Stacy Ellingen

Stacy's Journal: Baby, It's Cold Outside

By: Stacy Ellingen
Posted in: Stacy's Journal

Windchill warnings, polar vortex, below zero temperatures- people in Wisconsin have gotten very familiar with these terms recently.  Everybody knows winters in Wisconsin can be brutal.  Plowing out from a foot of snow is one thing; dealing with dangerously low temperatures and windchills is another.  Dangerously cold temperatures affect everyone.  From starting a vehicle early so it can warm up, to taking the dog out, to being called off work or having to find child care because school is canceled… bitter cold temperatures impact people in multiple ways.  For people with disabilities, extreme temperatures (cold or hot) often create some unique challenges.

While I’m a person who likes snow around the holiday season, I’m not a fan of cold weather.  Having a physical disability, cold temperatures cause challenges that an average person probably doesn’t even think about.  Bundling up often takes some work.  Due to my muscle spasticity because of cerebral palsy getting a winter jacket takes quite a bit of pulling and yanking from the person helping me.  As I’ve explained in previous entries, often when I want my body to move one way, it does the opposite; for example, when I want my arm to point straight out to get a coat on, it retracts.  It’s just how my body works.  Usually I’m also wearing a sweatshirt also, so that adds another issue; when I stick my arm in the coat, the sleeve of my sweatshirt often hikes way up my arm since I’m not able to hold onto it.  Somebody has put their hand up the arm once the coat is on to pull the sweatshirt sleeve down.  Coats are definitely a pain for me!

Gloves and hats cause similar problems.  I rarely ever wear gloves.  Getting gloves on me is like pulling teeth on a giraffe.  Because of my muscle contractors it’s nearly impossible to get my fingers in the right spots.  Even when we do get gloves on me, it’s not ideal because I sometimes can’t drive my wheelchair or use my phone (which serves as my communication device).  Hats and headbands often slide down due to my constant movements.

I think I may have written about this in an entry a few years ago, but while I was in college at UW-Whitewater, I never wore a jacket or gloves and hat to class.  People thought I was absolutely crazy, but I didn’t have anyone to help me dress and undress each time I went to and from class.  I’d get way too hot (especially in the dorms) if I wore my coat all day.  Looking back, it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I survived!

For people who have intellectual disabilities, the frigid cold weather is dangerous as well.  People may not understand why it’s so important to bundle up.  They may wander outside without realizing that it’s dangerously cold.  People may not understand why they aren’t able to do their normal routine.

Extreme temperatures impact other things for people with disabilities.  Below zero temperatures and windchills could cause health care professionals to be unable to get to work.  This can cause delays in service and care for people with disabilities.  Specialized and public transportation services many be delayed or stopped resulting in people missing work or appointments.  Day programs may be closed forcing family caregivers to have to miss work.  The list goes on and on.

Outside temperature can affect Some disabilities and health conditions.  For me, I’ve noticed that extreme cold causes havoc with my muscle tone.  I usually handle and enjoy warmer temperatures; however, when it gets really really hot, I’ve noticed my tolerance has decreased as I’ve gotten older.  I think it has to do with sitting in a black wheelchair seat all the time.  It gets pretty toasty!

Personally, I’d take a 95 degree day over a -50 degree day anyday.  As we all know, though, Wisconsin has four seasons, and with that comes a big temperature variance.  Some people like the cold weather; some people enjoy the really warm weather.  I guess we get a bit of everything in this state.  I say, BRING ON SPRING!!! 

***The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of InControl Wisconsin, the Network or any of our sponsors.


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