Topic: Accessibility

Khrystal

Advocacy evolved: becoming
your child's best advocate

I’m Khrystal K. Davis, mom of five, including Hunter, who is eight years old with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Type 1. I participate in SMA My Way because I believe it’s important to be an empowered advocate as an SMA patient or parent.

“My advocacy for Hunter started at his birth.”

Hunter was delivered via a C-section at 36 weeks. A medical team of 12 filled the operating room. All went well, and Hunter and I went to the recovery room with a nurse, my husband and my mom, who is also a nurse.

Hunter’s health rapidly deteriorated in the recovery room. He began to grunt each time he exhaled. Hunter was my fourth baby, so I knew this wasn’t normal. I asked the nurse to observe, but she didn’t seem concerned. Still, I knew something was wrong. I asked my mom, and she tried to assure me, “I’m sure everything will be okay.” The look on her face was far less reassuring than the words she spoke, and she left the room.

My mom returned, and a medical team from the NICU rushed into the room behind her. They quickly whisked Hunter away to the NICU. His condition continued to worsen, and he required intubation for respiratory failure.

I had to learn to advocate for Hunter from the beginning, but the type of advocacy evolved following his SMA diagnosis at eight weeks of age. I focused my efforts on getting Hunter an appointment with an SMA pulmonologist, an expert and asset in the SMA community, and medical equipment to help maintain his respiratory health. The SMA pulmonologist changed everything for Hunter—we now had a team advocating for him. I learned how to navigate as the captain of that team.

His specialist referred Hunter to speech, physical and occupational therapists, and they too became part of Hunter’s advocacy team. He enjoyed and flourished in his therapy sessions. Together, we secured braces, positioning seats and wheelchairs. Unfortunately, access to what Hunter needed wasn’t guaranteed, and we frequently received insurance denials. The online SMA community was instrumental in helping us overcome the denials. Other parents provided examples of what they’d done, and I modified those documents to address Hunter and his needs. I also began to anticipate potential questions and concerns and started addressing them proactively, rather than reactively. It was great, because I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel each time to help Hunter get what he needed.

I never anticipated the extent to which I would need to advocate for Hunter. Others in the SMA community paved the path to advocacy for me and knew the obstacles we would face. I listened, learned and adjusted my advocacy as needed.

“Becoming Hunter’s best advocate was a collaborative effort and I’m grateful to the SMA community for helping.”

My tip: Look for people who are empathetic to help you get what you need for your child. When someone tells you no or demonstrates an unwillingness to help, move on to another individual. Instead of trying to change a person’s mind, look for the right person to help.

Shane & Hannah

Home Sweet Home

During our speaking engagements at elementary schools across the country, a common question we get asked by inquisitive, young minds is: “What do you do if your house has steps?”

“We love this question, because it shows that the students are applying our message about accessibility to a centerpiece of their own lives, the house they live in.”

We don’t need to belabor an obvious fact – accessible housing is rare and difficult to find – but as Hannah and I have just purchased our first home together, we wanted to discuss a few of our observations (and tips!) from throughout this experience.

A frustrating part for me was that I couldn’t accompany Hannah to many of the open houses, due to inaccessibility. We entered the home-buying process with the assumption that at least some adaptations would need to be made to make our future home accessible, so we didn’t limit ourselves by only seeing perfectly accessible houses. The unfortunate effect of this decision was that we looked at many places with 3+ steps at every entrance.

We counteracted this issue in several ways. Sometimes, Hannah would attend the showing by herself (or with her mom!). Hannah made sure to take lots of photos and videos so she could share them with me afterwards. Another option was to have our real estate agent do a “virtual” tour for us. Using a video call on his phone, our agent walked through every room while we watched from the comfort of our apartment. With his video tour and his tips about the pros and cons of every room, it was just like doing an open house in person.

If possible, I’d also bring along my portable ramp to get inside as many of the prospective homes as I could. I enjoyed this method the best, but all three options gave us a great sense of our choices.

With a disease like SMA, requirements for a home are obviously going to vary from person to person, but here are some of the things we asked about and paid attention to when picking our first home:

  • How much work needs to be done to make the front entrance accessible?
  • If there’s a basement, is it a walkout or would we need to install an elevator/lift inside the home?
  • We generally looked only at one-level homes. Multiple floors just mean a lot more work needs to be done to make it accessible.
  • Were the rooms and doorways spacious enough to maneuver my wheelchair easily? In our first apartment, the hallway to our bedroom was so narrow that I scraped the doorway pretty much every time I entered it, which created a lovely, shrill screeching sound. Sorry neighbors!
  • Since Hannah lifts me onto the toilet and into the shower right now, we paid close attention to the layout of the bathroom.
  • An attached garage was pretty much a necessity for us, living in Minnesota where it snows 11 months of the years (at least it feels like). In the home that we eventually purchased, I can drive from inside our house into the garage and right into our van without ever going outside. In no small way, this feature is helping to keep me healthy, as I no longer need to spend time in the frigid cold/ice/snow getting into my van.
  • Does it have a fireplace? This one has nothing to do with accessibility. I just really wanted a fireplace.
“Buying a home is a stressful process for everyone. We did our best to have fun with it, and to remind ourselves that – stressful as it may have been – it was also exciting!”

Amanda & Jeremy

Navigating Life as an
Interabled Family

An interabled family poses for a portrait on sidewalk in front of a brick building.

We navigate life as an interabled family in a moment-by-moment way.

“As parents, we recognize our limitations and that sometimes we can’t do it all, so we don’t try.”

We do what we can, when we can; but, more often than not, we choose fewer activities and fewer people. This forces us to be deliberate and be intentional with whom and how we spend our time.

We spend time with people who recognize our life runs at a different pace. People who consider accommodations so our disabled son, Asher, can be included in activities. People who are willing to help when things are hard. These are the people who won’t be bothered by coming to our house instead of a park when it’s the best accessible option. These are the people who will swing by on a moment’s notice to pick up our daughters, so they are not stuck at home when their brother is sick. These are the people who understand we can’t always do it on our own, and they are willing to be our village.

Our family ebbs and flows based on Asher’s health. When he is doing well, we are full steam ahead. This is when we register the children for a special activity in the community, we take a spontaneous family trip or we try something new. When Asher gets sick, everything slows down, sometimes to a standstill. We try to divide and conquer when possible to maintain activities for our daughters, but at the same time, we’ve learned that slowing down is a team effort, and as a family, we are in it together.

Activities often require a delicate balancing act. Asher usually needs modifications or extra assistance to participate in activities. Many times, his sisters want to do things that their brother can’t do. In spite of these challenges, we often celebrate our parental victories when we make the impossible possible. But there are times we help our children understand our limitations or their limitations literally make some things impossible to do. Limitations are hard for children to accept, but it helps to reframe their mindset to think about all the times and ways they have and will push past the immediate limitation.

“As parents, we accept that it’s okay to teach our children that they can’t always do everything and yes, in fact, “no” is an answer.”

It’s not always easy to tell how our children are navigating through our interabled family life. We catch glimpses that show us they are doing just fine. Like the moment at a friend’s house when Asher’s sister pushes chairs out of the way to make room for his wheelchair. Or the moment Asher celebrates his sister’s accomplishment for something that he will never be able to do himself. These moments help our hearts rest a little easier. But it’s when we are sitting around the dinner table telling jokes or snuggled up in bed watching a family movie that we know the simplest and sweetest moments are the keys to their hearts – no matter what life they are navigating.

Kevan

Debunking Myths Around
Socializing with a Disability

Kevan smiling in a room with wooden floors and tables.

When I’m not traveling, I spend most of my days at my local coffee shop in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana. Sometimes, it’s bursting at the seams with patrons coming and going and sometimes, I’m the only person there besides the baristas. Over the past six years, I’ve met writers and artists, lawyers, priests, corporate moguls, politicians and touring bands who haven’t showered in three weeks. I’ve met college kids, homeless people, delivery guys, blue collars and nine-to-fivers.

“All the while, I’m the same ol’ Kevan they meet, with SMA and an insatiable love for being with people.”

I get to see the various ways people respond to me socially, and how I respond to them; I get to witness firsthand the many myths about being social with a disability, both externally and internally; and I get to experience the intensive work and immense joy of debunking those various myths. I want to focus, in this article, on two myths in particular, and clarify that these two myths are the result of expectations—and thereby, the mutual responsibilities—of our able-bodied and disabled communities alike.

  1. “All of my friends should help me.” Having a disability is tricky because you have unusually practical needs, they need to be met, and that’s just life. You’re so used to having these needs that finding ways to fulfill them is second nature to you by now. So, why shouldn’t it be second nature to all of your friends, too? A myth that folks with disabilities often fall prey to is that everyone in your life should participate in helping with those needs. And I see how we get there. It makes sense if that’s your everyday life. It’s my everyday life. Folks on the able-bodied side of this conversation fall prey to it, too, and run away at that ominous mountain of expectation. Can you blame them?
  2. “None of my friends should help me.” There’s another end to this issue, which is the assumption that no one can help you, should help you, or even wants to help you. Personal care, food prep, doors and jackets; all of that is your nurse’s job or your parents’ responsibility. Friends are friends, and we expect them to be there just to laugh and watch movies with. What a miserable myth to live under, though. And when this is your mindset, no one knows your needs, so then they assume there’s nothing for them to help with. The relationship remains shallow, stagnant, and unsatisfying for everyone involved.

Rich social experiences come from balancing vulnerability and awareness. Some friends will be closer than others, some will help in ways others won’t, some won’t physically help at all and that’s just fine. Make your needs known tastefully and sensibly as they arise and as those around you seem willing (qualification is another myth we can address later).

“The key is to see people—truly see them—and let the value of your relationship be deeper than whether or not they help you with your wedgie.”

Kevan

Five Ways to Make Your
World Accessible

I grew up in North Carolina, where every road is long, every hill is steep, and nearly every house has stairs.

The church I grew up in had two levels, both accessible as long as you rounded the property outside. My elementary and middle schools were the same.

And there are ramps, automatic doors, sometimes elevators with buttons you can reach.

“Accommodations do exist, and are helpful, but what I find most effective is when my aim to achieve accessibility happens from the inside out.”

The following are five interpersonal ways to make your world more accessible.

  1. Community
    Having friends and family around you is paramount. A devoted care team to support you, whether two people or twenty, will afford you more freedom to live life without the stress of figuring it out on your own. Suddenly, there’s no need to ask whether there’s an automatic door or if the bus system is up to snuff. You don’t have to order food based solely on whether it needs to be cut up or worry if the handicap row in the movie theater will be available. The possibilities are endless when people work together.
  2. Flexibility
    I have a handful of guys who take turns coming to get me up in the morning. They are all volunteers, which is awesome, but they can do that because they have other jobs, so to enjoy their help, I need to be flexible with their schedules. Some arrive at 6:30 to get me up before work, others come at 9:30 because they worked late the night before.When making plans for my day, I keep it loose and fluid, free to fluctuate my own life according to the lives of those around me.
  3. Ingenuity
    Another aspect to flexibility is ingenuity, looking at an evolving situation and finding ways to change with it.One of my favorite memories with this is when my friends and I used to have a weekly potluck together. It always happened at a different person’s house, so I never knew what I would find by way of accessibility. But my friends and I assessed and worked it out. Sometimes that meant building ramps, sometimes it meant them carrying me in without my wheelchair, but it was always creative, fun, and successful.
  4. Simplicity
    Something I’ve learned and ended up loving is my need to simplify life. Over the years, I’ve become a bit of a minimalist because that means less for me (and thus my care team) to keep track of, physically and mentally, leaving room for what matters most. All my clothes, for example, match (and I don’t have a lot of them), so that whoever’s getting me up in the morning can just grab whatever from the closet.I already have enough legitimate needs to address, why add unnecessary details to the pile? It’s amazing to see how accessible the world becomes when you’re less demanding of it.
  5. Community
    Returning to community, it’s not just about your care team, but about your care for them as well.Relationships grow when both parties pour into it. While you have needs, so does everyone else around you, whether obvious or not. This is your chance to give back, and your care for others may build your community, both in numbers and depth, and thus as you work together, the world becomes more accessible for everyone involved.
“Accessibility, in the end, comes from folks putting others first and working together to find creative solutions. This involves thoughtfulness and sacrifice on both sides of the conversation. But the result is beautiful: a world physically more accessible, but also more loving.”