my new SmartDrive. I didn’t go far from home, in case those user errors turned out to be SmartDrive fails. My DW unfolded the chair, popped the Drive onto the frame, and I set off for a parking lot to see if I had actually figured the dang thing out.

It turns out I had, and I took off down the sidewalk on my shakedown cruise. The SmartDrive is simple – it’s the size of a big dust buster that snaps onto the undercarriage of your wheelchair, and, well, drives the chair. All you do is give the hand rim a push, and the drive kicks in, powering the chair at the same speed as your initial push. The Bluetooth wristband communicates with the drive to control the speed – push a little harder and the drive goes a little faster. Push on either hand rim to steer, and tap on the wheel to turn the drive off. That’s it.

The little thing has the power to push the chair over bumps and cracks and discontinuities in the pavement. If you are able to wheelie over a curb, the drive will power you through it. I even took it into a gravel parking area and had no problem. Up a long hill? No problem. I took it into the town hall to use the bathroom, and into a cafe for a smoothy, places a scooter or larger powerchair would not have so easily fit. No problem. I wore a bit of a smug grin as I powered up the hill hands free – save for a few steering touches to the wheels. It’ll essentially keep driving over anything until you turn it off.

Is it hyperbole to call the SmartDrive a game changer? I don’t think so. The terrain I cruised over that day in Yarmouth I’d never have even attempted before. Now I’m feeling confident that I can deal with anything the Big City can put in front of me. I’ll let you know.

Does diversity include disability?

The LA Times recently published “A list of 100 people in Hollywood who could help fix the Academy’s diversity problem.”  The list is replete with people of all colors, races, creeds and gender identities. The writers of the list said they spoke with dozens of “Hollywood insiders” to come up with the list. It seems that they didn’t talk with any of the 650 million in the largest minority group in the world. Out of 100 insiders, there is not one with disability. Could it be that there are no Hollywood insiders with disability? No wonder all we get are able-bodied actors playing the parts of people with disability, and able-bodied writers writing about disability.

When I watch TV or a movie, I see plenty of diversity in skin color and gender. But I very rarely see anyone with a disability – a person like me. When I do, it’s usually an able-bodied actor taking the role. Yes, there was R.J. Mitte in Breaking Bad, and well done at that. But remember Arte in Glee? Blair Underwood in the ill-fated Ironside? DJ Qualls in Legit? In the remake of “Roots,” how many of the African parts went to white actors in blackface? I’d put my money on “none.” How long would women – or any of us –  put up with every female role being played by male actors in drag? Not long.

I don’t need a feature film about me. I don’t need a TV show about me, although that would be nice. All I want is to see myself reflected on the screen. Imagine “Friends,” where Phoebe is in a wheelchair. The show need be no more about the wheelchair than it was about her quirky music. (Remember “Smelly Cat?”) She’d be exactly the same character, except she’d be in a wheelchair, played by Teal Sherer, of “My Gimpy Life” fame. That’s all. I’d be fully satisfied by that.

(I will admit that I am not a consumer of current television programming, so I may well have missed something. Correct me if I’m wrong.)

And while we’re at it, remember, Corporate America, people with disabilities go to McDonald’s, they buy cars, and engage in sports. And there’s a heck of a lot of us. Just sayin’.

If any of my millions of Faithful Readers have any expertise in, connection with, or inclination towards screenwriting or media production, drop me a line.

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I’m down here!

iuHugging someone in a wheelchair is not all that different from hugging someone…not in a wheelchair. It doesn’t have to be like in the picture (the only image The Google was able to offer me). Although I bet that was one of best hugs either of these two ever had. It’s really pretty simple, if you think about it.

Just come down to my level. I’d come up to yours, but you can see how that’s not going to work. Pull up a chair or kneel down, squat if you have the leg strength. Hell, sit in my lap. We just need to be at eye level – the same as you would do if we were both standing. The rest should be self-explanitory.

That protocol also applies to holding a conversation with a person in a wheelchair. Craning my neck, trying to bridge the three feet between your height and mine, is uncomfortable. Neither of us wants to be in this physical relationship, me way down here and you way up there, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

I realize as I write this that I have not done my part in this dance. I have not suggested to the people who awkardly bend down to give me a hug that there is a better way.

So I’ll ask. Come down here and give me a hug. We’ll both be better off for it.

Mid-Life

While many people my age – I am hopeful that 57 can still be considered mid-life- might be lusting after sports cars, I find I am drooling over cool and sporty and high-tech, and, ultimately expensive, wheelchairs. Pitiful? Maybe, but I fantasize about wheeling around in a groovy whip.

I’ve been following The Ogo as it has progressed from fantasy to Indegogo. I’m glad to see it is still around and, due to the foresight of its inventor, might actually become an affordable option.

More realistically, I have been eyeing the SmartDrive for a while. I recently sat down with my physiatrist to talk wheelchairs, and was surprised that he and a physical therapist agreed that it was a good option. I’m waiting now to see if Medicare agrees.

And just the other day, I stumbled over the Tiga FX. A reimagined folding wheelchair – how smart is this, folds like a lawn chair, allowing for a rigid frame while fitting in a suitcase (wheels travel separately).

There’s plenty more. Off-road chairs, power chairs, adaptations up the wazoo. As I said, this is my mid-life fantasy list. Porsche roadster? How about The Kenguru? Even better, a Porsche-Kenguru mashup. I’ll be hanging my head out the widow and definitely NOT acting my age.

Tell me about your perfect ride.