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Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Blog: “September is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month: Understanding Where Accessibility Begins…”

Posted by Heather Krill in Life After Paralysis on September 11, 2020# SCI Awareness

Each September, I try to write something different and inspiring about Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month. What does it mean to make others aware? How do we make people more aware even 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act? After spending the summer riding our bikes in northern NH and on Martha’s Vineyard, I know one thing to be very true: There are too many people out there who remain so unaware of disability and accessibility– it is mind-boggling. MIND-BOGGLING! Living in a tourist community, I’m always astounded by the numbers of families on our bike paths, which are lovely and well-loved. These “vacationers” aren’t capable riders yet to be on this kind of bike path. I’m not even talking about the children. I’m wondering what goes through a parent’s mind when on vacation, and they think, “Sure, we don’t really ride bikes where we live, but let’s rent some and ride together on crowded bike paths during a pandemic.” Like, (forgive my adolescent use of “like,” but it’s the only way to say what I mean here) is that what goes through their mind? Or is it more like, “How hard could biking be?”

So, let’s work on the word “awareness” as our gift to the world of disability and September as Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month. Since you already pay attention to the Christopher & Dana Reeve website and blog, you are already AWARE. However, our job is to make others aware, and, if this COVID summer has taught me anything, it’s that cycling is an excellent place to start. While visiting my brother’s family on Martha’s Vineyard, an island with beautiful beaches and bike paths, we risked our lives one afternoon to ride to Edgartown for ice cream. Some entire families craned their necks, passing my husband in his handcycle, who then almost took me out entirely, not watching where they were going. Other families stopped cycling altogether to watch him pedal away. One well-meaning man yelled, “You’re my hero, mannnnnnnn!”path in martha's vineyward

Geoff responded with something like, “Pedaling with my arms doesn’t make me a hero and watch where you are goingggggg!” There were children on small bikes or tow- behinds who yelled outright, “Look at that man’s bike!” Geoff loves when kids want to talk with him about his adaptive equipment, but not in the middle of a crazy busy bike path. Especially when the parent of the child almost crashes into our nine-year-old (who knows the rules of the road). In terms of awareness, if you have friends who have never heard of a handcycle, tell them what you know. Tell them what you don’t know about them. Please encourage them to check out adaptive sports programs in their areas. They are everywhere now; thankfully, thirty years post ADA. Even where we live in a more rural region of the United States, there are at least three within a thirty-minute drive, even if not conducting programming now due to COVID-19.

Accessing beaches is becoming easier and easier with different styled beach type wheelchairs. This allows Geoff to get into the surf with our children and at least be present even if he isn’t riding the waves with them. Specific beaches are more accessible than others, and my brother and sister in law are always mindful of that when we visit. There are ramps and rubber mats making sand less of an enemy, but it still requires two able-bodied friends or family members to get him over the sand dunes and down to the water. But even in beach places, some folks have never seen one of these cool, floating wheelchairs. In terms of awareness, check them out; if your local public beach doesn’t have one yet, inquire at your recreation department.

So, we returned home to our local bike path where an older man on an electronic bike whizzed by our children, never calling out the safety term, “On your left,” and given his electronic speed, he came up very quickly, startling us all. “Mom, that guy didn’t even warn us he was passing on the left.” So in terms of awareness, if you notice a family just learning to ride bikes, please share what you know about cycling safety. I’m not sure if it’s because of COVID summer or another reason altogether, but this summer especially, there are a lot of unaware people sharing our bike paths. I assume this to be the case everywhere as people, rightfully so, wish to enjoy outdoor recreational experiences with their families. I understand this, but as a mom of two children and wife to a husband with a physical disability, it’s my job also to help to keep my family safe while out riding.

Lastly, in terms of awareness, wear a goddamn helmet. Was that too strong? Maybe. But likely not. A bike helmet can save a life. It can save the life of your child or your mother or even your own. We are not invincible, and if this spring and summer have reminded us of anything, it is this. Life is short. Be safe. Be AWARE. Share what you know with others who maybe don’t.

Heather Ehrman Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 10 and 9. Please check out her novel True North, website www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.

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