Category: Stacy's Journal
By Stacy Ellingen, 2022-05-31
Do you get nervous speaking in front of a crowd? Have you ever done something courageous like skydiving? Being courageous and taking risks is something we all do. Granted, being “risky” means something different everyone. Some people are riskier than others. Some people enjoy trying a challenge, while others prefer to stay on the safe side. Obviously, there are thousands of different risks we take every day that we don’t even think twice about. Crossing the street. Riding the bus. Getting out of bed. The list is truly endless. Taking risks is part of life, and can often lead to opportunities the person never dreamed possible. There is also forced risk meaning people have no other option than to try the task at-hand. People with disabilities are no different. We take risks just like everyone else. In fact, we likely take more risks than the average person.
“I couldn’t do what you do,” people often say when they meet my parents and I. While it’s a nice compliant, it likely isn’t true. Yes, admittedly, thanks to the support I receive from friends and family, I’ve turned into a pretty determined person, but, what many people don’t understand, is that I have no choice but to be. I literally depend on the assistance of other people to live. That alone is a huge forced risk that I have no choice in. Regardless of my living situation, being dependent on others is a risk in and of itself.
The biggest and most important risk I’ve ever taken was 19 years ago when I decided to go to UW-Whitewater. Because all of my friends were going away to college, I didn’t even realize how big of a deal it was. To me, it was just the next thing to in life. I don’t even think I thought about it as a risk. Even though, I spent the summer before typing up my care instructions for caregivers I had never even met, I never thought twice about being on my own down there was a risk. It was just the way it was. Sure, when it came time for my mom and sister to leave, I felt emotional and a little scared, but I thought that was pretty normal of an 18-year-old college freshman. My first night care was with a really sweet college student who could tell I was pretty nervous (I’m Facebook friends with her now, and, sometimes I message her and just say thank you for putting me at ease that night). The next morning is when reality hit and I realized “ohhh, ok, maybe this is a bigger deal than I thought.” The aide who was supposed to get me up was over an hour late. Mind you, this is the very first morning I had woken up completely alone. We didn’t even think about having a phone by my bed. I had no idea what to do. I ended up rolling off my bed onto the floor, rolling over to my computer desk where my phone was, pulled the phone cord down, the receiver clunked me on the head, and I was trying to call my parents to see what to do when the aide walked in. Yeah, yikes! It was quite a reality check to say the least. I always tell people that I have no idea what convinced me to stay after that! It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I began to realize what a giant leap of faith it was to move two hours away from home having never really had other people assist me with all of my needs. By taking that risk and succeeding, I proved to everyone, including myself, that I could live independently if given the right supports. The decision to give it a try at Whitewater has shaped my entire life!
Now, 13 years after graduating college, I find myself taking more risks than I ever have. Hiring my own caregivers is a huge risk. I don’t have backup. If someone doesn’t show up, my parents have to come. It’s a risk for me and a sacrifice for them. We have to trust that these people will show up. Yes, there have been several times in the last six years that people didn’t show up for a shift and we never hear from them again. I also have to risk having people physically take care of me. Unfortunately, the system is so messed up that I can’t train people properly. Technically, in the IRIS program, you’re not supposed to be able to pay people to train (again I think the assumption is that most IRIS participants use family and friends); however, we worked it out so that I am able to compensate people for one shift of training (by using some of my Supportive Home Care hours). This may sound like plenty, but it’s really not. I make do with what I have and have the person jump right in and do the actual care. The other worker is there to guide them. The new person often feels stressed and under pressure, but it’s the only way to do it. Having one training shift, the person is expected to be able to do it alone (this causes a lot of people to quit, but that’s beside the point of this entry). The first shift the person works alone is a huge risk for me. I don’t really know if they can do it alone and I don’t know what they would do if something happened. I have to risk putting my life in the person’s hands.
Being nonverbal adds another layer of risk to almost everything I do. Yes, I use the app on my phone to communicate, but there are many times that I can’t access my phone. When I use the restroom, shower, or transfer anywhere, I can’t use my phone. This probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to most people, but those are the crucial times when the caregivers usually get flustered and need guidance. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, this can be very frustrating for caregiver and I. In fact, several years ago, on a caregiver’s first shift alone, a transfer didn’t go right and I ended up on the bathroom floor. The caregiver flipped out, called my dad (who lives 45 minutes away), and ran out the door crying leaving me on the bathroom floor. Thankfully, she called my dad and we’ve since changed the way we do things, but it just shows the risk I have having to trust other people to assist me.
Living alone is another risk I choose to take. Countless things could happen that could literally leave me stranded for days, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Some people with disabilities aren’t comfortable living alone and I totally understand that. Another risk I choose to take is being vulnerable and putting my story out there. Some people aren’t comfortable with sharing so much of their personal life with the world, and that’s perfectly understandable. No doubt it’s risky putting your life out there, but, personally, I’ve come to believe that one of my main purposes in life is to show others what people can do despite their limitations.
All that said, I don’t consider myself a risk taker whatsoever—in fact, far from it. In my family, I’m known as the person who needs a plan and hates when anything changes. I’m not one to jump on anything spontaneous. The major risks I’ve taken in life have been required in order to live the life I desire. Sometimes, risks don’t work out the way we want, but taking risks often ignites a flame in us to make dreams become possibilities!
***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.
By Stacy Ellingen, 2022-05-04
Ever have that feeling where you feel so selfish for feeling bad for yourself, but, yet, you also are so grateful for what you have? Those thoughts of what should/could/would have been; yet, you know you’re incredibly blessed despite the circumstances you have been given. At the beginning of each May, I have this inner conflict. No, not about whether to cheer for the Cubs or the Brewers, not about whether or not I should go for a stroll because it’s finally nice outside, or not about deciding on summer plans… I have a struggle within myself about Mother’s Day. I can’t say for sure, but I have an inkling I’m not the only woman who may struggle with this. On one hand, I know that I’m incredibly fortunate to have the amazing mom I do, but, yet, on the other hand, that selfish feeling of yearning to be a mother myself often creeps into my head.
In a previous entry I wrote a few years ago, I wrote about how I have the absolute best parents. Both my mom and dad are awesome and basically have dedicated their lives to make my life the best it possibly can be. My dad has modified countless things for me and does whatever he can to make my life better. He’s truly incredible. This is an article about Mother’s Day, but I couldn’t continue without mentioning him. He’s just incredible!
My mom and I have a very special relationship. Hands down, I’m honored to say she’s my best friend. As I’ve mentioned before, very ironically, she was in the special education field before I was even born. I don’t believe it was a coincidence. This has been such a blessing because she already knew about the laws and services available. She also had connections to various resources and people, and, even though she has been retired for a couple years now, she continues to. She knew the potential of what could become, and continues to push me and encourage me to be the best I can possibly be.
Unlike most daughters my age, I still rely on my mom for countless things. Everything from interviewing aides, to staying in the hospital with me, to bringing me to and being my assistant at various events… the list is truly endless. One thing sticks out to me, though. As I age, it’s no secret that I’ve struggled more with my mental and emotional health. My mom is my sounding board. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve broke down to her crying or texted her venting about one thing or another. My mom gets the brunt of it. Mom always listens and tries to calm me down. She always reminds me of all that I’ve done and tells me she understands (I believe she’s one of the few people who does truly understand). She’s my rock!
Mother’s Day is a day to thank and celebrate moms. I certainly celebrate and thank my incredible mom, but it’s a day that has become harder and harder for me over the years. Selfishly, in my heart, it’s a day that emphasizes what I want most in life, but will likely never happen. In a past entries, I’ve explained that some people who have disabilities are fully capable and do have children. Due to the severeness of my physical limitations, realistically, it’d be nearly impossible to care for a child. Yes, I could have assistance, but it wouldn’t be fair to the child. In my brain, I’ve come terms with the fact that I’ll likely never become a mother, but, in my heart, it’ll always hurt.
Now that my sister has become a mother and my mom has become a grandmother, it adds another layer to it. I do my best to be happy for them, but, the “what if” thoughts sometimes take over my brain. What if those complications during birth didn’t happen? Would I be a mother? Would I have made my mom a grandma first? What kind of a mom would I be? What would have my kids been like? Thoughts such as those do no good, but I believe they are unavoidable. Sharing that I have those thoughts shows how “normal” I am. Social media also adds another layer. Years ago, I used to write a long post about my mom on Mother’s Day. She loved it as did friends and family. However, a few years ago, I realized that staying off social media during Mother’s Day weekend was better for my mental health. Seeing friends who are mothers post about how lucky they are to be moms to their kids selfishly triggered my emotions. As happy as I am for them, it was just too hard seeing that. I then explained that I wasn’t going to do a long post anymore to my mom and, of course, she said she understood. Is it selfish? Absolutely. Do I feel bad about it? Absolutely. However, it’s one less thing that reminds me of my situation. Again, thankfully, my mom “gets it.”
Women with disabilities aren’t the only ones that might have conflicting feelings about Mother’s Day. Women who struggle with infertility, people who lost their mothers, mothers who lost their child… There are many different scenarios. It’s a day of mixed emotions for many. I’m sure the same can be said about Father’s Day for men yearning to be fathers. While it may be a day of mixed feelings, it’s a time to recognize the mother figures in our life.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the amazing moms out there—especially mine!
***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.
By Stacy Ellingen, 2022-04-02
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Yes, I’m aware that I used this quote to start a journal entry a mere two months ago; however, due to recent events at the Oscars, I felt I couldn’t find a better quote to exemplify just how much words do hurt. We all know that the quote is untrue. The Oscars were supposed to be a night of celebration—there was so much to be celebrated—especially for the disability community. The movie, "CODA," won the Academy Award for best picture. It also won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay, and Troy Kutsor became the first deaf actor to win an Academy Award. "CODA," which stands for child of deaf adults, is about a teenager who often interprets for her parents discovers she's a great singer, but finds herself divided between family obligations and pursuing her dreams. The disability representation was amazing, but one joke by host, Chris Rock, about Will Smith’s wife and Will’s extreme overreaction overshadowed the so many positives the night brought.
For those of you who have not heard, Will’s wife, Jada, has a condition called alopecia. It’s a skin condition that often leads to hair loss which is true for Jada—she has no hair. Chris Rock, a comedian, made some snarky joke about her starring in the next G.I. Jane movie, and Will got upset. He walked up on stage, slapped Chris, and started yelling expletives. This was all on live tv. I believe they cut to commercial, so not everyone saw the whole thing. However, it’s all over the media.
Was Will wrong? Definitely. Was Chris wrong? Definitely. They both were. Will’s overreaction was extreme and should and will have consequences. Chris was also wrong, though. Did he know about Jada’s condition? Some reports say he did; others say he didn’t. Regardless, this brings me to my main point of this entry—making jokes about somebody’s appearance or abilities is never okay.
I’ll be honest, I was watching the Oscars, but somehow, missed the whole situation. I went to bed before it was over and didn’t see Will’s acceptance speech when he won best actor where he apologized for his actions. I became aware of the situation when I turned on the news the next morning. When I heard about it, I’m not going to lie, I kind of sided with Will. No, I’m not saying I condone his actions at all, but he was sticking up for his wife who got made fun of for a condition that she can’t help. People with disabilities or health conditions, including myself, can relate to this situation. Many people who look a little different than the norm are often the brunt of jokes.
Several years ago, a fairly new caregiver said something to the effect of, “you know, you’re lucky, you never have to buy new shoes because yours never wear out,” as she was feeding me lunch. She was implying that since I can’t walk, I don’t need to buy new shoes (which couldn’t be farther from the truth, but that’s beside the point). I was taken back by her comment, but didn’t really react to her. Later, I posted it on my Facebook page thinking it would reinforce people to think about what they say to people. I was surprised when several people with similar circumstances thought it was funny. Of course, there were some people who agreed that it was insensitive, but we had an interesting conversation about it on my Facebook page.
I’ve also had people tell me that I’m lucky because I was lucky because I always have a seat. Now, I realize that there probably wasn’t any ill intent; people just weren’t thinking. However, words do hurt. I rarely respond back because I know they didn’t mean it in a harmful way. Whenever people say something like that to me though, it does affect my mental health. Really? Am I lucky to be in a wheelchair? Seriously? I’d gladly trade places with you and or walk if I could. Those are my thoughts when people say that I’m lucky because I always have a seat.
I realize I’m more sensitive about my condition than most. Other people are much stronger than I am and don’t mind when people make degrading jokes about their appearance and abilities. In fact, there are some semi famous comedians with disabilities who use their personal situation as content for their shows. While I understand the concept of using your circumstances as material makes people less uncomfortable, I can’t bring myself to agree with it. Why make fun of your appearance or abilities when we advocate for society not to? Isn’t that a double standard? It doesn’t make sense to me.
I realize that there are many different opinions about this topic, and I respect that. In today’s world where everything is so divided, I would hope people would to accept people for who they are, and if they want to make a joke about someone publicly, at the very least, ask the person beforehand if it’s ok to use. Personally, I love Will Smith as an actor, but I think he’s going to have a really rough road ahead of him. Physically hurting someone on a very public stage erases all the fame he once had. In my opinion, I think both Chris and Will should have taken a minute to apologize to each other (and Jada) at the end of the night. Will probably still would have faced consequences (as he should), but I think that would have done a lot for reputations of the two.
The lesson everyone can learn from all this is that words really can hurt. We knew it before; this situation just emphasized how much they really can. Be mindful of what you say to people. Words DO matter.
***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.
By Stacy Ellingen, 2022-03-05
Can you do this? Can you do that? How do you do this? How do you do that? Those aren’t questions people normally are asked on a regular basis, or, if they are, they’re meant to help determine something specific such as a medical condition. However, usually, that type of questioning isn’t a regular occurrence in everyday life. It’s not considered normal to have someone ask questions about your abilities and body functions regularly. When you do get asked those questions, you stop and think, “wait, I can’t do that?” or “do I really need help with that?” Fortunately, it only happens to most people when they have their annual physical. However, for people who have disabilities and medical conditions, unintentional interrogation is part of everyday life.
“I guess I never get used to those questions, and we’ll probably do it again Monday,” I said to my parents as we left an almost two-hour physical therapy evaluation for a new wheelchair. Even though, I’ve done many of these types of evaluations in the past, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought we would talk about what functions I need/want for a new wheelchair. We certainly did that, but, because the therapist had never met me before, she had to ask all sorts of questions about my abilities and get personal details about my life. She had to do this, not only so she could make recommendations for my new chair, but she also needed the information to justify things for the insurance company. I’ll be honest--some of the questions she asked made wonder why she needed to know that, but then she’d explain that it was essential to the chair or the insurance would need to know for justification of a certain part or function. She did this questioning in the nicest way, but it made me think about my situation.
Equipment evals are just one example of when people with disabilities are faced with answering uncomfortable, and sometimes, demeaning questions. Often, when you receive long-term care supports, you have to do a functional screen every year that determines if you qualify and how much support you get. With these, the screener asks you about every aspect of your life. Everything from toileting assistance, to how you do your finances, and everything in between. The screener tries to ask the questions in a very positive manner making it less uncomfortable, but, at least for me, I’m mentally and emotionally drained the rest of the day. If you receive personal care assistance, that’s sometimes another annually screen to determine how many hours you qualify for. Not to sound greedy, but, with those screens, people often try to sound as “needy” as possible to qualify for as much support as they can get. Yes, I’m guilty of this, but I’m also very honest. To be clear, I never lie about my abilities, but I’ve learned to paint a picture of my life in terms of what I need assistance with. It’s just one of those things you learn to do after years of experience.
Doctor appointments are another place where those tough questions are asked. I have about six or seven doctors I see. Each time I have an appointment, the same questions are usually asked. Until I a few years ago, I wondered why they asked the same questions every time. I, now, realize why they do. Unfortunately, things change as you age, and although it’s still considered non-progressive, cerebral palsy affects your body more as you age. This is true for care screenings as well—I’ve realized my abilities and needs do change.
The only way people can help you solve problems is by asking questions to get information. It often seems degrading to the person when the questions are very personal, but it has to be done. When I have to answers all these questions, I try to remember that the person is only trying to help me and she/he is really trying to make the situation as least awkward as possible. It sometimes takes a toll on me having to telling people everything wrong with me and share all what I need assistance with, but that’s part of advocacy—sharing one’s experience. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to answering the hard questions. It’s a part of living with a disability I don’t like because I try not to focus on the abilities I don’t have. When people ask me specifically about my abilities, I get uncomfortable and it does often make me sad. I don’t like being reminded of all the things I’m unable to do. As I’ve said in many past entries, my disability is a part of my life, but it doesn’t define the person I am. People, including myself, have to remember that people ask questions to help understand the situation. Most times, people are just trying to get more information to better understand the situation. We all need to remember the common saying, “there’s no such thing as a dumb question.”
By Stacy Ellingen, 2022-02-08
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Many people have heard that saying as kids; however, we know that’s not true. Words hurt. In today’s world, we feel the need to put labels on people more than ever before. Racial labels, economic labels, sexuality labels, political labels… the list goes on and on. There are occasions when labeling people is necessary and helpful, but, more times than not, putting a label on someone causes hurtful feelings and an unpleasant stigma. While belonging to a minority is becoming more common in today’s society, being singled out is never fun.
A quick Google search revealed that one billion people live with a disability in the world. Yet, we are still considered a minority. For years, there has been a debate among the disability community as to how we identify ourselves as persons with disabilities and how we want others to address us when talking about our situation. Years ago, terms such as “handicapped,” “crippled,” “retard,” and “disabled” were used to describe persons with a disability.
In the 90s and early 2000s, the people first language began. It was meant to identify the person before the disability. For example, instead of saying a “disabled person,” you’d say a “person with a disability.” Of course, thankfully, the world, “retard,” has slowly faded away when identifying someone who has an intellectual disability. For a few years, “cognitive disability” was used, but now “intellectual disability” has replaced it.
A few years ago, a new movement started going back to labeling people with disabilities as “disabled.” People with disabilities want to be considered a group in society and want to communicate that disability is a normal part of life. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with being “disabled.” People want the general population to know being “disabled” is okay. Many people with disabilities consider themselves part of a unique minority and are proud of it.
You may have noticed up to this point in the article that I’ve not said “disabled people.” This was on purpose. Personally, I don’t like the term “disabled” used to describe anyone. When I think of the word “disabled,” I think of something that does not work. A disabled car, for an example. What does it portray when we use the same word to describe a broken-down vehicle that we do a person? Yes, I understand that we use adjectives to describe different things all the time, but, to me, “disabled” never should be used to describe a person. Nobody is completely “disabled.” In my opinion, the word “disabled” has a negative connotation in today’s world. Regardless of the circumstances, I believe that every single person that’s born on this earth has the ability to do something.
I’m also not fond of the idea of moving away from people first language. While I understand the idea of being seen as collective group of people in society, I like to think people see the person I am rather than a “disabled person.” Do I identity as a person with a disability? Sure, and obviously it’s a huge part of my life. However, my disability doesn’t define the person I am. When this topic comes up, I think of a quote from a children’s book I read years ago.
“I’m a person who just happens to have a disability, but that doesn’t mean that I’m a disabled person.“
~Golden Daffodils by Marilyn Gould
I understand that some people may think this contradicts being a disability self-advocate, and I can’t argue that they’re wrong; however, being an advocate and preferring a certain label are two different things. I still strongly advocate for people with disabilities; I just prefer to be categorized as someone living with a disability rather than a disabled person.
Many, in fact most, people with disabilities have a different opinion about this issue. I totally respect that. I do understand why people want that commodity of being viewed as a group or culture. There have been lots of discussions about this in my disability Facebook groups, and there are so many different opinions about this. It’s one of those controversial topics that will be debated forever because there are no right answers. Stepping back, it’s unfortunate that we are forced to put labels on everyone for everything. In a perfect world, we’d have no labels and one’s name would be enough, but that’s not the case. We have to respect each other’s preferences and be open to learning about differences. As I always say, we only get one chance to live. We have to remember to make it count not only for ourselves, but for others which means doing our part in respecting each other’s preferences.
By Stacy Ellingen, 2022-01-16
“When a person can make more money flipping burgers at McDonald’s or stocking shelves at Walmart than they can helping people literally live, it’s nearly impossible to find people.” I use something to that effect when I talk about the caregiver shortage. The workforce shortage has elevated to the crisis level in recent years, and now it seems to be even more of a dire situation. The national guard is assisting in some of the state institutions. Nursing homes are turning people away because they don’t have enough staff. People are going without care in their homes. Elderly parents are being forced to take care of their adult children with disabilities. It’s endless. Something has to give, but nobody seems to know what the solution is.
I’ll be honest--I’ve been extremely lucky for about a year and a half with staff. I’ve had a decent core group of girls who have been awesome about helping me cover shifts. They’ve also recruited friends of theirs to work with me. Sure, we’ve had rough patches where shifts weren’t able to be filled, but, for the most part, it’s been really good. Having said that, I’m finding myself scrambling to find people to hire. Right now, most of my workers are college students, and they have clinicals or internships. Then, ultimately, obviously they move on. They’re also typical “college students” and, to no fault of their own (I get it—I once was in college too), socialization often comes before work. As I get older, I notice how prioritizing changes with age. As the age gap grows and I deal with young kids, it’s very apparent that priorities differ with age.
I knew it was coming and knew the drill all too well. I posted on the website where you can post a job without paying (the website only sends you a few applicants when you don’t pay, but most websites won’t even allow you to post unless you pay) and I posted on every Facebook job group I could find. I posted it on my own profile and ask my friends to share it as well. I always have my ad up on Handshake which is the student employment website for UW-Oshkosh, but I haven’t had much luck with that—I’ve been told students don’t look on it very much. With those advertisements up, this time, I’ve literally got three names. One of the people is a past caregiver’s daughter who has just graduated high school and finished the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) class and want to get some experience. The other two came from the website and we’re interviewing one of them (if she shows). I probably could use two or three more people, but I can’t find anyone even interested.
This is a common problem across the state. Workers in almost every field are desperately needed. It’s almost like jobs are competing against each other, and, unfortunately, caregiving is often considered “dirty work” which nobody wants to do. For the millions of people like myself who literally rely on caregivers to survive, it causes a serious problem.
Rates increased a little bit at the beginning of the year which definitely helps, but it’s nowhere adequate for what caregivers do. When people can make more money doing something mundane like working as a cashier at a dime store or flipping burgers and a fast-food joint, why would anyone want to make less money taking care of people which often involved very strenuous and disgusting tasks? There have been many discussions about this in the different councils I’m involved in. People also have brought up another great point—not necessarily in my situation at the moment, but, many times, caregivers also have lower economical status and often qualify to receive state benefits as well. There’s nothing wrong with this; however, those people often don’t want to work as many hours as they could in fear of not qualifying for things like BadgerCare. It’s very understandable, but where does that leave people like myself who literally rely on caregivers to survive? It’s a vicious cycle for everyone involved.
I’m hearing about a lot of agencies and nursing homes offering workers just outrageous bonuses to work. In fact, I have a worker who also works at a nursing home back in her home town, and she was telling me about how their paying workers a ridiculous amount to pick up shifts. I explained that while it’s awesome for her, it seems unfair to people in my situation because we literally can’t pay workers more than what the state allows (it’s illegal to pay people additional cash if you receive care through the state). Once people have worked with me for awhile, I try to show my appreciation by dinner every so often or something little like that. However, I understand that while it may be appreciated, it’s not enough to sustain workers.
I’m very blessed with amazing parents who will continue to fill in the gaps for me until they physically are no longer able to. While I have an awesome sister and brother-in-law who will help in the short term when that time comes, I’ll ultimately end up in a care facility. It’s mentally draining to constantly worry about cares. Between that and various medical issues, it has consumed my life in recent years. To the average person who doesn’t know anything about the “system,” when I talk about the caregiver shortage, they often can’t comprehend why it’s such an issue. Most people think that there are agencies that we can call who will automatically provide support. I find myself explaining unfortunately that’s not the case. When I explain the system a little, they are often flabbergasted how things really are.
I don’t have the solution to this massive issue. While I do think adequate pay and maybe some benefits would help, I don’t think that’s the whole issue either. People don’t want to work period. When you have an overall lack of enthusiasm to work and can make more money not working, how can you blame them? It’s going to come to a boiling point sooner than later, and something will be forced to change. I don’t know what that point is (and I’m scared to find out), but something has to give. All we can do is keep advocating and telling our stories about the crisis. It often seems pointless because it’s all we’ve been talking about for years now, but, eventually, something will have to change. I’m beyond ready to find out what that change is!
By Stacy Ellingen, 2021-12-14
Richard Branson. Jeff Bezos. Elan Musk. Michael Strahan. Those are just a couple of the famous people who took a trip into space recently. Yes, there have been other people who went who had significant connections to space, but these trips have been funded by well-known billionaires. I had a chance to watch news coverage of the most recent one where the famous football player and news broadcaster, Michael Strahan, went up to space.
Ever since I was young, I have had an interest in outer space. My junior year of high school, I did my multi genera research project on John Glenn, who was a famous astronaut. Watching the coverage of the space launch made me think about what if I wanted to go? Albeit a little scary at first, but I can’t imagine how cool it’d be to be totally weightless. What would happen to my muscles? Now, realistically, that’d probably never be possible because obviously I’m nowhere close to being a millionaire, but I was thinking about the principle of it—what the if a person with a disability could afford it and had the desire to go? I did a quick Google search and found out that it cost over $55 million to go to the space. That’s just for one person and I’m assuming it’s for only a few minutes like the recent trips have been. Right now, very few people in general could afford that, but, as more and more of these trips become reality, the cost will likely eventually decrease. There is already talk going around about a “space tourism industry.” Will people eventually vacation in space? It’s bizarre to think about, but it seems like it’s quickly becoming reality. This brings up a frequent question in the disability community--will it be accessible?
When Bezos went to space this past summer, a meme went around on social media saying something to the effect, “Another billionaire went to space today. If this is possible, why can’t people who use wheelchairs fly without having their wheelchairs wrecked? Why can’t air travel be inclusive? “That wasn’t the exact quote, but the point was that if regular civilians can go to space, we should be able to make air travel inclusive. As a person who has experienced having their wheelchair ruined by the airlines, I completely agree with the statement. A few years ago, I wrote a journal entry about how my chair was ruined on a trip to Vegas. Unfortunately, it happened on the way there, so it kind of wrecked the vacation for my parents and I. Since then, when I fly, I take my manual wheelchair which makes me dependent on others for almost everything.
In my opinion, there’s a bigger issue around this conundrum. Considering we’re in the 21st century, why shouldn’t everything be inclusive? People with disabilities are one of the largest minorities in the world. When inventing new things and opportunities, regardless of what they are, inclusivity should be a factor in development. Yes, I understand this would make things more expensive and complex, but it’s time. I think back to my entry about the Eagle Tower in Door County--that’s a perfect example. It was knocked down due to safety concerns, and, when it was rebuilt, it was made accessible. Did it take longer and cost a lot more? Absolutely, but now a lot more people can enjoy it.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws have made a lot of things accessible, there is often a sense of frustration when people find out that things will take longer or cost more because they need to be made inclusive for everyone. As a person with a disability, knowing that people are frustrated because they have to wait longer or more money has to be spent to make something accessible, it saddens me. Am I not worth the wait or extra money? Now, of course, there are things that just can’t be made accessible. For those things, alternative options often can be made available. An example of this would be adaptive sports. They obviously aren’t the same as regular sports, but people with various limitations can experience what’s it’s like to play and compete.
Engineers are designing new airplanes and automobiles every day, why can’t we figure out how to get wheelchairs on planes? Yes, I understand it would take many years and billions of dollars to replace all the time airplanes, but, if we can send civilians to space, why can’t we figure out how to make wheelchair accessible cabins? Something doesn’t add up. While I understand the need and desire for extravagant recreational experiences, where does the need for accessibility fit in the priorities of the country? It’s definitely an interesting question to ponder. If we can send civilian tourists to space, we should be able to take flights in airplanes without our vital equipment being damaged. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee anything changing anytime soon. We, as a disability community, have to continue to make sure that we are seen and heard. That’s the only way changes are going to happen.
By Stacy Ellingen, 2021-10-28
“Remember this because I won’t be able to do this again,” I vividly remember my dad saying as he carried me all the way up the Eagle Tower at Peninsula State Park in Door County when I was seven or eight years old. At the time, I certainly didn’t recognize or appreciate the beauty of the view from the top of the tower or how much work it was for my dad to carry me up and down it. Looking back at it now, I realize how hard it must have been, and, really, how unsafe it probably was for him to do that. As I’ve discussed in previous entries, my parents do everything they possibly can to make sure I get to experience as much as possible.
A few years ago, I started hearing about how the Eagle Tower was going to be redone. It had been closed for a while because it was deemed unsafe. It was eventually taken down. There were articles going around on social media about how a group called Friends of Peninsula State Park was trying to raise enough money to build an accessible tower. They raised over $750,000 towards the new tower and canopy. It was started in 2020 and opened in May 2021.
This summer, many of my friends who use wheelchairs posted pictures on Facebook of them going up the tower. All summer, my parents were trying to find a day to get me up there, but, due to busy schedules, we never could. Finally, a few weeks ago, I couldn’t find care coverage for a Saturday night and Sunday morning. My parents decided that would be a perfect time. Because it was peak time for colors in Door County, there wasn’t a hotel room to be found. I tried saying it’s ok – we’ll get there next year--but my parents weren’t going to take that. We ended up leaving Oshkosh early on a Saturday morning and driving up there. It ended up being six hours of traveling because we had to drive back the same day, but it was worth it!
When I first saw the tower, I was simply amazed by the scaffolding and ramp. The 850 foot ramp swerves up the 60 foot tower. What caught my attention when I first approached the ramp is the width of it. I don’t know the exact measurement, but it’s wide enough to fit two wheelchairs side-by-side on it. Of course, that’s not a likely scenario, but most ramps like that are usually pretty narrow. I was extremely pleased that I had no problem driving up, and people could walk on either side of me - - that usually never happens on a ramp. There are several bench cutouts on the ramp for people who need to sit and rest on the way up and down. What I also noticed is that there are several places where the wood railing is replaced with wire, so people in wheelchairs can see out below. I thought that was really neat because part of the experience is being able to see how high up you are, and, most of the time on things like that, railings or guardrails often prevent the view for those of us who can’t see over. The view from the top is just breathtaking. There are a couple of places at the top where it’s cut out and have only wire fencing, so people who use wheelchairs can see below. The panoramic view is incredible!
At the bottom of the tower, there is a wooden wall and each piece of wood has a name of someone who donated to the project on it. It’s really neat to see how many people donated to the project. My mom went into the clubhouse to get a park sticker when we first got there, and the guy told her that the tower is actually 15 feet shorter than the old one. It was almost as if he was disappointed about that. I did some research on the Internet and found out that they made it shorter because it’s the best height to see the view.
I find it ironic that this new accessible tower is in Door County. Door County isn’t usually known for its accessibility. Many of the shops and restaurants are still inaccessible. I understand the smallness and daintiness of the places is often what makes them unique, but in my opinion, it’s time to make changes so that everyone can enjoy these places. Maybe the tower will influence owners to make necessary changes to their places so that everyone can enjoy them.
It’s really cool to experience something that you never thought would be possible, and know it was made possible due to generous people. In today’s world of so much doom and gloom, it’s refreshing to experience humanity first-hand. What a gift to be able to witness the beauty of humankind!
By Stacy Ellingen, 2021-09-29
When was the last time you really watched a person get into a swimming pool? Do we stare at girls dancing at a wedding? Do we watch when people do ordinary things like this? Typically not—unless it’s different. We are accustomed to seeing people do things a certain way. When a person does a task or activity different, we are interested. It’s not wrong--it’s human nature to want to watch someone do something in a different way. For people who have visible disabilities or health conditions, it sometimes feels like you’re in the spotlight anytime you go out in public.
In a journal entry a few years ago, I wrote about fitting in at various social events. Using a power wheelchair and having uncomfortable movements understandably draws attention to myself pretty much wherever I go. It’s just something I’ve learned to deal with. Usually, I do whatever I can not do make even more of a scene when I’m out. It doesn’t work too well most of the time, when I’m at a gathering with friends or family, I try my hardest to keep my movements under control and not make too much of a scene. As I explained in previous entries, though, when I try not to do something intentionally, my body doesn’t cooperate. In fact, it does the complete opposite - - the harder I mentally try, the more my body does the opposite. It’s part of Cerebral Palsy. Usually, I just “try not to try” and just ignore my body. I’m learning that it’s pretty much all I can do in those situations.
There is a different kind of attention when I try do something ordinary, but it causes a scene because I do it different. Let me try to explain. A few years ago, I was at a friend’s wedding. She had worked for me for a few years and we became friends. My mom went with me to the wedding. I didn’t know anyone but the bride, and I was the only one with a visible disability. Obviously, some of her family knew about me, but I didn’t know anyone else which was fine. I was just there to support my friend. My mom ended up running into some people she knew, so we sat at the reception with them. It was a nice time. However, the whole night, my mom kept urging me to get on the dance floor. I kept saying no. When we left, she said, “I really wish you would have danced. It warms people’s heart to watch you dance.” I tried to explain to her that’s exactly the reason I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be a spectacle that night in front of people I didn’t know. At other weddings, yes, I’ll get out on the dance floor, but, it’s different around people who I know.
Another example is when I get in and out of swimming pools. I love to swim and it’s so good for my muscles. However, when I get in and out of pools, it’s a scene. My parents have a system down. It takes both of them to get me in and out. Getting in is easier than getting out. They get me out of my wheelchair, sit me on the edge of the pool, one of them holds me up while the other gets in the pool, and then they ease me into the pool. Getting out is even more of a scene. We sometimes use the lift if the pool has one to get out. Regardless, it’s something that draws attention to us. Normally, in hotels, I don’t care. Usually, we go to places that aren’t crowded, so there’s just a few people around the pool. I figure it’s worth making a scene if that means I can swim. My aunt and uncle have a pool at their house, and this summer we had a big family gathering for my grandma’s 90th birthday. All of our family came in from across the US, and we had a big party. On the second day, it was a pool party. We did family pictures as soon as everyone got there, and people were swimming all day. I wore my swimsuit, but I wasn’t sure I’d go in. After pictures, I was just about to go in because my sister and nephew were in, but then other people (besides family) started arriving. They were friends of my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I quickly changed my mind and didn’t go in. Even though nobody would have probably cared (and likely people would have offered to help), I didn’t want to draw more attention to myself. Does that sound conceited? Probably, but I knew it’d cause a scene.
Unfortunately, I’ll probably always have this issue. It’s just something I’ve learned to deal with. Most of the time, I have a choice whether or not I want to do the activity. It’s a fine line between wanting to experience or do something and feeling like you’re a spectacle. Everyone is different—some people care less about being watched while doing an activity in an unusual way, while others hate being the spectacle all the time. Most of the time, I don’t really mind people looking at me when I’m doing something different because I believe that’s part of advocacy—showing others what I can do despite my challenges. However, admittedly, sometimes I miss out on opportunities just because I don’t want it to be made into a scene. I feel like some things are just not worth being put on stage for.
By Stacy Ellingen, 2021-09-05
“You’re so lucky to have a place to sit all of the time.” I’ve been told something to that effect more than once. I was told that I’m lucky because I never have to buy new shoes because I never wear out shoes since I don’t walk (which is completely false, I probably go through shoes faster than most people, but that’s beside the point). When people make statements like that, I usually just try to fake laugh it off or ignore it, but really on the inside it bugs me. While some people with disabilities find humor in this, I’m not one of those people--they’re much stronger than me and I give them kudos for being able to laugh it off. Let me be clear, I know people aren’t trying to be mean when they say things, but it irritates me that the thought even crosses their mind. Am I really lucky I have to sit all the time? Don’t they know how lucky they are to be able to stand and walk… even if the conditions aren’t ideal?
My parents and I recently took a trip to Las Vegas. I absolutely love the city, and my parents really trying to get me out there every so often. When we booked our flight, things were looking much better with COVID. Unfortunately, things kind of went backwards lately, but we tried to be really careful. We brought my manual wheelchair because we weren’t going to take anything any chances with the airlines ruining my power chair. We’ve been to Vegas multiple times, and the one thing that struck us this time was the number of people who rented power scooters. There were noticeably more people using scooters out there. While I totally understand that there are hidden disabilities and health conditions that may require a mobility device, it was quite apparent that many people were using them as “toys.” Multiple times, we witnessed people messing around and having races on them. We even saw couples trying to ride on each other’s lap. Yes, we did see some people who clearly needed mobility assistance, but there were a lot of people who appeared to be using them as toys. My parents got irritated because these people were taking up the elevators and clogging up the sidewalks. It irritated me because of the principle of it. I selfishly thought, “why the heck are you using one? Don’t you know how lucky you are to be able to walk?“
Another thing we noticed in Vegas was the number of people who brought their “service dog” everywhere. I’ve written about this before. I understand it’s a fine line because some people do benefit from emotional-support animals, but many people take advantage of being able to use that “excuse.” While having some sort of a vest or identification that the animal wears would expose a person’s personal health issues, it would cut back on the number of animals being “used” as fake support animals. What irritates me is that people take advantage of many of the accommodations that are supposed to help those who really need them.
It goes the other way too—the example that comes to mind is that the lines in the Disney parks. I think the policy has changed now, but when my family went when my sister and I were kids, we were forced to go to the front of lines. While it’s a nice gesture for people with conditions that literally can’t wait in line or people who are terminally ill, we felt very awkward doing it. Why should I get special privileges? We were actually quite embarrassed.
Another example is a few years ago, my mom surprised the family by getting us four accessible tickets for a Green Bay Packer playoff game. She had only gotten them because it was a lottery for accessible tickets for that particular game. My sister and dad are the Packer fans, so I felt like she used my disability to get the tickets. Looking back, I realize it was pretty selfish of me to want to take that experience away from my dad and sister, but I was so mad at her. In the end, it ended up being a moot point because the Packers lost the game before.
There are some “perks” (as some people refer to them as) that I literally couldn’t live without. Long-term care supports are one of those. While I’d love to be able to be off all of the government benefits, that’s just physically not possible. Some people with disabilities can earn enough money to be completely independent and off the so-called system, and that’s awesome. As I unfortunately found out a few months ago, I can only physically do so much without my body flipping out. As frustrating as it is, I have to remind myself that at least I’m doing something to contribute to my needs.
I’m not fully independent in any aspect of life—I never will be. Do I wish I could be and not use any of the specialized equipment I rely on? Of course I do. However, I try my hardest to do what I can. When I see people “take advantage” of specialized equipment or say something irrational, it does affect me. I have to remind myself that they probably don’t realize what they’re doing or saying may be offensive. While I don’t see these situations changing anytime soon, educating people is important. Please take advantage of the abilities you do have. There is a magnitude of specialized technology and equipment to assist people who can’t do various things, but please understand that many people don’t have a choice whether or not to use those things!