Category Archives: Cerebral Palsy

Garlic Lovers, Rejoice!

I am going to share a bit about me that isn’t a secret; I love garlic. I am Italian on my father’s side, I blame this obsession entirely on those roots.  I love garlic the way my husband loves catsup, I put it in almost everything I eat. Whenever there is a chip, potato, sauce, dip, or bread that has garlic in it, I am first in line to try it. I love only two foods more, cheese and wine. Wine is food right?

One thing I don’t like about garlic is the preparation. I know I am not alone in this, plenty of people have complaints about prepping garlic; but having cerebral palsy, where fine motor skills are not a strong point, I find the peeling, chopping and the mincing utterly infuriating. Before you mention it, I know there is pre-minced garlic in stores, but I just can’t do it. I am sure it is perfectly fine, but I personally find those jars of pre-minced garlic to be a little off putting. I prefer to used fresh garlic.

So what is a garlic loving ceep to do? You buy a garlic zoom and a garlic peeler of course! These two tiny gadgets are proof that big things really do come in small packages. They completely changed my life. The Garlic Zoom is my favorite kitchen appliance of all time. It was given to me by one of my favorite people, and fellow garlic lover, as a wedding shower gift. She showed me how to use it and my mind was blown. You just put your peeled clove in the zoom and then roll it on the counter like you’re back in kindergarten with the matchbox cars (Get it? garlic zoom!)

I love it. I can’t live without it. In fact, when my husband accidently destroyed  the first one in the garbage disposal, then tried in vain to piece it back together, I went out and bought a new one the same day. After all, how was I to make dinner?

Of course you still have to peel the garlic. And that is where a garlic peeler comes in handy. I know it doesn’t look like much, but this garlic peeler works similarly to the Garlic Zoom. You simply place the garlic inside and roll it on the counter. You will hear a crackle when the skin separates, then you just slide the now naked clove out of the peeler and into your garlic zoom.

Or course, if you want to peel a whole head of the stuff, the bowl method is the way to go, not only can you peel a whole head of garlic in ten seconds, you can also release a day’s worth of frustration.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0d3oc24fD-c&w=560&h=315]

The best part about these two products, other than the fact that they are budget friendly, is that they are not just for people with disabilities. Anyone can benefit from these time saving gadgets, plus they are safe for children to use, which is great if you have a kid that loves to help out in the kitchen.

So, what’s for dinner?

No More Untied Shoes!

I love shoes. This is a little ironic because my CP severely limits the types of shoes that I can wear. I am envious of women that can wear hooker boots, sexy heels and strappy summer sandals. I will never be able to wear those types of shoes. In college I wore only sneakers; for some reason I was convinced that was the only type of shoe I could put on independently and have it stay on my feet.

Unfortunately, sneakers came with their own set of problems, mainly the laces. I did everything I could to avoid tying my shoes, including just leaving them untied which annoyed my college roommate to no end. If I had a quarter for every time that girl tied my shoes, I’d have enough money to buy my very own shoelace tying robot; which I need now that she doesn’t live close enough to tie my shoes anymore.

Shortly after college, angels descended from heaven and delivered unto the world cute, velcro- sneakers for grown-ups. I thought my life had been made, but then I found there were cute mary janes, flats with elastic sides and boots without laces. I no longer needed to struggle with laces, or ask my husband for help. My sneakers soon found themselves pushed into the deep recesses of my closet, shoved under the bed and forgotten, for the most part.

Except, this bounty of laceless shoes isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. They may be cute and easy to put on, but when I am walking for more than a few minutes at the mall, the grocery store or with my dog, they offer absolutely no support for my feet. This was fine when I was young and spry, but now, I often find myself uttering “oh my aching feet” like the grandma on an 80’s sitcom.

I tried to go back to sneakers for those longer walks, only to find that tying my shoes is even harder than it used to be. Seems that old phrase ‘use it or lose it’ definitely applies to my shoe tying ability. So, as I often do in times of trouble, I turned to the internet and discovered that many of my fellow Ceeps (that’s a person with CP, for all you non-Ceeps) were using something called Lock Laces to solve this dilemma. I decided to give it a try.

These laces are awesome and  relatively easy to put in your shoes. It took me a little more time than some; if you have trouble with fine motor skills you might have to employ your shoe tying robot for assistance, but once you get them in your shoes, that’s it! You will never need help tying your shoes again, and you can retrain your robot for another impossible task, like folding a fitted sheet.

The Assistive Technology it Took Me 30 Years to Purchase

Sometimes, I have to laugh when I tell people that I write for a company that sells adaptive equipment. You see, despite having a disability and despite the wide variety of items in existence that help people just like me, I don’t usually buy these items. Sure I have a wheelchair, a pair of crutches and grab bars in my shower, but beyond that, my house is pretty much void of any disability- specific items.

See, I was raised in a household where if you could do it, you should do it, even if it is hard. This prevented me from getting a wheelchair until tenth grade; even as in adult it has kept me from purchasing certain items that would make daily tasks easier. I tell myself, “you don’t need that, you can do it the way you always have.” This is silly, especially since I have purchase plenty of non-disability specific items over the years that make things easier. The decision to NOT purchase certain items was subconscious, and it wasn’t until I got my new job that I even realized I was doing it.

When my job asked me if I need anything in the office to accommodate my disability, the only thing I mentioned was needing enough space for my chair. Then, one day after starting my job, I dropped a number of things and had to keep asking my boss to pick them up. After the sixth time of interrupting him to retrieve a dropped item, I realized that a reacher might be in order.

A reacher is one of those items I have never considered before, despite the fact that I drop things rather frequently. I drop things so often; in fact, I trained my dog to pick them up. However, I don’t bring my dog to work, so I requested a reacher. It was waiting on my desk when I returned the next day and within minutes I realized how completely silly it was that I had never bought one before.

Now that I have used a reacher at work, I decided I will purchase one for my home, There are plenty of things I drop at home that my dog cannot, or will not, retrieve; such as pins, blocks for my quilts, and silverware. A reacher would mean that I don’t have to get down onto my hands and knees or wait for my husband to help.

If there are any of you, like me, who have spent years actively avoiding purchasing adaptive equipment, whether it is because you are ashamed, convinced you do just fine without it, or any other reason, I urge you to reconsider. I am all about independence and keeping the mobility you have, but I’ve realized I have been wasting a lot of time and energy for no reason. Using a reacher, or any other assistive device, is not a failure, it does not make me less independent or self-reliant. In fact, it increases my independence.

So go ahead and try that item. Whether it is a reacher, a cane, an adapted cup or any other item that might help you in your day to day tasks, it won’t hurt to see how many new doors will open with your new found level of independence.

Learning to Ride a Bike

My Dad has always been a huge supporter of me living an “unlimited life”. He never wanted me to be left out of anything because of my disability. When I was little he would help me climb into trees and forts, he took me ice skating and sledding, He and Mom bought me a swing for the backyard play set, and helped my climb a rock wall at fifth grade camp. He has put me on a horse and a Harley – Davidson; he even tried to take me on a helicopter, but mom put the kibosh on that one.

The thing that sticks out the most in my memory, however, was Dad’s campaign to get me on a bike. This campaign lasted well through high school, but it started when we were four and my twin sister and I got big wheels for Christmas. In case you didn’t know, twins always get the same Christmas gifts, it’s in the twin handbook. So even though there seemed to be no physical way for me to ride a big wheel, my dad saw this as a challenge, instead of a hindrance. When my feet kept slipping off the pedals he simply screwed a pair of my tiny shoes to the bike; which solved the slipping issue, but not the coordination issue.

Next, Dad tried a go-cart. He took the wheels off my big sister’s Radio Flyer wagon, a fact she is still slightly perturbed about, and made the body out of wood. He painted the whole thing bubblegum pink, strapped me in using an old belt and sent me off down a hill. It took me approximately six seconds crash into the curb. Turns out, I couldn’t steer, and Dad forgot to add brakes.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, my Mom found an old adult tricycle with a motor and gifted it to me. The motor was shot, but we put some Velcro straps on the pedals, and we found that I could propel myself if I was given a push to get started. That summer, my sister and I spent a lot of time on that bike; we would walk around the block with it, and when we got to the big hill at the top, she would jump in the basket and we would go flying down the hill. I never used the brakes, but I didn’t hit any curbs either. I grew stronger, but I still had trouble with the hills and inclines, so we rigged a pulley system that would help in pulling my legs up, which was where I was having trouble.

It is funny now to look back on these memories; nowadays they have all sorts of adapted cycles for those with and without disabilities. I can just imagine my dad saying to himself, why didn’t I think of that? But his efforts were not in vain; it is from him that I learned how a little creativity and hard work goes a long way, and that as long as you keep trying, you’re bound to get it right eventually.

A Gift of UNlimited Quilting

I have been known to use almost anything at my disposal in order to complete a task on my own. The words stubborn and determined are often used to describe me.  I like my independence and I will do almost anything to keep it; including carrying objects in my mouth, using my crutches to reach for things or using anything from a stool to a trashcan as a walker when mine is out of reach.

This drive for independence is strongest when I am working on my quilts. Quilting is another passion that I discovered just recently.  Three years ago, I never would have believed that I could sew a single seam let alone make an entire quilt from start to finish on my own; but my Mother-in-Law did believe. It is because of her gift of a sewing machine that I discovered a whole new way  I could create beautiful works of art I could share with my family and friends.

In the three years I have been sewing, I have made about 30 quilts, and most of them have been given away to family and friends. I love to give quilts to people. Giving someone a unique gift they will have forever gives me a sense of happiness.

For all the joy it brings me, quilting isn’t something that comes easy. I have had to come up with my own way of doing things in order to make quilting work for me. One of these is learning how to cut fabric on the floor. I didn’t have a a table that was big enough for me to cut on in my sewing room, so I had to cut the pieces for every quilt on the floor. When I had a quilt with a lot of pieces I often got fatigue in my arms and hips, so I started using a laundry basket for support.

cutting

This Christmas, my Mother-In-Law once again surprised me with a generous gift. A quilting table! She knew I would need something really sturdy, because I need to lean on the table for support; and she also knows from being a quilter herself that I might want to move the table around.  She bought me a sturdy table with locking wheels so I can move it where I need to and still lean on it for support.

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I have had the table for a few days now, and already, I don’t know how I ever lived without it. Though it is a sewing table I think it could be used for a number other crafts or applications. I could see it being used by others in a laundry room for folding clothes or any room where you might need an easily moveable and sturdy surface at which to work.

It took my husband almost 4 hour hours to put together, but the effort was totally worth it. I can now make my quilts completely unlimited by pain or fatigue. I am also finding unexpected uses for my new table every day,

Photography Gear to Help you Follow Your Passion

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This photo is part of the 100 Snapshots Challenge. It was taken in Chicago with my point and shoot camera.

I have always been a creative person. This creativity first manifested itself through writing. It was the easiest, most accessible way for me to express myself. As I got older, I fell in love with photography. My friends would constantly groan and make fun of me because I had to take photos of everything. When I participated in the “100 snapshots challenge” on Live Journal, my photographs began taking a more artistic turn; I discovered that there was more than one way in which I could express myself artistically.

For years I shot my photos with a small “point and shoot” digital camera. It was easy to carry around and I was able to take pretty decent photos with it. However, I found myself wanting to have more control over my images and wanting to try techniques that a point and shoot just couldn’t accomplish. When my husband bought me a Canon Rebel XSi for Christmas in 2009 I was off and running.

From the start, photography presented far more physical challenges than writing. Obviously I can’t get to some of the places that other photographers might, which is frustrating, but I have found ways around a few of the challenges that photography presents.

My biggest problem, besides the accessibility of some locations, is keeping the camera steady so I can get a nice, sharp image. Single Lens Reflex cameras, like my Canon, are much heavier than point and shoots, mostly because of the lenses. This means you need two hands to take a photo, which is pretty difficult to do if you use crutches or a walker to hold yourself up. Canon has lenses that come with an image stabilizer option, which is awesome and does help, but the feature makes them more expensive. Plus it is primarily for smaller movements, as opposed to the kind of camera shake I was experiencing.

To solve this problem, my husband came through once again, and bought me a tri-pod. I use the Vista Attaras FZ10. This tri-pod is stable enough for me to lean on if needed, which is quite important for me. Another feature I like is that it can be adjusted to almost any angle and height, making it easy to get steady shots whether I am standing, using my chair or want to get closer to the ground. An additional perk is the carrying bag that can be worn across the body or on the back of the wheelchair with very little assistance needed.

The last thing that has been essential to my success as a photographer is my Lowepro Backpack. I bought for my trip to Colorado. It holds my camera, all my lenses, as well as my laptop and anything else I might need or want while taking pictures on the go. I use this backpack whenever I might need to change a lens, even in my own backyard. It keeps all my accessories safe and at hand.

Colorado Moutain Landscape
This photo was taken with my Canon SLR camera on my trip to Colorado.

Photography is a great way to express your creativity and share your experiences with the world. Whether you choose a point and shoot or a SLR, I encourage you to give it a try. If you don’t know where to start, try the 100 Snapshots Challenge. The page has not be updated in ages but the list is still there and it is a great way to get those creative juices flowing.

Coffee Anyone?

Sometimes you discover the solution to some of your most annoying problems when and where you least expect it. The other day, for instance, my husband and I were watching a show called Mountain Men. It is one of those “reality shows” that depicts the life of men who live in remote areas and survive off the land. It is ridiculously staged, it drives me crazy, but my husband likes it and sometimes a girl has to make sacrifices. Anyway, during one episode, this guy’s wife brought him a cup of coffee in this mug with a wide base and a narrow opening at the top. I immediately shouted, “That coffee mug is CP proof! I must have one.”

Because of my CP, I spill things a lot. I prefer to drink out of bottles or cups with straws in order to avoid unnecessary spills. Finding a solution to avoid spilling hot beverages has been hard; travel mugs keep my coffee too hot for too long, and you have to wait forever to drink it. Normally, I just take my chances with a traditional mug by trying to leave a little space at the top. Despite my efforts, I still manage to spill my coffee at least once a week. I thought the narrow mouth mug would be the perfect solution to the problem, if I could find one.

The next day, I was out shopping with my Mom and her boyfriend and I told them about the mug. My mom had never seen one, but her boyfriend had, he said he would keep his eyes open. We were at the Salvation Army when he found this little gem.

It is not exactly like the mug I saw on the show, the mouth is a little wider, and it is more angular, but it is still awesome. It is exactly the solution I hoped it would be.

This mug allows my coffee to cool at a normal rate, and the tall narrow mouth keeps me from spilling anything. It also has a slip proof bottom and a good sized handle, which I like. It doesn’t look like it, but it holds a full eight ounces of coffee.

Of course now that I have one, I would like to get a few more; perhaps one for work, and a few for my friends with similar disabilities when they come to visit. I know I probably won’t get as lucky as I did the other day, so I have been looking online and I found several that were almost exactly like the one I saw on TV. This one is for home use and this one even has a lid so you can take it with you!

In what unexpected places have you found a solution to an everyday problem?

The Mobility Device That I Couldn’t Live Without

As a person with Cerebral Palsy, I think I have used every type of mobility device in existence. In my 31 years I have utilized everything from a power wheelchair to a cane for getting around. I have even been known to use non-traditional means of mobility, including, but not limited to: a trashcan, a laundry basket, my sisters’ children and a rake; but that, my friends, is a post for another day. Today, I want to talk about a mobility device that changed my life, one that I have been using for over 15 years; The Hurri-cane Crutch.

I got my first pair of Hurri-cane Crutches when I was 15 years old. Until that point I had been using a pair of traditional, lofstrand forearm crutches as my primary means of mobility. I had the usual complaints. My hands were callused and blistered from the handles, they often slid out from under me causing me to fall, and they were next to impossible to adjust.

Compared to the traditional lofstrand forearm crutch, the Hurri-cane Crutch has a number of things going for it:

  • They have ergonomic handles, which decreases the amount of pressure on your hands. I haven’t had a callus or a blister in years
  • The flexible tips are made so that the bottom makes full contact with the ground each time you take a step. Although they can still slip on certain surfaces, this has greatly reduced my number of falls.
  • To make an adjustment on the Hurri-cane Crutch, you remove a screw with the supplied allen wrench (which is conveniently located in the handle) and then adjust the pin. Because the pin is not exposed, it does not rust or get stuck, making adjustments super easy.
  • The arm cuff rotates in a circle instead of up and down. If you reach for something, (or have to scratch your nose) they are less likely to fall off your arm.
  • The Hurri-cane Crutch is made of lightweight aluminum, but it has a square design, making it super strong.
  • The Hurri-cane Crutch comes in a variety of colors, and the paint job lasts longer than it did on my old crutches.
  • The Hurri-cane Crutch can be used as a crutch or a cane.

Once I started using the Hurri-cane Crutch, I couldn’t see myself using anything else. My first pair lasted me over ten years, through most of high school, all of college and the first few years after. They saw sand, water (oceans, lakes and pools), and plenty of snow. They took quite a beating and were replaced only after the grip was gouged by something sharp and started to get uncomfortable. Fortunately, the Hurri-cane Crutch comes with a life time warranty and my crutches were replaced for free! I quickly got my second pair and I love them just as much as the first pair.

 

At UNlimiters, we’re always looking for products that help us live more independent and easier lives. Have you found a product that has improved your life? Let us know in the Shout section of our store and we’ll try to add it to our selection.

 

Slow-Cookers: Cooking Safely and Easily with a Disability

Cooking is a huge part of living independently, and it is something that nearly every young adult struggles with in the beginning. For people with disabilities, cooking is about more than learning recipes; it is a physical challenge, one that can sometimes be dangerous. As a person with Cerebral Palsy, I deal with things like poor fine motor skills, a startle reflex, muscle spasms and balance issues that aren’t exactly compatible with hot surfaces, boiling water or sizzling oil.

For a long time I resorted to cooking prepackaged meals. I ate a lot of frozen and instant foods, and when I was feeling really adventurous, I would make Hamburger Helper. This wasn’t exactly healthy or appetizing. When my husband and I bought our first house, complete with a large and spacious kitchen, I decided to get serious about cooking.

For months I would spend hours in the kitchen after work, trying to put together the meals I saw on the cooking channel. It looked so easy; but by the time the meal was complete, my feet hurt, my back hurt, I was sweating profusely, and I usually had at least one minor injury. My food tasted okay, but I knew there had to be an easier way.

My Mother-in-Law was the one who suggested a slow-cooker. She bought me a programmable Crockpot and suggested I give it a try. I was skeptical. My own mother had never used a slow-cooker, and the only things I had ever seen come out of one were chili and those little cocktail wieners they have at graduation parties. Since, I didn’t have a better idea; I decided to give it a try.

I quickly discovered that the slow-cooker was the answer I’d been searching for. It cut the time and effort I spent in kitchen in half; and it was safer than the stove or the oven. I also discovered that there are literally thousands of recipes that can be made in a slow-cooker from classics like pot roast and macaroni and cheese, to desserts and even drinks. Hundreds of books and websites are dedicated to slow-cooker recipes. My favorites include Best Loved Slow Cooker Recipes and allrecipes.com

Of course, the down-side to slow-cookers is that they are slow. In order to be successful, dinners must be prepped in the morning so they can cook all day; and let’s be honest, most of us don’t like getting up earlier than we have too. Perhaps the best discovery I’ve made is that slow-cookers can cook foods that are frozen. This means that you can prep a week’s worth of meals ahead of time and then freeze them, cutting out the daily prep altogether. One of my favorite resources for freezer recipes is this ebook: From Your Freezer to Your Family: Slow Cooker Freezer Recipes.

Of course, I don’t use my slow-cooker every day, but it has made life in my kitchen a whole lot easier; and I think it is safe to say, my husband doesn’t miss the hamburger helper.

At UNlimiters, we’re always looking for products that help us live more independent and easier lives. Have you found a product that has improved your life? Let us know in the Shout section of our store and we’ll try to add it to our selection.

Day 1 – Airports

    The day was finally here, Scarlett and I arrived at the airport at 5:50 in the morning for our 7: 50 flight to LAX. My dad pushed me to the “check your baggage” area where Scarlett was waiting with her mom, sister, and our mentor, Kaye, who came just to see us off and take pictures. After we checked our luggage it was time to say our goodbyes and to begin out two week journey. We were sent off by taking photos with everyone and echoing goodbyes till we couldn’t see each other anymore. Accessibility or not I was off to Japan, my dream.
     I was pretty familiar with the airport regimen, security, waiting at the gate, and getting on and off the plane (first one on, last one off). There was one thing that I was unsure about as far as the trip to Osaka, Japan and that was using the restroom. I don’t like using public restrooms for multiple reasons (entrances and stalls aren’t always wheelchair friendly, doors, cleanliness, nervousness, and etc) and the way restrooms on the airplanes are I won’t even attempt them for the obvious reasons. Given that I traveled across the US with my business plan team and was at school most of the time, I got over my fear of using the public restrooms by asking a friend to take me and help me get to the stall. With that said I was with a girl and with a push wheelchair, so my normal crutch was gone. We got through security and found our gate before we did anything else. With an hour to spare we went to find some breakfast although I didn’t get anything. After Scarlett got a bite to eat we talked while we waited in anticipation for our flight. Before boarding, we managed to find an “assisted restroom” where she could park me inside the restroom and wait outside the door while I used the restroom. Finding the “assisted restroom” made me feel tremendously better about the 25 hour trip to Osaka (flight + layovers).
     We got to LAX, where we had a 3 hour layover, without a problem. We found the gate for our flight to Tokyo which was 11 hours long and again worried me because it meant 11 hours without a restroom. Since I was restroom conscious I made a point to not eat or drink. Scarlett had a small lunch knowing we would be served lunch and dinner on the plane.
     Since we had time to kill, we decided to exchange the $300 cash I brought to yen; we got 20,000 yen (the amount of yen you should get for $255) for 300 dollars. We returned to the gate and learned that’s what happens when you exchange dollars for foreign currency when the currency is still foreign (we should have waited to do it in Tokyo). As the time got closer to board a person came up to me and asked me if I needed an aisle chair, to which I said, “No, I can walk”. After she left Scarlett exclaimed, “Woah, she was the first one to talk to you and not me.”
     Next we went to look for an “assisted restroom” so I could try and go to the restroom before the 11 hour flight. We couldn’t find any so we asked the help desk if there were any. The lady replied to Scarlett (didn’t even look at me), “No, we don’t. You can take him to the girl’s restroom though.” That is something my mom did when I was younger than 5 and had no other choice; now, I’m 23 traveling with a female friend. We went back without me using the restroom; I didn’t really need to go it was just to put me at ease for the length of the flight. When we got back to the gate, we noticed that the flight was delayed an hour. I contemplated either just using the men’s restroom or risking it and trying to make it all the way to Tokyo. (Just flying for 11 hours was risking it.) I risked it.
    We boarded the plane where I was looking forward to watching good movies all the way to Tokyo. Soon after we lifted off I ate some of our snacks we brought from home. I tried watching movies, but with a mixture of bad movie selection, bad ear bud headphones, and lack of sleep, I was unable to make it through a single movie. We were served lunch and after not eating the barely edible main course, we just ate some of the sides and drank the 8 oz. of water that came with the meal.  For dinner, we opted for only the sides. About an hour before landing the anticipation started to kick in again. Scarlett filled out the immigration papers given to us at the beginning of the flight. I managed to make it to Tokyo without having to use the restroom!
     Even though we were elated to be in Tokyo, we waited for the aisles to be clear. Scarlett walked with me off the plane with her carry-on to where my chair awaited us. Shortly after getting situated in the chair, a guy with a sign that read “Justin Farley” came and helped Scarlett push me while she carried her bag. He first asked me if I needed to use the restroom to which I said no thanks (probably should have, but I was overwhelmed by being in Japan and didn’t want to make him wait). He then helped us through customs, baggage claim, check baggage, security, and getting us to our gate. In customs, I struggled with the right index finger fingerprint so he helped me guide my finger and held it still without any hesitation while the scanner took the image. In baggage claim, he took over the baggage cart when we got the luggage and let Scarlett push me. In check baggage, they asked us questions about the wheelchair (for in plane storage purposes), then asked us whether I could walk up stairs just in case the plane wasn’t attached to a dock.
 In security, they just patted me down and afterwards I said my first “arigato” of the trip. The girl laughed and said it back to me (I finally made it). We reached a bakery with snacks and he asked if we were hungry and again I said no thanks (he was just so nice, I didn’t want to make him wait on us).  As soon as we reached the gate the guy left and told us he would be back. Everyone we had met with to this point was Japanese and they did the best they could to communicate with us. I just sat, flabbergasted that I was in Japan. I was mesmerized just watching the flight attendants bow to each other (as a sign of respect) and looking at the Japanese television near us.
     Right before boarding our guy came back to help us. When we got on the flight the attendants greeted us and helped Scarlett with her bags while she walked with me. Once seated a flight attendant came over and asked if we needed anything. Even though she was speaking to us in English, I was still on the Japanese channel in my brain so I said “arigato.” She couldn’t understand me and after repeating it twice more I said “thank you” instead. This plane ride we conked out and slept pretty much all the way to Osaka.
In Osaka we waited till the plane was clear, but before we moved the flight attendant came and got Scarlett’s bags for her and walked with us to the exit. My wheelchair was right outside, with someone ready to push me where ever we needed to go. As soon as I sat down I lifted my feet and 2 flight attendants folded down my foot rests simultaneously. We got treated so well Scarlett had to exclaim how wonderful they were and how good the service was to the flight attendants. Even though most of them probably couldn’t understand her they smiled, laughed, and said “arigato” or “thank you” depending if they knew any English or not.
     The girl pushing me escorted us to baggage claim where Scarlett’s luggage came out first. While she was getting her bag I saw mine so I yelled to her, “Grab my bag too.” But before I knew it, the girl that was pushing me ran over and grabbed my luggage for me. This was probably due to the fact she saw the accessible tags on my suitcase (previously put on in Tokyo when they checked our luggage).  After we had finished getting our bags we were taken out to the taxis. Once outside we were asked if we were paying by credit card or cash, I said cash, hoping that the 20,000 yen we exchanged for in LAX would be enough.
We hopped in a taxi and left for the Sheraton Hotel. Scarlett and I stared out of the windows at all the different billboards and lights amazed we were finally in Osaka heading to our hotel after 25 hours of traveling. Being the first time in a taxi where I had to pay, I was constantly looking down at the meter to see if we were going to actually have enough yen for the fare. We luckily did (even though we got ripped off by the exchange rate, I was glad we exchanged currencies in LAX), the meter read 6,000 yen when we reached the hotel. We paid the guy (no tipping in Japan) while the bellhop grabbed our bags and my wheelchair.
     We headed in with the bellhop escorting us to the reservation desk with our luggage. Scarlett parked me while she went to ask about our room. While I sat there waiting a little kid was running circles around me and staring at me; both Scarlett and I laughed wondering what he was doing. I said, “Konnichiwa” to him (hello in Japanese) and he stopped so then we went up to our room with the bellhop. Once the bellhop left our room I checked if the toilet had a built in bidet (buttons on the side of the toilet), after seeing It did I asked if Scarlett wanted to try the bidet first. Hearing Scarlett shriek as she tried it, I wanted to try it. After finally using the bathroom, I tried the bidet for myself; by Scarlett’s reaction I was expecting something more extreme, but it is just a gentle squirt (you could control the temperature and the pressure).
     We were hungry and exhausted so once we were situated in the hotel room we decided to go to the restaurant in the hotel just for a quick bite to eat. At the first glance at the menu I was very disappointed to see it had only western style food.  Fearful of my silverware dilemma, I ordered fried chicken (finger food). Before our meals came out our waitress came out holding a regular set of silverware and tried to ask me something which I couldn’t understand, but she was looking at me when she said it so I nodded with a “hai” (ok or yes in Japanese) and an “arigato”. After shamefully eating my fried chicken as my first meal in Japan, we were ready for bed.  Even though we had really only experienced the airports, Japan was amazing and already becoming a dream come true.

Pre- Japan

Around the age of 16, I remember watching an anime with my brother and telling him, “One day I won’t need subtitles.” Since then I started a Japanese course at school, but due to my entrepreneurship program requirements I was only able to complete one semester. I figured I would have to study on my own so I bought Rosetta Stone and completed levels 1-3.  Now I am constantly on the lookout for new ways to study online although I was so busy last semester, I got discouraged and stopped studying Japanese. This was simply due to the fact that there was no good way for me to retain the Japanese I learned.
While I was doing all this I became more and more enthralled with the Japanese culture and I would constantly look for information to learn more about it. I would watch anime, and Japanese dramas daily (with subtitles). Several years ago I watched a drama called “Ichi Rittoru no Namida” or “One Liter of Tears” which I thought did a very good job of depicting someone living with a disability. It’s a true story about a girl who was diagnosed with a degenerative disability at the age of 15. Watching this made me fall in love with everything Japanese and made me interested on the topic of disability and Japan. Most of what I read about was how Japan was not handicap or accessibility friendly and in some families having a kid with disability brought shame to the family so they were mostly kept inside and hidden. Reading articles about this made me cringe, but everything I saw as the culture as a whole made me love Japan; respect, etiquette, values, traditions, and family oriented (and not to mention the yummy food). I started wanting to go there and maybe live there one day even though I kept reading bad stuff about disabilities there.
                I saw another Japanese drama recently called “Umareru” that touched on the topic of families keeping their kids with disabilities hidden. It was a drama about parents giving birth to kids with Down syndrome and their feelings about it; it gave all mixed opinions from shame to equal treatment. Seeing these dramas made me believe that they were aware of these issues and wanted to make other people aware of them too. More and more I wanted to go to Japan and more and more I would look up, watch, read, and study things about Japan. For me, Japan also gave me the sense of independency. I would occasionally look up foreign abroad programs to learn Japanese and accessibility. Not being able to find the information I need, I would get discouraged. But every time I was discouraged something else would encourage me again.
Given the success of Unlimiters in the business plan competitions, I started contemplating how and when I could achieve my goal of going to Japan. With the push to start Unlimiters, I started to feel like I was not going to achieve it anytime soon. After weeks of contemplating Japan and Unlimiters with my family, my sister came up with the simple yet, brilliant idea of just going there for sometime during my summer break. After hearing this idea I went home to search for summer programs that I could register for; I found a bunch that looked interesting, but none of them had any information on accommodations for people with disabilities. My dad and I contacted some places, they were very helpful and said they would not have a problem accommodating; the problem was that the programs weren’t all day or even every day. And Japan was way too unknown to us to say whether I could manage Japan alone.
To us this meant I needed someone to go with me. My goal was to go by myself, but given all the unknowns it would be difficult to manage a trip alone. I decided just to invite a friend to come with me without doing any sort of program. I came up with the idea of inviting my good friend, Scarlett who hadn’t ever been out of the country before; she was overjoyed with the invitation. Soon after I invited her and we talked about it, I bought our tickets to Osaka, Japan for August 13th – 28th.
Scarlett and I became great friends in the entrepreneurship program. My mentor had been her mentor the previous year as she was in the class above mine. We were introduced when our mentor asked me to come to one of their meetings and we have been good friends ever since. Being that it was her first trip out of country and my first real trip alone we were pretty anxious. We met up weekly to discuss the trip.
We also came up with a list of things to do to get ready; the two most important being hotel and passports. We both had to get our passports, mine renewed and her first one. Since she is a Starwood employee she managed to get us a super good deal on a Sheraton in Osaka. With our passports, plane tickets, and hotel reserved we were ready to go. As the trip came closer the more I would look up articles on disability and Japan. The articles I read said the same thing as I have been reading that Japan wasn’t accessible and you don’t see many people with disabilities there. More and more I would worry about the accessibility, and the overall treatment of people with disabilities in Japan, but I didn’t let that get me down.
I also knew Japan was big on etiquette and cleanliness so I started worrying about the little things like eating without chopsticks and/or with my hands or taking my shoes off when needed. I respected the Japanese culture so much I didn’t want to do anything that showed or could indicate disrespect. I would constantly tell people that there were 2 options for this trip, option #1, love it over there and make me want to live in Japan more one day or option #2, get treated badly and forget about it and aim for something else. Sadly, I was thinking it might be the latter of the two, but I still had high expectations.
The weekend before the big day after telling my brother about my fears, he posted on Reddit (popular discussion website) asking for advice for me in hope that people would say things to make me feel more at ease, but most everyone who replied reconfirmed my fears. When Sunday came around Scarlett and I planned to meet at the Airport Monday morning at 5:50.

An Incredible semester (part 2)

     At the beginning of the second semester of the WCE my mentor, Kaye and I started to talk about the possibilities of creating an Unlimiters product line. She told me of a program in the Architecture college where students design products called the ID (industrial design) program. She thought it would be interesting if we went and talked to the director of the program about Unlimiters. She knew the director from past work in the College of Architecture and thought Unlimiters could be a great opportunity for the ID program since the products would be user-based and would bring a different experience for the students. The day of the meeting I had a bad cold so I was not at 100% during the meeting, but we told her all about Unlimiters and suggested it for a part of her curriculum. We left with her saying she was on board and would think about adding an “Unlimiters” project to her curriculum for her incoming class; she also invited us to the final review of her senior class to show us their capabilities. With no idea what being a part of the curriculum would entail, I was excited nonetheless. A little while after I had this meeting, I joined the business plan team. I brought two people from the team to the final review to show them what I had in the workings. At the end of the review the director of the ID program told me that she was definitely putting Unlimiters as a part of her curriculum for the incoming class, but she was unsure whether it would be the next semester or the semester after.
     It turned out to be the following semester because a month before spring break I received an email asking if my mentor and I could come by her office to talk about the “Unlimiters” project. She told me her plans were to make each student in her class of 13, design a product that was focused around me. She asked if it was ok if her class followed me, filmed me, and asked me questions for an entire week. Being so excited and thankful for the opportunity I could only say “awesome” which merely translates to “yes”.
     A week later I was introduced to the class and the class was introduced to their subject (me).  After the introduction I preceded to hang out with them in their studio, they were extremely accepting and immediately I felt comfortable with everyone. While in the studio they broke up into four groups and assigned each group a part of my daily routine, such as getting up, going to school, eating, studying, and etc. They also divided up the days, Tuesday through Friday.  The week this began I was a bit nervous because I did not know what to expect, but knowing they were all cool people I was able to relax. It was awkward being filmed through it all, but throughout the week it felt like I was just hanging out with good friends with no fear of being judged. It was almost like being followed by paparazzi, I was filmed eating, walking, locking my door, putting things in my wallet, and etc. They captured it all and what they didn’t have on tape they would ask me about and would record me or jot down notes.
     I was an open book and answered all their questions honestly and did anything they asked. Many times I was asked the same things asked by the previous groups, but I did not mind and answered everybody’s questions. Doing this with me for an entire week allowed them to collect data on me and gave them ideas on what kind of product they would design. A few days after spring break they wanted me to join them in their studio to go over their findings. After looking at all of the data they collected, I was astonished how well they knew me. Making references to things I didn’t know about myself and things I knew, but didn’t make clear; such as, saying something was because of laziness when it had more to do with my disability. So, amazed by that finding, I told them the reason behind this was I hate pointing to or blaming my disability for anything.
     As soon as the students decided what area exactly they wanted to focus on, the filming and the questioning started all over again, but this time individually and much more focused. I was filmed walking in front of people, getting dressed, bathing (with a bathing suit), opening containers, and on and on. This continued throughout semester. I would constantly hang out at their studio answering their questions, testing out their prototypes, and just to hang out. There were many nights where I stayed there until after 11; it was like my third home. First being my apartment, second being the WCE working on the business plan and the presentation for the business plan competitions, and the third being the ID studio. As they got closer to their final review I made a point to be at the studio as much as I could answering as many questions as they had. Sadly due to our final competition in Orange County I couldn’t attend the final review. But they held a separate event for me, my family, and the business plan team where they each presented their designs to us. Everything we saw was a great design. I was so grateful for the whole experience and can confidently say I have 13 new friends.
Some examples of the designs include:
Wheelchair briefcase – an adaptable wheelchair easy accessible bag
Newly designed wallet – made the contents in the wallet easier to grab
Electrical outlet add-on – made it easier to plug things in to an electrical outlet
Dispenser – made it easier to pour a measurable amount of solids
Holder/opener- made it easier to open things with one hand
Button looper – made it easier for me to button buttons
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