In disability circles, the term “inspiration porn” is used to mean cloyingly sweet descriptions of an event featuring a person with a disability. They may have done something like winning a spelling bee even though they’re blind or maybe an able-bodied person invited a wheelchair user to the senior prom. In any case, it elicits a gag reflex from many of us with disabilities.

But I’ll risk saying I was inspired recently to have the honor of meeting with the two sessions of the Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library’s phone book club as they discussed my Occupying Aging. Book club members were fifty years old and older and several had additional disabilities along with their visual impairments. Some were adjusting to relatively new visual impairments. All were great readers and compared my book to other disability memoirs. They gave examples of parts of my memoir that paralleled their own experiences.  It’s addicting to talk with readers who relate so personally to your work. It inspires me to soldier on getting my book of blogs ready for publication.

Some of the stories these book club members told also inspired me to keep fighting access fights.  I do have the time, knowledge and connections to advocate that others in the disability community may not have.

I sent my input to the city’s engineering department about the redesign of a nearby intersection, encouraging them to use a three-way RRFB flashing beacon that also has auditory and tactile feedback when the beacon is flashing to indicate when it’s safe to cross the street.

Then I settled in with a new memoir Love Thy Neighbor by A. Virji about the struggles he faced as a Moslem physician in rural Minnesota. It’s comforting to read about others’ struggles for acceptance. As he said “Love is hard work.” His efforts are indeed inspiring.

 

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In addition to being on a panel on a radio show and being on television, I decided this year to write a poem to celebrate the ADA. After all, not many laws have poems written about them! Here it is:

 

You can talk about me instead of to me.

You can question my right to be.

You can pity and disrespect me

And ignore my needs—“I didn’t see.”

And still I’ll rise.

 

I’m your grandmother who doesn’t hear.

I’m your friend living with anxiety and fear.

I’m your grandpa who has “lost his mind”

Or his wife who is going blind.

And still we’ll rise.

We’re one out of five

Not Dead Yet—still alive!

Our needs aren’t special—they just are.

A parking space that’s not too far,

A friend who listens even if it takes longer,

And fights for access with us—together we’re stronger.

And still we’ll rise.

 

We won’t stop until all can play,

Work, love and pray in whatever way.

So celebrate with us. Because of the ADA

And caring people, we can say

Together we’ll all rise!

This week is the 29th anniversary of the ADA and I had already commented on three inaccessible posts by booksellers and nonprofits before seven AM.

Help!

When you post a book cover, type out the title

Occupying Aging cover
“Book cover description: Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities, and Daily Life” by Katherine Schneider”

When you post a picture, type a short description

Katherine+Schneider.jpeg

“Photo Description: Gray haired woman and yellow lab guide dog stand on bridge at UW-Eau Claire.”

When you post a bumper sticker, type it out too.

ecology bumper sticker
“Bumper sticker description: Picture of Earth from space with text that reads “There is no planet B”

We blind Voiceover users would like to like what you like too.

I shared the above as a Facebook post and commented to the offending posters.  Two of three wrote a comment back saying they would type things out if they had time.  That reminds me of “helpful” flight attendants who tell me if the plane crashes I should wait until last to get off and they’d help me then.  To which I say (at least to myself) “No thanks; I’ll push and shove with the rest of them.

Then there were my technological struggles to download and read No Happy Endings by Nora McInerny. Bookshare had the book and I downloaded it just fine but it wouldn’t open on my preferred reading device. Eventually I downloaded it on to my iPhone and it read fine. It’s an excellent read about a widow who remarries with the theme that troubles and joys keep coming and life is not all tied up with a happy ending bow.

Sounds a lot like my thoughts about the ADA: access struggles continue but there are successes.  I filled out a survey on the public library’s website without any trouble and downloaded a new best seller thriller from Bookshare. My op ed piece about the Inclusive Ministry one year anniversary was in the local paper the day before the event.  I think of the twenty or so people who make each month’s event happen and all you people who do label your Facebook posts.  Happy anniversary, ADA! Live long and prosper!

 

 

Every year near the end of July, you’ll notice news pieces about the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and how far we’ve come toward access for  and inclusion of the one out of five Americans who has a disability. Please consider how you can turn the spotlight on advances in your community this month.

I’d like to highlight three things in the Chippewa Valley that give me hope for the good life being open to all.

  • A year ago, Lake Street United Methodist Church hosted the first monthly Ecumenical Inclusive Ministry (IM) Church for people with cognitive disabilities, their friends and families. Each month a different church or ecumenical team organizes and delivers a Sunday school/craft activity, a worship service and a fellowship meal. The attendance is about fifty when you count participants and the team in charge that month. I notice singing and the fellowship supper are the most popular parts of the event. The service occurs the third Sunday each month from 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM. For more info, or to request a ride or sign language interpreter at IM church, contact Ellen at Lake Street United Methodist Church at 715-832-6603.
  • The L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library has purchased a braille printer. This printer is the first of its kind in a Wisconsin public library. Some uses for the printer include: printing legal documents, letters, greeting cards, recipes, directions for appliances, games, projects, magazine and newspaper articles, as well as public meeting agendas and minutes, just to name a few.  Customers wanting to have a document printed can email their document in either Word or PDF format to: annaz@eauclaire.lib.wi.us. There is a 10 page limit per document and customers are limited to one request per week.
  • Erickson Park at Glen Lock in Chippewa Falls opened an accessible area recently. Erickson Park has new accessible fishing docks, kayak launch, bathrooms, pavilions, walk ways and picnic areas and will connect to Irvin Park via an accessible foot bridge.

Have fun finding and highlighting things to celebrate in your community!

In addition to it being the first day of summer, June 21st was national selfie day. For a little summer fun, I challenged my Facebook friends to add in comments an accessible selfie. I’m defining that as no visual picture, but a word picture of what your regular selfie would show. Bonus: the skill in describing the selfie will translate (if you remember to post a description) to making every day accessible selfie day.
To get you started, here’s mine:
I’m sitting at a table with a friend eating strawberries. A thought balloon says: “I wonder when I’ll get the first local berries”.

Some of what was posted follows. It’s interesting to me how much people describe what they look like:

Michael G.: Sitting in a hotel conference room at the corner of a big square table. Decent hair day, but longer than in the past. Blue button-down Brooks Brothers shirt (small logo over left breast – reversed view in selfies!). Name badge from ALA conference barely visible.

Alex S.: I’m sitting at my computer. I’m wearing blue and white plaid pajamas. Retirement is good!

Linda H.: I’m sitting in a recliner with a blanket on the first night of summer. Fell asleep reading a Richard Russo book & just woke up at bedtime. Wondering what I’m going to do tomorrow with the 6 pounds of local strawberries I found today.

Ann K.: I have a big smile on my face, I’m wearing a Leinenkugel’s hat, there is a campfire behind me and it’s dusk. Thought balloon says, no better way to spend the longest day of the year!

Patty M.: I’m driving, hair swept up, and glasses resting on my nose. My grandson is in the back seat and hears an ambulance siren.. The balloon says, “Nana, maybe someone is hurt. We better say a Hail Mary.”

Beverly K.: I’m sitting in an orange, red and blue striped sand chair with a baby golden puppy resting quietly on my lap and my iPad balanced precariously on the arm of the chair so not to disturb her. Thought balloon over the puppy’s head: “Maybe this won’t be a bad gig after all.” Oops, rest time is over. Puppy slid off my lap.

Four years ago I got an IPhone 5S and have been happily using it about an hour a day. Catching up on news, Facebooking, checking email and playing Trivia Crack keep me enlightened and entertained.  Occasionally I use it as a phone when I’m away from the landline.  But the phone is getting stiff; imagine trying to double tap on a small spot with hammer-like intensity. There are rumors that 5S won’t be supported after July, so I reluctantly bit the bullet and decided on a IPhone 8.

For me there are the extra steps of reading about which phones work best with the voiceover technology I use and getting a Speed Dots screen protector to mark where the letters are for quicker typing. The typing is agonizingly slow but better than dictating when accuracy is required, like filling in my email address on a form.

Having read up on the transferring data from old to new phone process, I had my phone all backed up in the cloud and all my passwords in hand as I ventured to the Verizon store with a sympathetic friend. After confirming my choices, the young Verizon man put the phones near each other and told them to talk.  In a few minutes, it was done.  The new phone is a little bigger and has touch ID, so I only have to sign in by typing occasionally.  The ease of getting into the phone and more powerful and better sound are the main improvements I notice. Maybe all those improvements in the chip make it a little faster, but my typing speed still slows me down to the speed of a fast-walking tortoise.  I’ve got four times as much storage as I used to. I will probably load up with books to read when I get tired of gaming and Facebooking. There wasn’t a huge learning curve except having to reenter passwords on several apps. I thought the Cloud knew everything, but passwords didn’t transfer.

All this tech for less than a buck a day for the next two years. It is truly amazing, but I did get misty eyed as I surrendered my old IPhone to be wiped and reused somehow.  I hope its next owner loves it as much and gets as many hours of fun out of it as I did.  Goodbye sweet 5S!

 

So far, being seventy is a blast! Meals and tea times with friends, phone calls and emails are each treasures. I’ve been able to spread out the meals all month,  so I can get naps and a little bit of project work done.  Thanks to the seventy-plus folks who sent poems, I facilitated a grand poetry reading at a local nursing home. It was the second annual one there and we’d opened it to the public, so we had twice the attendance of last year. In addition to poems, “Happy Birthday” was sung in both Polish and English to the five of us who had April birthdays. There were wind up dancing unicorns and dogs showed around by the activity director. It was a little wilder than most poetry readings, but only one person requested to go back to her room and nobody fell asleep.

The other notable event was a fantastic experience going to confession.  Don’t worry, I haven’t gone off the deep end. I told the priest I was turning seventy tomorrow and confessed that I was  quick to judge and take offense, a sin that I allowed I’d fought for my whole life and I figured I would for the next thirty years. He asked how I felt about turning seventy. I said I felt fabulous about it. When I was born I was a preemie and not expected to live, so I was happy and grateful to get to be seventy. He said my penance was thanking God for getting me to seventy and then asked if that was “enough”. I said it seemed a little light, so he said I could say a couple Lord’s prayers.  We laughed, talked about dogs and I left feeling ready to go for the next adventure.

A C.S. Lewis quote I was given says: “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” After I get more celebrating done, I’ll sit back and figure what’s next. I’ll reread the poems I was sent with their themes of enjoying the moment, humor, animals, hanging in there and having courage. Only one poem, “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver was sent to me twice.

My advice to you from this lofty perch of being seventy for a month:

As Bob Marley sang (one of the songs I was sent):
“Get up, stand up. Don’t give up the fight.”
And as it says in “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver,
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,
Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
Over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.”

 

 

I think I’m ready, or at least as ready as one can be for an adventure into the unknown.

I’ve done my research. I’ve read May Sarton’s contemplative journal At Seventy and Judith Viorst’s lively book of poems I’m Too Young to Be Seventy and other Delusions. A couple of Viorst’s points: You want time to slow down? Try waiting for the results of a biopsy! Keep trying because the world would be a lot worse if we don’t.

I’ve read about the physical changes of aging: faces becoming more asymmetrical, eye sockets get wider, ears grow longer and wider, nose droops, rib cage rounds, feet get wider, etc. In general gravity rules!

I’ve enjoyed novels about aging characters like The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson and Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. The characters are still kicking and still finding joy in doing so.

Then there are the nonfiction guides. Current favorites are On the Brink of Everything by Parker Palmer and Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher. Their emphasis on saying “enough” and “no” to even good projects is freeing. Then one can concentrate on planting seeds from your tree, not somebody else’s. As Palmer says, “Today you’re the peacock; tomorrow the feather duster”.

My mail is starting to feature AARP, hearing aids and funeral planning seminars.

I’ve got some projects planned:

  • Finish reading the Bible (last time I started I got stuck in Leviticus)
  • Attack the tsunami of Braille magazines in my living room. I must skim them before recycling them.
  • Turn my blogs into a book so I’ll leave a well-marked trail of one woman’s occupying aging process.

Celebrate the occasion as much as possible:

  • Schedule lunches, dinners and bridge playing galore
  • Read some of the poems my friends sent me at a poetry reading at a local nursing home
  • Survived an interview for a local television station for Women’s History month (I didn’t know seventy was that historic!): https://www.weau.com/video?vid=507544612

It’s below zero and we’ve had about 44 inches of snow this month, so I could be grim! But instead my thoughts turn to some old friends, some of whom are old in years and some of whom I’ve just known quite a while.

I just found out that I may be going back to Phoenix on a yearly basis to help hand out disability journalism awards again. A friend lives there who I’ve known forty-five years. She volunteered to read to me when I was in grad school and she was in undergrad. We went our separate ways but Facebook brought us back together.  Shared interests in ideas, nature and reading keep us in touch.  Next time you volunteer, think of the friend you may meet!

A friend whose office was next to mine for fourteen years at work is bringing over dinner before a book club tonight. How good it will be to eat someone else’s cooking and share news/gossip with her. Another friend we asked to join us is still working so didn’t have time for such foolishness.  Next week we’ll take an hour and a half and go visit another friend who is dying, but still enjoys seeing animals.  Nothing like surviving a stressful work environment together to make a friendship!

Preparing to lead a book club discussion of Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf made me think of the friend who dressed up and brought appropriate props for every book discussion she led.  I’m just reading a Jane Kenyan poem to set the mood.  The book is about the friendship between two elderly small town residents.  Spoiler alert: A sexual relationship doesn’t happen until about 82% into the book, but of course nosy neighbors suspect it long before that. Some friends are made by living near each other and trading snow rakes for cookies!

Warm thoughts of old friends have me warmed up enough to go outdoors with Luna. I’ll leave you with the last stanza of the Kenyon poem, “Let Evening Come”:

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

 

 

 

David Brooks in The Second Mountain talks about the four major commitments in life that lead to a good life. The fourth one is commitment to community. Lately my commitments to projects making Eau Claire more accessible to all have left me weary.

I’ve lived long enough to know that you don’t just ask a bureaucracy to change something and they jump to it. Meetings get set and put off. Committees are set up to see if change is really necessary. People get offended no matter how nicely you ask for change. I’m not being specific because I know this problem is universal. A friend came over this week to get tea and empathy about the same mountain, just a different face of it.

I reminded her about Martin Luther King’s arc bending toward justice and reminded myself “We Shall Overcome” said “someday”; it didn’t say today. Then I pulled up an old favorite, Saul Alinsky and read about his thirteen tactics for realistic radicals from Rules for Radicals.

Some of Alinsky’s points include:

Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have. Go outside the experience of the enemy. The threat is more powerful than the thing itself. Constant pressure sustains action. Have a realistic solution in mind. Keep clear about who’s the target of the action.

This personalizing a target makes sense, but makes me squirm. No leader is all bad and they didn’t create the problem themselves. Can I still win if I don’t fight all out?

Just in time to lift me up, funny about how that happens, I read two books that inspired me in their own ways. Becoming by Michelle Obama showed me a beautiful woman who struggles with some of the same issues I do but remains optimistic about the nation even in 2018. A Gentleman in Moscow by Towels although it’s a novel deals very thoughtfully with how to go deep when circumstances confine you.

Then I happened on NPR’s American anthems selection for inspiration, “This Little Light of Mine” and “The Times They Are A-changin’” call to me most, but you might have other soundtracks that keep you climbing. Jen Hoffmann’s weekly change advocacy newsletter also reminded me

“For it’s in community that we persevere, and together we create a better, brighter future.”

Let’s keep climbing!