accessibility · cycling · disability · fitness

Safe cycling is a disability rights issue

I had a bit of a moment on Twitter last week.

I shared the tweet below and added, “Indeed. I’m someone who can ride a bike 100’s of kms but can’t walk more than a single km. My bikes are many things to me but they are also increasingly mobility aids. Safe city cycling is a disability rights issue. “

Four hundred+ likes and dozens of retweets and lots of new followers later, the virtual dust settled. It seems I’d hit a nerve. The thing is safe cycling isn’t just about the young and the fit and the able bodied.

I’ve written about this before.

I started to notice it when my knee got really bad and I was walking with a knee brace and cane. On two feet I was definitely a person with a disability, recognizably so, but put me on a bike and whee, zoom! I started to ride between meetings in campus. I bike to work even though it’s just over 2 km.

Sometimes I explain when people express surprise that I ride when I live so close. Other times I just let it go.

This was all pretty natural for me. I’m a cyclist. It’s part of who I am. But I can imagine that for lots of people who pre-injury or pre-chronic condition didn’t ride a bike, it wouldn’t be obvious that cycling is a great way to get around. Lots of people, watching me walk, were shocked that I could ride a bike.

When I ride a bike for disability reasons, I feel like I’ve joined a community of people who wheel rather than walk. That includes mobility scooters and wheelchairs and tricycles. Walk your bike? Um, what if I can’t? No ramp? We’re all in trouble.

Since then I’ve bought a Brompton which I travel with so I can get around in other cities. I take it in places, folded, walking, but often it would be easier if I could keep riding. It needs an accessibility/mobility device sticker!

I see people with scooters like this one using them inside and I’m jealous.

A man with a blue shirt and khaki pants sitting on a mobility scooter.

What are the big takeaway points?

  1. Not everyone riding a bike is able-bodied in virtue of riding a bike. We often stereotype people on bikes as young and able-bodied. From this article on bikes as rolling walking sticks: “For two out of three disabled cyclists, riding a bike is easier than walking, easing joint strain, aiding balance and relieving breathing difficulties. According to recent research by Transport for London, 78% of disabled people are able to cycle, while 15% sometimes use a bike to get around. “
  2. If you have difficulty standing or walking yourself, you might be surprised at how much better riding a bike feels. In my case it takes the weight off my joints and relieves almost all of the pain. Plus, I’m mobile.
  3. For municipal planning, safe bike lanes aren’t a luxury. Lots of people need to wheel around rather than walk. Safe cycling is a disability rights issue.
  4. “Walk your bike” isn’t always a good thing. That assumes that everyone can walk their bike. That’s simply not the case.

Once I started to pay attention to bikes this way, I started notice that there are lots of different bodies, with lots of different abilities out there on wheels.

accessibility · body image · disability · fitness · inclusiveness

Better language for inclusion needed: Not “all bodies can…”

As most of you know while this blog is very much a group project, I pretty much run our Facebook page solo. (I do get some help with moderation. Thanks blogging team!) But in general I read things that I think will interest our followers and I throw them on the page pretty quickly. I make mistakes. I learn things from our readers. I apologize.

Why have the page? It’s a great way to reach a broad audience and build community. Posts that aren’t shared there aren’t nearly as well read as posts that are. Also, there are a ton of stories that come across my newsfeed that I don’t necessarily want to write about but that I think will interest our readers and followers.

Yesterday I shared this story about plus sized outside adventurers. I commented “all bodies are outside bodies.”

But of course there’s reason to be wary of “all bodies” language. Our bodies vary a lot in shape and size and ability. One reader commented, helpfully, that we need better language around inclusion. She has ankle injuries and instability and can no longer hike and misses it.

Hey, me too! I can’t walk very far these days without my knee brace and even with the brace hiking on uneven ground is out of the picture. Now I didn’t say “all bodies are hiking bodies” I deliberately said “all bodies are outdoors bodies” because I was thinking of recent attempts here in Ontario to make provincial parks and beaches wheel chair accessible.

But I get the general point. I feel it when people say “it’s never too late.” Yes, as a matter of fact sometimes it is too late. I’ll never run or play soccer again.

So we want to make sure plus sized bodies are included so we say “all bodies” but not all bodies can do all things. What’s your thoughts about better language for inclusion? Do you mind all bodies talk? How about “all bodies are good bodies?”

aging · cycling · disability · hiking · running

Aging Ungracefully (Guest Post)

By Mavis Fenn

About a month ago, my son and daughter ran the Round the Bay 30 km road race in Hamilton. A brutal course, complete with Grim Reaper. I never could have completed it. As I stood at the finish line, I marvelled at those crossing: varied in age, gender, race, and from a range of provinces and countries. Some finished strong, some not so strong, and some struggled to make that final footstep. And my heart hurt as the waves of runners crossed the line.

I didn’t understand the heartache. I haven’t run for years due to a meniscus tear and arthritis in my knees. I have large velcro braces for both knees when I need to walk for some distance, and will be trying gel injections by the end of summer. My knees are always stiff, and frequently painful. I lift weights, do yoga, and Zumba Gold (now Aqua). I intend to ride my bike this summer. My life is still an active one; why the heartache?

After some reflection, I realized that I had not yet given up the idea of running. In the recesses of my mind was the idea that I might run again if: I lost some weight, got some heavy duty running braces, and so on. That won’t work for me due to other issues. I am not a runner now and I will not be a runner in the future. That’s it.

The wave of runners crossing the finishing line destroyed my “magical thinking.” I was experiencing grief. The death of an ability; the death of something that gave me great pleasure; the death of part of my identity; indeed, the recognition that I was dying. I have experience with grief. I let it into my heart and embraced it. Grief brought with it remembrance of my father who lived until 94. He did what he could as long as he could. When a door closed behind him, he opened another one until there were no doors left. I have closed the door marked “running” behind me. I have not paid enough attention to the doors in front of me, biking and walking.

Time to move on. I will always enjoy watching that wave of people crossing the finish line at the Round the Bay but I am content not to be one of them. I am working on my fear of bike riding, and slowly increasing my walking. Endurance is the key.

Mavis Fenn is an independent scholar (retired). She loves lifting weights, Yin yoga, and Zumba Gold. She is mediocre at all of them.

accessibility · body image · disability · normative bodies · SamanthaWalsh · standing · wheelchairs

Samantha stands and has complicated feelings about it (Guest post)

By Samantha Walsh

On the weekend I went to @abilities_expo for work. It’s a trade show of disability related services and products. A company called wheelchair88 was showing a standing wheelchair. It was a manual wheelchair you could lock then move the wheelchair into a standing position. You can’t move once you are standing.

Thoughts on standing straight from someone who has never stood straight…

I forget how old I was when I stopped thinking I would be more beautiful if I was standing. I know I was older than 20, but younger than 25.

I forget how old I was when I stopped thinking I would be more powerful if I could meet someone’s eye. It was older than 25, but younger than 33.

I know as a child if asked to draw a picture of myself, I would draw a standing person. I did this till I was 6 or 7. After that I often drew people using wheelchairs, but would still draw myself standing.

I know by grade 4 I started drawing pictures of me using a wheelchair, because I started playing wheelchair basketball and often drew about that for school.

When I was young I had lots of surgery and different interventions so I could stand and walk. It’s interesting that the mark of success for doctors and therapists was always that I could hobble or shuffle. Standing would be an all encompassing lactic acid filled experience.

I am often surprised it is still the gold standard. Facebook and YouTube videos depicting folks with disabilities who vowed to walk to get diplomas; walk down isles; stand for first dances. I have adult friends whose parents refused them wheelchairs. In turn they have internalized that standing, walking, shuffling is best.

A wheelchair to me offers liberty and a stable fast painless way to move. Even with all this I was seduced by the opportunity to stand straight. I picked an outfit I was curious about seeing standing. I compelled a coworker to take pictures.

Standing felt unnatural. My head was too high. My legs don’t go straight the brace had to force them. My spine curves from sitting so it hurt. To me the social significance of standing comes from a culture that privileges a specific kind of body. I feel grateful I no longer understand my own posture as inferior.

Today was interesting…

Samantha Walsh is a Doctoral Candidate in Sociology. She also works in the Not-For-Profit Sector.

You can read all of Samantha’s posts here.

accessibility · disability · fitness · walking

Assumptions about disability and reflections about visibility

During my recent visit to Spain and France I wore my knee brace a lot. I’ve been noticing how differently I’m treated when I wear it than not, even though my knee condition is the same.

Here’s some examples:

  • I was offered a space on the motorized wagon that drives passengers with mobility needs to the gate. (I declined.)
  • I was offered a seat on a bus. (Yes, thanks!)
  • I was told I couldn’t sit in the exit row of the plane for take off and landing as they needed a non disabled person in that seat because of the responsibilities that come with the bonus legroom. (I followed instructions.)
  • I sat rather than wait in line standing at hotel check in when someone pointed out the table. (See pic below.)

The things is I can walk lots with the knee brace but it’s when I am wearing the knee brace that people assume I can’t. Without the knee brace I might have wanted assistance getting speedily to the gate. Likewise, with the knee brace I think I would be a pretty capable person to have in the exit row of a plane but it’s only when I am wearing it that I am asked to move.

I’m not sure what the solution is but I’m pretty sure it’s going to involve me being more outspoken about my needs and asking for help.

Image description: A can of Spanish fizzy water and a glass full of it on a table with a sign with a disability symbol. Check in waiting area at Hotel REC Barcelona. After two flights, one bus, and a walk, I was grateful for the cold water and for the seat.

Image description: Sam taking a selfie in the hotel lobby mirror in Girona. She still hasn’t mastered the art of looking at the mirror instead of her phone. She’s dressed all in black except for bright orange running shoes, and beautiful scarf bought in Barcelona. Oh, also she is wearing her knee brace for walking around Girona.

accessibility · disability · fitness

Immigration museum and the fitness test: Sam wonders about failing

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Walking in Central Park (Sam) #fitisafeministissue

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So I was the fittest I’ve ever been in my life at 50 but I am still wondering about the various meanings of “fitness.” I’ve been thinking about it lots in light of arthritic knee, recent limits on my mobility, and my knee brace. (See snazzy knee brace photo above.) Am I really fit if I can’t run? What if I can’t walk very far at all? My body performs pretty well, given its limits, but sometimes I am not so sure how to think about those limits.

What prompted it most recently was a trip to Germany to visit the University of Bremen, a university with which Guelph has an exchange program. I blogged about biking in Bremen here.

But it wasn’t all bike riding and meetings and dinners. We also had one day for group tourism and so took the train to Bremerhaven with an exchange student from Guelph to visit the German Emigration Center, a museum dedicated to the history of German emigration, especially to the United States. It is Europe’s largest theme museum about emigration.  Here is a NYT piece on Bremerhaven.

In the museum, visitors can experience the emigration process through interactive exhibits.  We walked through the docks and visited a ship and could see all the various classes of rooms. We then exited in New York. In New York immigrants were examined on Ellis Island. Part of the test included climbing a steep flight of steps. Potential immigrants were observed and given a score for “fitness.” I thought about that while visiting the museum and climbing the steps because my knee was particularly sore that day. I could barely put weight on it and stairs were a real challenge. There was an elevator but you had to leave the interactive tour to go find it. Instead, I took the steps slowly, one at a time, and thought about almost certainly failing the immigration fitness test. I’d be seen as a burden.

Of course, it’s not just history the link between disability and immigration. It was only this year that the Canadian government ended barriers to immigration for disabled immigrants.

From the article linked above: “After four decades, the federal government is getting rid of rules that turned away would-be immigrants with intellectual or physical disabilities, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Monday.The government will no longer be allowed to reject permanent resident applications from those with serious health conditions or disabilities. Most of those impacted by the policy have been economic immigrants already working and creating jobs in Canada, but whose children or spouses may have a disability, Hussen said.”The current provisions on medical inadmissibility are over 40 years old and are clearly not in line with Canadian values or our government’s vision of inclusion.”

And lots of countries still have limits on immigration that rule out people with disabilities. It’s unlikely they use the “observe the person walking upstairs” test but it doesn’t matter. It’s still unjust.

 

Image result for immigration museum bremerhaven

accessibility · aging · cycling · disability · fitness

Bikes as mobility aids: Another reason to prioritize cycling infrastructure

I came across this article the other day on “rolling walking sticks.” It’s about the number of disabled people in Cambridge who get around on a bike.

From the article: “Riding a bike may be easier than walking for two-thirds of disabled cyclists, but they often remain invisible to society. Many don’t realize that more than a quarter of disabled commutes in this university city are made by bike.”

Lately I’ve become one of those people for whom riding is much easier than walking. I ride my bike sometimes when walking isn’t an option. I often find myself wishing I had my bike with me. Lately I’ve even been shopping for a foldable, take anywhere bike. It would be nice to have a bike to ride between meetings, that I could easily take into the meeting when I got there.

In Australia, at ANU, the philosophy department had a bike for riding across campus. It had wide tires and a big basket on the front. Since all university departments had them there was never a need to lock it. Maybe Guelph could go that route?

My first experience riding with someone with a disability was very striking. While in Canberra, Australia I rode bikes with Michael Milton, a world record holding cyclist with one leg. Milton’s a serious athlete. He also holds the world speed record for downhill skiing. We were both members of the Vikings cycling club.

Here’s his impressive Wikipedia bio: “Michael John Milton, OAM is an Australian Paralympic skier, Paralympic cyclist and paratriathlete with one leg. With 6 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals he is the most successful Australian Paralympic athlete in the Winter Games. ”

He’s also a really nice person to ride with.

One of the interesting things about Milton is that he doesn’t have a prosthetic leg for riding so when you’re riding bikes and you stop for coffee, he still gets around by bike. The bike comes wherever he goes because in addition to a go fast cycling machine, it’s also his main mobility aid. It goes in schools and shopping malls.

On a bike trip a few years ago, I noticed that the two oldest riders in our trip had a very hard time walking. They limped. They couldn’t do stairs. Off their bikes they barely looked mobile. But on their bikes, whoosh!

We jokingly called them Statler and Waldorf. They arrived each night for dinner in PJs. One was a widower and the other’s wife wasn’t well enough to holiday anymore. So the two joined forces and took biking holidays together. They had great stories of trips they’d done together through the years.

We were riding 70-100 km a day, including some serious hills, and they had no problem. I started to wonder how many seniors with walking issues might do well to switch to two wheeled transportation.

Again from the article on bikes in Cambridge: “For two out of three disabled cyclists, riding a bike is easier than walking, easing joint strain, aiding balance and relieving breathing difficulties. According to recent research by Transport for London, 78% of disabled people are able to cycle, while 15% sometimes use a bike to get around.”

It seems to me it’s another reason to put priority on bike infrastructure. If there are people, like me, riding because walking isn’t an option, then we need to make riding safe and accessible for all.

See Elly Blue on bike riding, disability, and infrastructure.

In my own case, it’s part of an evolving love story between me and bicycles. It’s been about transportation, about fitness, about friendship, and about performance. What’s new is thinking about bikes as mobility aid that help me get around when walking just won’t work.