There are very few people of my generation, or not that love celebrating the seasons, their popular holidays, and tradition as much as I do. I grew up American Catholic, so the holiday traditions I tend to practice go hand in hand with my upbringing. For me, the Fall (early October), is the start of a jam-packed time of year. As my disease has progressed over the past two decades, my idea of proper seasonal activities has become increasingly more difficult. As usual, I enlist my family and friend’s to experience the magic I have always felt growing this time of year.
Even though I love the fall and early winter, it does not love me back. I get really cold really fast and it is hard to self-propel my wheelchair. Over my 17 years as a mother, I have made quite a few annual trips to various apple orchards. In the first few years when my older son was young, I was still walking unassisted. Walking is a term I use rather loosely, as well as unassisted. I walked with a gait quite obviously disabled. Meaning I walked with my legs far apart from each other, to widen my center of gravity. I also moved slowly and deliberately to avoid tripping over fallen apples, ruts, or protruding roots. If one of those natural elements did not “get me,” I would just unexplainably lose my balance and fall. Unassisted in retrospect meant I held on to my sister for dear life or used a friend’s stroller to hold on to. So, I guess it is more accurate to say I did not use any durable medical equipment (walker or wheelchair) yet.
Now that I go apple picking in my manual wheelchair the difficult paths of the apple orchard are slow going, to say the least. Wheeling myself threw and around the divots in the orchard is almost impossible, for me. My sister has to drag my wheelchair behind her, tipped into the air at a 45-degree angle, with my anti-tip bars flipped upside down. If you have never been a part of one of these missions, they are cumbersome and look a little ridiculous, but it is ok because the kids have a blast, and its all in the name of holiday fun!
I know what most of you are thinking. Well, what does she expect its apple picking? Honestly, I expect what we encountered: apples growing on trees, in the grass, and apples are all over the ground. It’s called nature. That being said, How a person is spoken to and included can be helped. So, these endeavors used to feel embarrassing to me, but now I am starting to feel more comfortable doing what is necessary for me to participate in these activities when I want to. I and the people helping me do what they can to get me in and out of the orchard as safely and efficiently as possible. We (I) require a learning curve in regards to the best execution ( at least 2 seasons). This may require pushing the wheelchair on the edge of the worn hay wagon path because riding on the haywagon (although advertised as accessible) in actuality is not an option. Running a thin piece of plywood from the ground to the wagon at a 60-degree angle and expecting people to wheel up into the hay does not make something accessible. Nor when you decide you have to roll out to the apples, is there a need to yell at the small caravan of wheelchair users and the people pushing them that they are in the way and hindering the flow of traffic. When I have a poor interaction or experience at a place it changes my opinion of them. I truly put so much time and planning into a day like that. I do not want to return and I have been told it affects whether people who know me choose to spend their money there.
Then when I get up the courage to try a new orchard this is the problem I face. The orchard itself was as expected no more, no less. But part of my apple picking tradition is to get a Salted Carmel Mocha on the way. An extra coffee on top of my maxed out water and coffee intake sends me over the edge to needing a bathroom stat. As I turned the corner assessed the bathroom situation my wheels screeched to a stop. There was no sign saying the bathrooms were not accessible or where to go if one was needed. My sister, of course, went inside to ask if there was a bathroom I could use, and we were directed to the staff bathroom. Do not get me wrong I was thankful, so thankful to use the bathroom. I was lifted up a 6-inch step, parted the crowds and led to a bathroom all while enduring questioning looks from the staff and customers alike.
After getting to use the bathroom. of course, I went right to the bar. I was desperately wanting to sample some of their original wine flavors. They all looked so good. After realizing the difficult bathroom situation, I decided to stick to one glass. Bummer! I, unfortunately, could not get the bartender’s eye. This of course was no fault of his because the countertop was over my head. A problem I and other wheelchair users run into in bars. I had to have my sister who barley ever drinks and is much less outgoing then I order for me. The bartender then went through the whole, “Does she? Does she? To which my sister said I don’t know, do you?”
The areas I am trying to point out are relatively small cost-wise and can make a world of difference to anyone who would benefit from them. Just by taping a paper sign to the wall for the bathroom or saying, “please take your time. I know you’re doing the best you can.”, makes people of all needs feel welcome. If in 2019 people did a little research or reached out, put in a tiny bit of effort, these small yet huge things could be fixed. No, apple picking will not be easy for me until I can walk like most people, but my family and I will feel valued and be comfortable celebrating the season.