Tag Archives: Justin Farley

Japan, Day 2: First Day in Japan

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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

An Incredible Semester (part 1)

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When I entered the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, I had been discussing the concept of Unlimiters with my dad for over two years.  During the second semester of the program I was approached by a group of four students who wanted to help me develop my concept further and enter the idea in business plan competitions representing the school. I gladly accepted the help and joined the team. The first thing we did as a group was recruit MBA students by presenting the idea to a MBA entrepreneurship class. Our presentation went over well enough that we had 6 to 7 interviews to narrow it down to two students to help us with the process. The remaining weeks of the semester we spent talking about the idea and refining it.
     The writing of the business plan began shortly before our third semester in the program. We put one of the MBA students in charge of developing the “beta” website which we planned to use mainly for a marketing analysis tool. We spent a lot of time together discussing the logistics of the business plan and the time we spent apart was dedicated to writing our designated sections of the plan. As soon as we felt a bit comfortable with the plan we started to talk about the competitions we were going to enter. We decided to enter five different competitions even though two wanted us to submit our business plan right away before we were completely ready.  We were declined by the first one since the plan was our first rough draft.
     As time went on we continued editing our plan and practicing our presentation; we presented to our class many times before our first competition in Nebraska. The general format of the competitions we entered was a 10 to 15 minute presentation and then 10 to 15 minutes of Q&A with a panel of judges. A week prior to the competition in Nebraska, we had to submit our plan and by this point we felt pretty good about it.   During our spring break we had two competitions to go to, one in Nebraska and another one in California.
     In Nebraska we placed first in the undergrad category. The day before we presented, we had a booth up displaying information about Unlimiters. We had many people, judges and other teams, pass by our booth surprised at the fact that we were undergrads. The second competition was the one where we had to submit our first rough draft, and it was also one where we had had to take our MBA student to since it was a grad level competition. We were the only under grads at this competition, and the only thing that qualified us was our MBA student. We did not place in California, but we managed to get a standing ovation, a venture capitalist interested, and we advanced to the wild card round (meaning that in the first leg of the completion we got second place out of five).  We strongly believe that if we weren’t judged on our first rough draft of the plan, we would of easily advanced to the finals. Once we got back from California we had a month break until our next round of competitions. In that time we made slight changes to the business plan and the presentation. The third competition in Dallas was during the last day of Wolffest (out senior term project running a food stand for three days). We managed to fly out to Dallas the night of our second day at Wolffest. We got there and learned we had to be up at 7 am the following morning.  Unrehearsed, we felt like we needed to practice before going to bed. We made it to bed at 11 pm and made it to TCU at 8 am where we learned we were the first to present in our leg; meaning that we had virtually no time to rehearse beforehand. We managed to place second meaning we weren’t finalists but giving us another chance to advance to the finals in the wild card round. The next day, after waking up a little after the first round we came in first in the wild card round. Then, on the third day after a good night’s sleep, we came in first beating the school that beat us the previous day. The following week we headed to Orange County for our final competition where we competed with undergrads, grads and doctorates; we tied for second place. Four competitions, two first place finishes, a second place, and one, well we tried.
     We presented one last time at our graduation for families, students, teachers, and faculty to see our winning presentation. All in all, it was an amazing experience.
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Video of our presentation (and Q&A) at TCU:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqJowLfOERY

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

An Incredible Semester (part 1 – redone and extended)

     When I entered the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, I had been discussing the concept of Unlimiters with my dad for over two years.  During the second semester of the program I was approached by a group of four students who wanted to help me develop my concept further and enter the idea in business plan competitions representing the school. I gladly accepted the help and joined the team. The first thing we did as a group was recruit MBA students by presenting the idea to a MBA entrepreneurship class. Our presentation went over well enough that we had 6 to 7 interviews to narrow it down to two students to help us with the process. The remaining weeks of the semester we spent talking about the idea and refining it.
     The writing of the business plan began shortly before our third semester in the program. We put one of the MBA students in charge of developing the “beta” website which we planned to use mainly for a marketing analysis tool. We spent a lot of time together discussing the logistics of the business plan and the time we spent apart was dedicated to writing our designated sections of the plan. As soon as we felt a bit comfortable with the plan we started to talk about the competitions we were going to enter. We decided to enter five different competitions even though two wanted us to submit our business plan right away before we were completely ready.  We were declined by the first one since the plan was our first rough draft.
     As time went on we continued editing our plan and practicing our presentation; we presented to our class many times before our first competition in Nebraska. The general format of the competitions we entered was a 10 to 15 minute presentation and then 10 to 15 minutes of Q&A with a panel of judges. A week prior to the competition in Nebraska, we had to submit our plan and by this point we felt pretty good about it.   During our spring break we had two competitions to go to, one in Nebraska and another one in California.
     In Nebraska we placed first in the undergrad category. The day before we presented, we had a booth up displaying information about Unlimiters. We had many people, judges and other teams, pass by our booth surprised at the fact that we were undergrads. The second competition was the one where we had to submit our first rough draft, and it was also one where we had had to take our MBA student to since it was a grad level competition. We were the only under grads at this competition, and the only thing that qualified us was our MBA student. We did not place in California, but we managed to get a standing ovation, a venture capitalist interested, and we advanced to the wild card round (meaning that in the first leg of the completion we got second place out of five).  We strongly believe that if we weren’t judged on our first rough draft of the plan, we would of easily advanced to the finals. Once we got back from California we had a month break until our next round of competitions. In that time we made slight changes to the business plan and the presentation. The third competition in Dallas was during the last day of Wolffest (out senior term project running a food stand for three days). We managed to fly out to Dallas the night of our second day at Wolffest. We got there and learned we had to be up at 7 am the following morning.  Unrehearsed, we felt like we needed to practice before going to bed. We made it to bed at 11 pm and made it to TCU at 8 am where we learned we were the first to present in our leg; meaning that we had virtually no time to rehearse beforehand. We managed to place second meaning we weren’t finalists but giving us another chance to advance to the finals in the wild card round. The next day, after waking up a little after the first round we came in first in the wild card round. Then, on the third day after a good night’s sleep, we came in first beating the school that beat us the previous day. The following week we headed to Orange County for our final competition where we competed with undergrads, grads and doctorates; we tied for second place. Four competitions, two first place finishes, a second place, and one, well we tried.
     We presented one last time at our graduation for families, students, teachers, and faculty to see our winning presentation. All in all, it was an amazing experience.
Video of our presentation (and Q&A) at TCU: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqJowLfOERY

An incredible semester (part 1)

Last summer the program director of the WCE (Wolff Center of Entrepreneurship) posted on Facebook telling my class that the program was looking to form two business plan teams and asking for volunteers. My first thought was to volunteer and be more active in the program. I figured by becoming more active it would force me to be out of my comfort zone and help me to gain more confidence. After debating with myself for a day or two I decided against it since I did not know much about it. As soon as summer ended and school started our teacher told us more about the business plan competition and informed us that they already put together the 2 teams for the competitions. The teams would write their own business plans and compete nationally presenting them to judges. Once the teams started to meet regularly I was approached by one of my friends in the class telling me that her team was interested in using Unlimiters as their business idea for the competitions.  She asked me if I could present my idea to the whole team. A few weeks later they decided to go with my business concept, Unlimiters; in turn I had to join the team. By joining the team I got four people helping me write the plan, a chance for all of us to get national recognition, and a chance to get funding for the business. Plus, on a personal level I now was forced out of my comfort zone giving me the opportunity to gain more confidence. Soon after joining the team we recruited 2 MBA students to help out with the plan and the concept. The majority of the semester was spent brainstorming and refining the Unlimiters concept. We didn’t actually start writing the till early this year, but since we talked about it so much writing the actual plan was pretty simple. Right as we started school back up we started rushing to complete everything and submit what we needed in order to compete in the competitions. As of now we are set to compete in 4 competitions nationally.  Currently we are focusing on our presentation and rehearsing it daily. This whole experience with the business plan team so far has been unbelievable for me.
    Part 2 coming soon…

 

Physical Disability

People with disabilities constitute the nation’s largest minority group, and the only group any of us can become a member of at any time. There are approximately 66.5 million American adults (age 18 or older) who live with a disability, that’s more than 31% of the population living in the United States, and about 46 million that have movement difficulty.

I am 1 of the 66.5 million people living with a disability. I have Cerebral Palsy which was caused by lack of oxygen during birth and affected the left side of my brain which in turn impaired my mobility and my speech. Although I have limited mobility throughout my body it affected the right side the most. I call my right arm my snake because it does whatever it wants whenever it wants. Over the years I have found the best way to ‘tame’ it is to sit on it. Although I have a lot more control over my left arm, it’s still limited, I type with two fingers and I can’t write. I can walk independently most of the time, but when people are around that I don’t know well I tend to get nervous and unstable. Same goes with my arm the more nervous I am the more out of control it gets.

I live by myself in a one bedroom apartment on campus with assistive care services. They help with bathing, grooming, restroom, and cleaning, but to me they are primarily a nuisance since I am pretty independent and only need help with laundry and some cleaning. The only time I use a wheelchair is when I go to class for distance and stability purposes.

I try to unlimit my limitations everyday through practice, products, and determination. I have bought many products that aren’t aimed towards people with disabilities, but they have helped me as if they were.

I’m Back

I put my Unlimiters idea on hiatus for a little while hence my last and first blog being 18 months ago. I came up with another idea and decided to put Unlimiters on the backburner for a while. My 2nd idea was a frozen custard milkshake shop. In my mind it was a lot less risky because I always saw frozen custard shops with lines out the door and I also knew there were none in the downtown Houston area. I thought specializing in making milkshakes too would add my own twist and not be just run of the mill bland custard shop and increase my chances of being successful.
Last year I applied to the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston (rated the #1 entrepreneurship program in the nation) where they accept only 32 people a year. I heard you needed a business idea to be able to apply so they can help you develop the idea and have you ready to start the business upon graduating. After I applied I got called in to do an interview and I told them about my frozen custard idea. Two months later I got accepted to the program.
One of the many perks of the program is that each person accepted gets a specially selected mentor to help us along our entrepreneurial journey. My mentor is amazing. One day she and I were talking on one of our lunch outings about my business idea and she wasn’t too keen on frozen custard. I told her about Unlimiters, an idea I came up with a year ago and she loved it. She thought I should talk to my entrepreneurship teacher about which idea I should pursue through the program. So the next day I went to meet with him and he thought that I should definitely drop my custard shop idea and continue with my Unlimiters idea.
I told my mentor what my teacher said and soon after she got me in contact with people that could help me develop my idea and help me minimize the variables. About a month ago I sat down with my mentor and the people she introduced me too, and showed them a power point presentation on UNlimiters. After seeing the presentation They thought UNlimiters would be a complete success.
What is UNlimiters? An online destination offering tools, resources, and products to make every day life easier for the physically challenged. UNlimiters, Your New Flight to an Unlimited Life.
Through this blog I hope to share my own stories along with educating people about disabilities and helping to create a global community where we all can share our successes.

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