Although I first met Joan Seliger Sidney at a gathering of CavanKerry Press authors, I didn’t really meet her until I read Body of Diminishing Motion, her powerful collection of poetry and prose which was published by CavanKerry in 2004. In the four-plus years that I’ve been working at CKP, Joan has been, and continues to be, one of my go-to people because she, in actions as well as words, supports the work, particularly the community outreach work, done by the press. She’s also one of my go-to people because I love how she, a founding member of the CKP ADA Advisory Board, brings her keen mind, quick humor and big heart to whatever she does. Check out her website to learn more about her and about her books.
-Teresa Carson, Associate Publisher
MY WHEELCHAIR LIFE
by Joan Seliger Sidney
Since this is Disabilities Awareness Month, Teresa asked me to blog about some of the obstacles I’ve faced despite being helped by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Let me begin with today’s experience at the Mansfield Community Center, where most mornings I swim up to half a mile—that’s eighteen laps! Because my multiple sclerosis (MS) has progressed to where I can no longer be independent in the Women’s Locker Room—a place I miss both for friendship and poetic inspiration—my husband, Stu and I use the Family Changing Room, which we have helped make wheelchair-accessible. There’s even a sign on the door with a wheelchair symbol and the words, “In consideration of patrons who need to use the accessible changing room, please use another one, if it’s available.” Well, you can probably guess what comes next, my gripe: This morning, as happens too many mornings, Stu and I shivered in the hallway in our wet swim suits while one person occupied the room, telling us she’d be out “in a minute.” I recognized the voice of an English Department secretary, who emerged ten minutes later without a cane or wheelchair, energized by her strenuous “boot camp” exercise class. “Why do you need this room?” I asked. “Because I have osteoporosis in my back and need to sit down.” As if there aren’t benches in the Women’s Locker Room for her slim body. If all the (MCC) members with osteoporosis behaved like her, I’d never get to use this changing room.
Next gripe: Since from my wheelchair I drive my ramped mini-van with hand-controls, there’s the usual parking problem with healthy drivers taking handicapped spots: “I was only a minute” is the usual answer, while I wait much longer, wondering where’s the police who could ticket and collect a hefty fine. Once, even a resident trooper refused to ticket the guy he found relaxing in Starbucks, who said, “It won’t happen again.” In contrast, another time a resident trooper traced the woman who threatened to run me over as I copied down her license, and fined her in her kitchen! Of course, there are still the ignorant people with handicapped permits who park in the crosshatched area, blocking my ramp, making it impossible for me to get back in my car. Shouldn’t there be some kind of education along with each permit the Department of Motor Vehicles issues? Speaking of permits, though they’re no longer Lifetime Pendants, it’ll take awhile to get rid of the dead people’s permits that healthy relatives use, and unless they put photos on the new pendants, there will still be family members abusing them.
Now, finally, onto the story I told Theresa, which generated her suggestion for this blog. In connection with my new book, Bereft And Blessed, my publisher, Antrim House, arranged for me to participate in his local TV series, “Speaking of Poetry.” But when I came to the studio, there was no way to drive my wheelchair onto the stage. Was I the station’s first non-ambulatory on-screen participant? Fortunately, since I’m a lightweight and the producer was young and strong, he lifted me up and into the comfortable armchair onstage.