Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Can!

Well, I can’t believe it! I’m so happy we finally did it! Not only did America indisputably elect Barack Obama, a Black man, as its 44th president, but there was a record high turnout at the polls.

But I have to admit, I’m a conspiracy theorist. Especially after the sham election of 2000, where the Electoral College and the ballot machines conspired to give us Dubya as president #43 instead of the more popular Al Gore, I didn’t think there was a whole lot of hope for Obama. But I was very pleasantly proved wrong! I’m still a bit of a skeptic though. I find myself wondering if Obama really will change America for the better, or if he’ll go along with the party line instead of listening to the people and also thinking for himself. I don’t mean any disrespect to the brother, but it seems to me like a lot of times when we finally do get the person we want in office, that person changes direction and just goes along with the status quo instead of representing the people who elected him/her. Or even worse, the person elected gets corrupted or assassinated.

Now I know you’re probably thinking, "Come on Maria, you’re jinxing the guy!", and I definitely don’t mean to jinx him! I want him to stay safe, and I really hope Barack and his administration will help make a better life for the American people. I also hope he’ll change the way America interacts with and is seen by the rest of the world. If the outcome of this election and the extra-high voter turnout are anything to go by, I think he’ll be able to pull it off.

And speaking of the high voter turnout, if this is what a large number of people can do when they take interest in the electoral process and the government in general, what would happen if this many people kept coming out to vote at every election and kept pushing for change after elections? Even though I always vote I have to admit I’ve often thought my vote can’t really change anything. But after this election I’m starting to think we really can make a change.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Chair!

OK, I know I haven’t posted anything since way back in August, when I told you about my problems with getting my wheelchair repaired and about the loaner chair that kept stopping on me. Well, that situation went on until the beginning of October, so my energy level’s been really low. But I thought I’d update you with the good news and the bad news.

I’ll start with the good news first. The good news is that I now have a brand new, squeaky clean Pronto M91 power wheelchair. It was just delivered today and the service technician made most of the adjustments I needed. There are still a couple mor tweaks needed, but those will be done this Friday. This chair is pretty much like my original Pronto M91, but with a couple of great upgrades. So I’m really happy about that.

Now for the bad news. Why do I have a brand new chair instead of my original 3-year-old chair?

Well, at the end of September I got a call saying my chair had finally been fixed and they’d bring it out the next day. So the next day I got a nasty shock when the service technician brought me an old chair that was really, really short. Now, I’m pretty short myself, but this chair was so short I knew right away it had to be someone else’s. When I got up close to feel the chair I knew for sure it wasn’t mine. The service technician called his boss to tell him it was the wrong chair, and his boss told him that was the chair they had on file for me. Later that afternoon the boss’s boss called me and said the same thing. Since back in March when my own chair was brought in for repairs, they’d been thinking my chair was a Quantum 6000 instead of my Pronto M91. (And if you’ve read my previous post you probably saw this coming just like I did.)

In the meantime I was still stuck with a loaner chair that kept stalling on me. Although my service provider had tried to fix this loaner chair in August they couldn’t find the problem, so they replaced the batteries, cleaned out the terminals, made a couple of minor adjustments and gave it back to me. But the chair still kept stalling. So at the end of September, with my mobility restricted and my energy level still really low, I wasn’t happy to hear that they couldn’t find my own chair at all. Yeah, that’s right, they lost my wheelchair, and after the 6 and a half months my chair was in limbo that’s not much of a surprise. I asked them again for a reliable loaner chair that wouldn’t stop dead on me in the middle of the road, and at this time a staff member at my community center also started calling them on my behalf. At the beginning of October I finally got a reliable loaner chair, which wasn’t too comfortable but did the job. It was such a relief to have a working chair again.

Earlier this month I wrote a letter to the CEO and vice-president of the company I’ve been dealing with. In this letter I gave a detailed chronological account of pretty much everything that had happened with my chair since March, as well as the impact this has had on me. I also requested that this company get me a brand new Pronto M91 chair from the manufacturer, not only because they lost or misplaced my own chair but also because of the excessive amount of time it took them to repair the wheelchair they thought was mine. I c.c.ed this letter to a journalist who’s known for her column on disability issues, and also said in the letter that I had the purchase invoice as well as a photo of me in my chair as evidence that the Pronto M91 was really my chair.

Unbelievably, within 2 days of sending the letter I got a call from the company. The person I spoke to was very nice, apologizing for the trouble I went through, and she said that the next day she’d work on getting me a brand new chair. She was true to her word, and the next day she went through the manufacturer’s order form with me over the phone. She said it would take about 2 weeks for the chair to come in, and now, after less than 2 weeks, I have my new chair. Whoo-hoo!

So, I guess I’ve learned something from my experience that I can pass on to other people. This is, if you have problems with a particular company it can help to go to the top. Not only go to the top, but make sure you have documentation like e-mails, invoices etc. If you don’t have concrete documentation, at least make detailed notes about what you’ve experienced, who you spoke to, when you spoke to them, what you told them and what they said. It helps to have a good, coherent chronological account of your issue, otherwise the company won’t have enough information to go on and may not take you seriously. If you write a letter to the bigwigs, it also helps to carbon copy the letter to a journalist you think might be interested in your issue, especially if you know other people have had similar problems.

Anyway, now that I have a comfortable, working set of wheels again, maybe I can start posting more stuff.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What If This Was Your Car?

OK, I know it’s been a couple months since I wrote something in here, but I’m finally back. My energy level’s been really low, especially since my wheelchair’s been out of commission.

Maybe I should tell you a little about my chair. I got an Invacare Pronto M91 power wheelchair in the beginning of 2005, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Although I was born with my disabilities I’d never had a chair until then. Once I started using this chair I had a lot less pain and didn’t get tired so easily, and this allowed me to do a lot more than I could ever do before. The lateral supports on my chair gave me much better posture than I’d ever had, and this was a big positive in itself. I had a rocky start though, since bolts started falling off my new chair soon after I got it. But once that problem was fixed it was pretty smooth sailing for the next 3 years.

But this year, at the beginning of March, things started getting pretty weird. I was driving my chair one day and it started jumping. (Yeah, you’re probably thinking wheelchairs don’t jump, but it sure felt like that’s what mine was doing.) A few days after I called my service provider my chair died on me completely, and it was a week in total before they came out to my place with a loaner chair for me. The loaner chair they put together for me wasn’t the best fit for my needs, but I was still very happy to have a wheelchair again. Also, I figured I could handle the chair’s drawbacks for the few weeks it would take for my own chair to get fixed.

A few weeks??? Nah, try 4 months and counting! And I found out from my service provider that for at least 3 of these months my Pronto M91 hadn’t even been touched because of a backlog. Meanwhile, I was having more problems with my loaner chair. For the first 2-and-a-half weeks in June I had no wheelchair while the loaner was being repaired. At the end of July the chair started having more problems with the electronics, and it stopped dead on me in the street a couple of times. So it’s been in the repair shop for about a week, and I’m without a chair again. A few times I called to check on the status of my own chair, and was told a part was on backorder. I would have called them a lot more often than a few times, but I just didn’t have the energy.

For the past week I’ve been trying to find out the status of both chairs, and all the higher-ups I tried to contact were either out of the office or on vacation. Finally someone got back to me on Friday and said they’d try to have the chair back to me by Tuesday or Wednesday. When I asked whether he was talking about my own wheelchair or the loaner, the guy quoted me the model of the loaner and said this was my original chair. I corrected him and gave him the model of my Pronto M91 chair, letting him know it had been in their shop for 4 months. I waited while he checked for it in the system, only to hear that he couldn’t find it. After that I lost it. I was in tears when I told him how I’d been without a chair for a week, with no way to get groceries and do what I needed to do. He seemed sympathetic, saying he’d try to get the loaner back to me on Monday and that he’d check further into what happened to my own chair.

So I’m still in limbo with no idea when I’ll get a wheelchair, or where my own chair is. Now tell me, when you take your car to a mechanic does it take them 4 months to fix it? I’m guessing it doesn’t take that long, since most car owners have the physical energy to keep on the mechanic’s butt if the repair takes too long. What many people out there might not know is that the average power wheelchair costs as much as a car. So what would you do if your mechanic kept your $8,000+ car for 4 months or more? What would you do if you couldn’t get anywhere without that car and didn’t have supportive friends or family to help you out? What would you do in my shoes?

P.S.: a few days after I wrote this post I was told my Pronto M91 hasn't disappeared into the ether, but a part is still on backorder and I should have it back in another week.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

People In Motion

Every June the People In Motion exhibit comes to Toronto, and over 100 companies and service providers show us what they have to offer people with disabilities and special needs. This year was the 19th annual show, and I was able to talk to more exhibitors this time than I did in previous years. Since I’m blind I needed someone to go through the show with me and describe all the exhibits. In previous years I had a helper for only a short time, and some years I had no help at all. But yesterday I went with a fellow volunteer from the Tetra Society, and he described all the exhibits around us.

So while we were giving the exhibitors information about Tetra, I also got to ask for more info about their companies or organizations. It was great to hear about the new technology being developed for people with various disabilities, as well as some of the services out there. It was also great to hear my associate giving a couple of the manufacturers tips on how they could make their products even better. My only regret was that I didn’t have time to get to the wheelchair manufacturers. I would have loved to talk to those guys and give them some friendly suggestions for their power chairs.

And I have to give the PIM organizers credit, not only for putting on the show and having the list of exhibitors in braille, but also for providing manual wheelchairs for people who needed them. I think the loaner chairs are a new feature, and I’ll bet they got a lot of grateful users. My power chair broke down last Monday, and although I can walk my bod gets sore and tired very easily. So on the ride to People In Motion I really wondered how the hell I was going to get through the show. When I asked at the info table if they had any chairs to loan people, I was VERY relieved and pleasantly surprised when the lady got one for me.

So as my co-volunteer pushed me in the chair I handed out Tetra brochures to people, and we both picked up some really good info and contacts. By the way, in case you’re wondering what Tetra is, the Tetra Society of North America is a volunteer organization that designs and builds assistive devices or adaptations for people with disabilities. If you want to learn more just visit

People In Motion has a website at where you can find out more about the show. They post a list of links to their exhibitors every year, and the new list for 2008's show should be posted within a couple of weeks. To go directly to the list of exhibitors visit

Monday, May 26, 2008

The BlackBerry Blues

I’ve always wanted a BlackBerry, a PDA or a smart phone. The idea of being able to e-mail, use the internet and create documents from anywhere just sends shivers down my spine. So, what’s stopping me? Well, besides the fact that I can’t afford to buy one of these handy gadgets, I also can’t use one. You see, since I’m almost totally blind I can’t read the screen, and these devices aren’t equipped with an on-board software program that would read the screen in voice output. Screen readers are available for some phones but they’re very expensive, especially considering they’re completely separate from the cost of the phone or PDA itself. There’s another problem too. I’m also physically disabled, and the keys on most of the mobile devices out there are too small for me to operate properly.

I do have a cell phone, but because of these accessibility issues I only use it for infrequent phone calls. Now, I’m a tech-head (or at least I would be if I could use all this great stuff), and I totally appreciate everyone’s desire for a powerful productivity tool that fits right in your pocket or palm. But I also think we can achieve portability and accessibility at the same time. If the keys on all these gadgets were slightly bigger they’d be a lot easier to use for everyone. Sure, your PDA or phone might be a little larger then, but it would still fit easily in your fanny-pack, purse, bag or briefcase. The screen and print size could also be made larger without decreasing the PDA or phone’s overall functionality. An on-board screen reader and trainable voice-recognition software would also help increase usability for everyone.

By now some of you are probably thinking, "Most of us don’t have trouble using these things, so why should we change them for a few people?". Well, as you get older your vision tends to decrease and arthritis or other ailments can set in. That’s not even taking into account unexpected problems like strokes or injuries. So you may be sharp-eyed and nimble-fingered right now, but later on you might get the BlackBerry Blues like me. Also, the same features that make products more accessible to people with disabilities are also features that make things easier to use for people without disabilities.

So, how can we make things like PDAs, cell phones and smart phones more user-friendly for everyone? People need to start hounding the manufacturers, giving them friendly recommendations for improvement. The more people they hear from, the more likely they’ll be to make changes. Or, if you have the money and resources, design a gadget of your own that’s more user-friendly than what’s out there right now. I know changes like this take a long time, but a PDA or smart phone that’s easy for everyone to use will be worth the wait.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hope for Hip-hop

Along with calypso, latin jazz and salsa, hip-hop is right up there as one of my favorite music genres. Mos Def, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Salt & Peppa, Eve, Dela Soul and Talib Kwali are just a few of the hip-hop artists I love to hear. But I have to say hip-hop’s been at a low point for years now, and I really feel like giving a lot of today’s artists a smack in the head.

Yeah, I know I sound like some stuffy old curmudgeon who just doesn’t want to get with the program. But I know I’m not the only one out there thinking that hip-hop would be so much better without all the bling! Who cares if you’re wearing enough diamonds to blind anyone who looks at you too long? And I couldn’t give a damn if you have a Rolex or some other grossly-expensive watch, I just want to know if you can actually tell time with that thing.

Materialism is just one of our problems though. The sexual content and sexism in music are pretty depressing too. Guys, there’s nothing wrong with admiring a woman, but I’d really love to hear you talk about her mind, spirit, and other attributes besides her booty and lady lumps. Yes, sisters do have minds, and we’re good for a lot more than sex, dancing in clubs, or holding the keys to your Lexus. And I know none of us is perfect, but in general no man has any right to call a woman a bitch, slut or ‘ho’. Sisters, please, we need to hear more hip-hop from strong, intelligent, positive women, so show them your stuff!

Violence is another blight on the hip-hop scene. Could we pleeeease stop acting like it’s cool to be a thug or a gangsta? Kids need smart, sober, constructive role models to look up to, not people who are gun-obsessed, greedy, or in and out of rehab all the time. I know there are some really positive, socially conscious artists out there, but a lot of the conscious rappers get pushed underground and get very little air-play on the radio or TV. I’d love to hear more kids come out with their own hip-hop, because I think some of them could really help change the direction of the mainstream. What do you think?