Tag Archives: Cerebral Palsy

My Assistive Technology Dream Come True

Whenever I see back to school commercials that talk about laptops, tablets and cell phones, I feel really old. When I was going back to school, only adults had personal computers and only the really important ones had laptops; not a single one of my friends had a cell phone. And now, just 13 years after I graduated high school, most students have one or more of these devices on hand. As a person with a disability, I’m glad I was born at a time when technology was on the rise; I have seen this technology grow and change the lives of people with disabilities. Read here how to spend time effectively.

Thanks to technology, people without the ability to speak can talk, many of the people who want to hear are now able to, and those who cannot walk have more and more options for mobility. Everyday new technology is created that can improve a life, and you have to admit that is pretty cool. I have benefited from many of the new technologies out there, they have allowed me to be more independent and more productive. However, there is a part of me that still waits, hoping that someday technology will come up with something that will allow me to walk hands free.

I have Cerebral Palsy, and like everyone with C.P., my case is unique to me. I am able walk with assistive devices such as a walker or crutches; I can also walk around my house by holding onto the furniture or walls, and I have decent balance. However, despite multiple surgeries, countless hours of physical therapy, and multiple bribes from my parents, I cannot take more than one or two steps unassisted.

This is something that I have come to accept. However, I do wish that there was something out there that would allow me to walk hands free. Having my hands free for reaching items is one benefit I get from using a chair; but when I want, or need, to walk somewhere, my hands are tied up doing other things. They have plenty of handsfree walkers meant for children to help train their muscles for walking and balance; but these walkers are typically bulky and a have ton of straps for support As an adult who just needs that tiny bit of extra support, there seemed to be nothing that could help my cause. At least until I saw this walker.

I can’t help but be a little excited. It does not seem like a perfect solution, and it still seems quite new given the limited information on the site; but the fact that it even exists gives me some hope. Hope that technology is catching up to my needs. Hope that someday, in the nearish future, I might be able to walk down the street carrying a child, holding hands with my husband, pull multiple items out of the fridge in one trip, or grab gallon of milk from the store without needing to put it in a cart first.

Is there anything on your assistive technology wish list?

Shaving Your Legs Doesn’t Have to be an Aerobic Excercise

humorous-photo-funny-caption-bear-doesnt-need-to-shave-legs

Many women dream of having long, soft, flowing hair; but typically they want this hair on their heads not their legs. My fight with leg hair began at the tender age of ten, a doctor removed full length casts from both my legs only to discover that my leg hair, which had be fine and blond when they put them on a month or so previous, had turned coarse and black. I don’t remember being particularly bothered by this phenomenon but my mother was somewhat horrified. And so began my battle with leg hair.

Let’s face it, we all hate leg hair; the only thing we hate more than leg hair is dealing with the leg hair. Having a disability that causes fine motor issues, along with super tight leg muscles, only makes leg hair that much more deplorable. It’s no wonder that women with and without disabilities have decided not to deal with it at all, allowing their leg hair to grow uninhibited and unashamed. I applaud those women for the unabashed love for their leg hair, and between September and April I am one of them; but come Spring I fall victim to the pressure of social norms. I remember my mother’s horrified exclamations over my leg hair and I shave my legs.

Finding the perfect product for shaving my legs has been an adventure. The disposable razor slipped a lot thanks to both my poor fine motor skills and my excellent spasticity; shaving cream made everything worse. Nair left chemical burns in some spots and patches of hair in others. Waxing is too expensive and painful,and laser treatments are super tempting but also way too expensive. Ultimately, it was my mother who convinced me to try an electric razor. Honestly I didn’t even know that they made these for women anymore. I had an old plug in one in middle school that had been my mother’s or someone’s back in the day, but it didn’t work well, so I assumed that all electric razors were just as ineffective, even if they did exist.

In order to convince me, my mother let me try hers; and I realized very quickly I had been wrong. The electric razor left my legs as smooth as my manual razor. Even better, I could use this razor outside the shower where it was easier to contort my body into the yoga poses required for leg shaving. Best of all, when I was done there were no cuts to cover in little bits of toilet paper!

I did some research about the best electric razors available, compared that against what I wanted to spend and decided to buy this Panasonic model because it got good reviews and was a decent price. It can be used wet or dry but for the reason I’ve already stated I use it dry. Now I can wear my cute spring and summer dresses without horrifying my mother or cutting my legs. This razor really is a win/win.

Worry Free Home Decor

My husband and I bought our first house in 2009. It was really exciting. The place was definitely a fixer upper; I had all these wonderful ideas about how I would decorate and how beautiful it was going to be. I was going to have a house fit for a magazine. I think everyone feels this way the first time they move into their own space. However, most of us come to the realization that what we have in our head and what we can afford are two different things. We also find out that those DIY projects are not as easy as the home depot commercials make them look.

My husband and I have now lived in this house for about four and a half years, and we are still working on various projects. This is because we don’t want to go into debt fixing up the house, so my husband takes on one or two projects a year. I obviously cannot help with these projects, but I do my best to make sure my house has that homey feel by adding small touches here and there.

One company that I have discovered along my decorating way is Scentsy. Scentsy is a company that sells electric, wickless, candles for your home. I am going to be honest, with a dog, four cats, one husband and my tendency for setting of the smoke alarm, my house can get a little smelly and stuffy, especially during the winter when we are all cooped up inside. Candles are a great way to help keep your house smelling nice, they also give your house a cozy feel. But lets face it, open flames and Cerebral Palsy are not the best combination. Open flames and cats are even worse.

Scentsy products are great because they use these beautiful ceramic warmers to melt a non-toxic scented wax that will fill your room with one of many wonderful scents. The wax gets warm, but not hot, so you won’t get burned if you spill it. I have even had wax spilled on my kitchen floor, it was quick and easy to clean. The burners come in several sizes and can either be plugged directly into the wall like a nightlight, or set on a table.

The main reason I love Scentsy is that I can select a fragrance, turn it on and not worry about it. I can leave the room, or even the house, and not worry that something is going to catch on fire. I also don’t have to spend 45 minute rummaging for a lighter.

One word of warning: Scentsy is awesome and you might feel like you don’t need those candles anymore, but make sure to keep a few on hand, and know where they are. Scentsy might be safer than a candle, but they won’t work during a power outage; you really don’t want to forage for candles to light your living room in the dark, trust me on that.

UNlimiters blog post by Stephanie Torreno

Until a few years ago, I lived with my mother all of my life. I now proudly tell people that I live on my own, even though I rely on a caregiver to assist me with tasks I cannot do independently because of cerebral palsy. As I work at home and spend much of my time taking care of myself, many products make these chores easier, quicker, and less frustrating.

Although I always walked up and down my townhome’s stairs, friends worried about my risk of falling when I am alone. A very generous gift of a stair chair has given me safety, greater freedom in my own home, and more energy for other activities. Stair chairs can allow individuals to remain in two-story homes without the risks of climbing stairs.

My limited coordination prevents me from pouring drinks. When I’m alone, I take drinks from the refrigerator that my caregiver has already poured. Stainless steel travel mugs with lids and handles work best for me. Straws usually fit into these mugs, and I can enjoy whatever I’m drinking without cleaning up spills.

Speaking of straws, reusable ones such as these make sipping from a regular cup or glass more fun. Most have wider openings to allow more liquid to flow through them. Although some do not fit into the lids of travel mugs, reusable straws come in various widths and lengths. They save money, and are dishwasher-safe, too.

When I’m eating at home, I typically use plates that are lightweight and non-breakable since I clean up after myself. Since I also have difficulties scooping food out of deep dishes and bowls, I find these small scoop plates perfect for yogurt and fruit. The curved side assists me in scooping up every bit of what I’m eating. Other melamine plates meet my needs for everyday use, too.

Limited coordination often causes objects to slip and slide. Dycem, an anti-slip, rubber-like material, is great to put under placemats, books, computer keyboards, or anything that needs to be stabilized. I prefer to buy Dycem on a roll because it can be cut to fit the size of the object, which makes it unnoticeable. Dycem washes with soap and water, and can be easily brought to school, an office, or anywhere.

I have never had the ability to use traditional scissors. Loop scissors enable me to open packages and cut the few things I cut on my own. The large loop handle lets me grip the scissors without much effort.

With severe difficulties in locking and unlocking a door with a key, I couldn’t leave home independently without a keyless entry system. Different brands and models have various features. Mine includes a programmable keypad that allows me to enter my code to unlock the door from the outside. Inside, I can turn the toggle switch to lock or unlock the door. It also automatically locks within a minute. I always take the key that came with the system, though, in case the batteries die.

Stephanie TorrenoStephanie Torreno graduated from Houston Baptist University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and technical writing. Her work has included numerous online articles exploring education, special education, and mental health topics. She also wrote an online newsletter for supported employment professionals focused on obtaining work for individuals with disabilities. Stephanie published her memoir, “Keeping My Balance: A Memoir of Disability and Determination,” last year. Her website is stephanietorreno.com.

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?

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.

Japan, Day 2: First Day in Japan

mt-fuji-view

The next morning we woke up at 5:00 am Japan time, which was 3:00 in the afternoon back home. We were up and ready to explore Japan for the first time. We got ready and we left our room at 6:00 am with Scarlett pushing me in my wheelchair and with a traveling wallet around my neck containing our cash, passports, and credit cards. It looked pretty barren outside, nothing was open and there were barely any people walking around. Once outside the first thing we saw was a big KFC building (we used this as a location marker for the first few days). The weather outside reminded us of Houston’s weather, hot and humid. The sidewalk was lined with bikes, some locked up while others weren’t.  This didn’t surprise me given that the crime-rate in Japan is so low, although I have heard that the most frequent crime is bike theft, which, after seeing the setup, was no surprise why. Since there were so many bikes I had no worry about the sidewalks being accessible, but the accessibility of buildings was another story.  As we walked, sadly to say, some of what I read online seemed like it might be true, most of the buildings we passed had at least one step to go inside and no ramps. Since nothing was open yet I couldn’t really get a real idea about the accessibility inside.

After walking around for about 10 minutes we saw a vending machine for drinks on the corner of the sidewalk. We rushed over to it, eager to try our first authentic Japanese beverage. My first instinct was to buy each drink to try them all, but realizing that we forgot my straws (I packed a box of straws just in case) at the hotel room, my selection was limited to only bottled drinks. The difference in the grip and the mouth opening makes bottle drinks much easier for me to drink from than cans if I am not using a straw. There were 2 main drinks I couldn’t wait to try on this trip, Japanese milk tea and Japanese green tea. Seeing that the vending machine had milk tea in a can and green tea in a bottle, I got the green tea. After highly recommending the milk tea to Scarlett, she got that. Both happy with our choices, we stood there drinking our drinks, blown away at the fact that we were no longer in the states.  As soon as we finished drinking, we continued walking around a little bit more. Just about every few minutes we saw a vending machine with mostly different drinks in each one. Me, worried about my usual bathroom dilemma, resisted the urge to buy something from each one, we just peeked in every vending machine we passed looking at all the different kinds of drinks. At around 7:00 am seeing nothing was opening, we decided to head back to the hotel. Being that we were headed back to our hotel room, supplied with straws, I bought 2 canned drinks, milk tea and something new to try while Scarlett got a water and another milk tea.

When we got back to the hotel room I messaged a pen pal I had communicated with ever since I knew I was coming to Japan, who lived in Osaka to see when things normally opened. After she responded saying 10:00 am, we decided to just eat at the hotel restaurant again since we were starving. I was hoping the selection might have been more culturally traditional for breakfast. My hopes failed me; it was a buffet serving American breakfast, but we were given traditional hot green tea to drink which made me happy while I ate a croissant, eggs (sashimi style, finger food), and sliced up fruit as my second meal in Japan. After eating we went back to our room to plan out the day.

Before leaving for Japan we bought a guidebook specifically for Osaka.  Both looking in the book and online we decided to check out Namba, a popular shopping district in Osaka. I checked out the location of it on my newly bought ipad and saw it was a straight shot from the hotel, either a 20 minute walk or a 3 minute train ride. We opted to walk for many reasons, the main reason was we just wanted to explore.

We left our room around 9:30 bringing my silverware set and a couple of straws with us. This time there was a bunch more people walking outside with a few stores opened. While we walked to Namba I just looked around and stared in amazement at being in Japan; it was a dream come true. The more we walked the more lack of accessibility we saw. Given the inaccessibility I began wondering again how I was going to be viewed and/or treated throughout this trip. And the prospect of me actually living there one day was diminishing right before my eyes.  When we arrived at what seemed to be Namba, it wasn’t quite ten yet so we went in to a little café conveniently located at the entrance of the shopping strip. Luckily the café was accessible to get in to it. We were greeted with a polite ‘irasshaimase’ (welcome) by the staff as we walked in. Since it wasn’t crowded we both took our time looking at the menu and we both ordered milk teas. To our surprise they weren’t sweetened at all, but they came with something called “Gum Syrup” to use as our sweetener. As we sat in the café drinking, we could tell outside was getting livelier.

Finished, we walked outside, turned and we saw two rows of shops on each side of us stretching as far as we could see. This area seemed to have better accessibility, fewer buildings had steps.  Ten minutes of walking we approached a crosswalk with massive advertisements on buildings, unlike we have ever seen before. The shops continued and the second section had a gigantic multiple story H&M store which was the first store we went in to, unfortunately due to not finding an elevator we just strolled around on the 1st floor.

The second store we went in to was a small shop that sold kimonos; we were greeted by a girl who could understand and speak a little English. We asked her where the kimonos were and she took us in the back where they were. Scarlett and I looked around for a minute and then the girl came back with a book. She started showing Scarlett some of the kimonos. Given that she was talking to Scarlett I started to zone out, half-way listening and looking downwards. Admittedly, this is something I need to work on; it is my defense mechanism a lot of the time to avoid awkwardness when I’m in my manual wheelchair since people often talk to the one pushing me and avoid talking to me. But this experience was totally different, after showing Scarlett the kimonos she came over to me and asked if I wanted to see or try on any kimonos for guys. Stunned she was talking to me so nonchalantly; I perked up and snapped out of my ‘shy mode’. We left the store soon after she showed me a few kimonos with only purchasing a fan.

We continued walking through the strip some more, and approached yet another crosswalk with even more shopping following. In this section we passed by a shop that sold art prints with two stacks of some sitting on a table outside. Being that Scarlett’s major is art, we had to stop and thumb through them. We were standing there for a good 7 minutes just flipping through and admiring all of the prints. Then all of the sudden the owner of the store came out with a chair for Scarlett and then went back inside behind the counter. At this point we were at loss for words; we just started laughing uncontrollably at the kindness of the owner. We sat there looking for 5 minutes longer and then Scarlett wanted to move inside. After noticing the aisles were too narrow for my wheelchair, I told Scarlett that she could go inside if she just parked me somewhere out of the way. Reluctantly, she parked me off to the side of the store, and went inside while I waited. A few seconds after Scarlett went inside I noticed the owner coming outside again, He came over to me saying it was too hot outside and I agreed. He then pushed me over to where Scarlett was, pushing stuff out of the way in order to make room for my wheelchair. Once he got me inside beside her he returned to sit behind the counter. We stayed inside for about five minutes then exited the shop with the owner once again helping Scarlett steer me out of the tight place. We left expressing our gratitude towards the owner saying a whole bunch of ‘arigatos’ and bowing.

We continued walking down the strip in disbelief of how kind everyone was. We finally reached the end with the jet lag getting to the both of us.  We decided to make our way back to the hotel. On our way back in the strip, we passed by a cart with sweets which I had to buy something at. Not knowing what anything said or was I just randomly chose and bought something. What I bought looked similar to mochi balls which I have had before, but these were much bigger and came in a case of 6.  We managed to get back at the Sheraton at 2:30 and took a nap until 6:30 in the evening.

When we awoke from our naps we weren’t that hungry since we drank a ton of liquid throughout the day from the vending machines that were all over the place. I was eager to try my sweets I bought though; I tried one. After realizing that I was happy with my pick I decided to save the rest for later. We noticed it was starting to get dark outside so we figured we would stick to what we knew and started walking towards Namba again. It was much busier compared to the morning, most everything was opened. Once again I was amazed that I was in Japan seeing everything in Japanese and just witnessing the Japanese culture around me; I was in heaven.

Reaching Namba, Scarlett saw some café advertising New York style pancakes so we went in. Not being hungry I didn’t order anything to eat. We both ordered milk tea which was served as a teapot with hot tea with milk on the side. Not having or finding a straw I had to use one we brought with us (probably had one if we asked). I was stuck very awkwardly drinking from a teacup with a straw with the added awkwardness of using one we brought. We left with Scarlett disappointed with the pancakes and both of us disappointed at the way our milk tea was served.

We began walking around Namba, after noticing some of the stores were closing and the crowd was starting to die down even though it was only 8:00 pm. We started to meander out of the main Namba strip heading in the general direction of our hotel. Not having any sense of direction I was clueless to whether we were headed in the right direction, but Scarlett seemed like she did. About 25 minutes of heading in one direction, we finally concluded we were lost. We ended up asking a guy for directions, but either due to the language barrier or the fact that he just didn’t know where the Sheraton was he wasn’t much help.

While continuing to walk, we passed by 3 girls with a bike. We debated whether or not we should stop them and ask for directions again. Finally we decided to ask, but by then they were a bit behind us. Scarlett asked me what was ‘excuse me’ in Japanese again which was one of words I taught her on the plane ride. I told her ‘sumimasen’, she turned around and said ‘sumimasen’ loudly where they could hear her. They stopped and turned around, both Scarlett and I were amazed that it worked.

We walked towards them and asked them if they knew where the ‘Sheraton Miyako Hotel’ was. One of the girls seemed like they knew what we were asking and where it was by clarifying ‘the business hotel?’ With it clarified they told us that they would take us there. We were told that it was a 30 minute walk. Shocked that we had walked that far, we just started laughing at ourselves, grateful that we got their attention by ‘sumimasen’. They seemed to be around our age and in college. At the beginning of our journey with them we were told that one of them was taking English classes in school. They asked us how we got to where we were. I tried to respond in Japanese, my first real attempt at communicating in Japanese, but they couldn’t understand me (I’m thinking to myself, crap, my Japanese isn’t understandable). Scarlett on the other hand used English to say ‘walking’ and they understood her. They replied by saying ‘sugoi, sugoi’ which means wow, amazing, incredible, or awesome. We mainly walked behind the girls, but at times the girl who was learning English would fall back to talk to us, rotating. Throughout escorting us they were singing karaoke-like and just having a good time walking.

All of the sudden the girl fell back and pointed to her friend saying,”Professional singer.” The girl she pointed to turned around and started laughing so we did the same thinking they were just having fun and wanted to poke fun at each other since all three of them were singing. Not, but a minute later the ‘professional singer’ began to belt out a beautiful old timey traditional Japanese song. Shocked with disbelief we listened with complete awe. Near the end of the song the other two girls chimed in as background singers. It was absolutely amazing, when they finished we were both stunned and didn’t know whether we should applaud loudly or just acknowledge how incredible it was to ourselves. We picked the latter of the two, looking back on it, we should have tried to convey how impressive it was to them, but at the time there were way too many emotions going on in our head to think clearly. They continued on having fun and acting goofy the remainder of the walk. Near the end, the main girl who talked to us tapped on the handle of the wheelchair and said, “There are a lot of barriers.” Not quite understanding what she meant at the time we just nodded our heads. When we finally reached the hotel, we managed to take some pictures of us with the girls. They left with us profusely saying ‘thank you’.

Back in the room, before going to bed, I found out that the word I said in Japanese that they couldn’t understand wasn’t even a Japanese word; the word I meant to say was ‘sanpo’ meaning walking or strolling. And I also realized the girl was trying to tell us that there are many barriers in Japan for wheelchair.  This could have been another language barrier or me being biased about Japan, but I thought it was interesting that she patted my wheelchair as she said what she said instead of somehow insinuating I was the one with the barriers. I took this as her viewing my wheelchair as only for what it was – a vehicle to help me get place to place and not as something that defines me. Again, this might have just been wishful thinking, but given how I was treated throughout the day it led me to believe this was the case.

Day 1 – Airports

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    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)

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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.
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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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