The Americans with Disabilities Act put the spotlight on a group of people in the USA. This group now has a voice; a constituency that has come of age. This community votes, works and pays taxes.This blog is based on a N.Y. newspaper column I wrote for the Rockland County Journal-News from 1990-92.
When I returned to work at IBM in May 1982 -- 17 months after my surfing accident -- I really didn't know whether I could be a productive employee again. I don't believe my new management team knew either. But my former IBM manager, John Perissi, had encouraged me to come back to work -- and my new management team was willing to give me a chance.
My greatest concerns had to do not with whether I could do the job, but with whether I would fall out of my wheelchair or suffer some other embarrassment in my office. I'm still concerned about that. But I now can handle the fear psychologically because my confidence has improved.
Confidence. It was the key to my comeback. As my confidence in myself grew, my performance at work -- and my capacity for work -- improved. I made new friends. I stopped being embarrassed at being in a wheelchair and began to sit up straight. When I talked to people, I started looking them in the eye again.
IBM managers monitored my progress and gradually increased my workload to the point where I became as productive as the able-bodied employees in my department. I've had full job responsibilities since 1982, and held more than 25 jobs during my 35-year career at IBM -- with more responsibility added in each successive job. I am now an executive at corporate headquarters in Armonk, New York.
My former wife and I separated in 1986 and divorced in 1987. I then lived as a bachelor, hiring nurses to get me up and put me to bed each night. And I continued to work full time. During this time I achieved more independence than I thought possible. I drove everywhere by myself, including to job-related assignments, to family functions, and even dates.
I made new friends and socialized more than I had done immediately after my accident. But I never expected another romantic relationship, and never sought to develop one. I needed a wheelchair to make my way in life. I believed I had nothing to offer a woman. My focus was physical -- on my disability and on my wheelchair. Those two facts, I believed, determined who I was. My attitude could have been summed up in one sentence: Who would want a relationship with a quad?
I was wrong. At work, over two years, I became friends with Maggie. Our friendship turned into love, and I proposed to her in April of 1988. Many people advised us not to marry, for basically the same reason I was afraid to get involved in a relationship: Why would an able-bodied woman want a life-time commitment with a quad?
Well, we loved each other. We discussed and argued to exhaustion the pros and cons of our relationship and possible future. We discussed my role as a husband. Could I provide for us, or would Maggie have to work? Would nurses still be required to care for my personal needs, or would Maggie assume part or all of my care? Could I protect the family? Would I be a good step-father to Maggie's 4-year-old daughter, Danielle? What would be the quality of our sex life? Could we have our own children, or would we have to adopt? What would living with a quad be like?
We questioned everything. Although this would be the second marriage for both of us, I was particularly cautious: My first marriage had failed partially because of my disability. We were aware of the issues, and felt that our marriage would be difficult in some areas and easier in others. Our greatest letdown came when my doctor told us that there was very little chance of our having children. Men with spinal-cord injuries have only a five percent chance of fathering children naturally. Consequently, my doctor advised us not to marry if we wanted children.
Nonetheless, we were married on Nov. 26, 1988. Ten months later – in Sept.1989 -- Maggie gave birth to our son, James Richard. He weighed 7 pounds, 13 ounces and was 21 inches long. When we are asked how we did it, I tell 'em: "The old fashioned way."
Fast-forward to today, I still work full-time and Maggie did wonders with our children. Both are now in Boston: our daughter and her husband, both attorneys, and our son, is finishing up college at Northeastern University. I still have nurses caring for my personal needs, and Maggie helps out whenever I need it. And we're working on our marriage -- just like any other couple.
I know people may want to commend me for all I've done. But I couldn't do it alone. I have a great support system -- my wife, daughter and son, relatives, friends, colleagues at IBM -- people who haven't given up on me because of my disability. These very same people have also made it difficult for me to fail or give up. They are the ones who should be commended -- the people who have cared. I love them all.
I no longer believe I will walk again. I do believe, however, that science and technology will find a way to reverse the effects of spinal cord injury so that I, and more than 1.2 million people like me in the US, will walk again. Who knows, maybe organizations and businesses like IBM’s great research organization and others along with Mt.Sinai will help find a cure some day. I don’t know, but I am sure a cure can be found.
Some people think I'm overambitious, that my quest for a cure is the hopeless dream of a cripple. But a cure is possible. Frankly, I believe there's nothing wrong with keeping your feet on the ground while reaching for the sky.
Veronique, a certified service dog, died this morning to due complications with cancer in Pembroke, Massachusetts. . Veronique was with us for 10 years-- I got her when she was two. I've included a previous post about Veronique, below, when I was trained to become her "handler" at the Canine Companions Training Center in Medford, Long Island (New York). She became a member of our family and was a favorite with our two children and granddaughters. Her passing touched my wife and I deeply, and I didn't realize how much emotion --love-- one could feel for a pet as we did for Veronique. Every time I pushed the start button on my power chair, Veronique would come to attention and accompany me as I began my ride to any destination a wheelchair could get to -- as well as ride with me in any mode of transportation that was accessible. She gave me confidence, helped me become more social -- everyone loves a service dog-- and taught me how to be more
My wife bought the Apple Watch for me on my 60th birthday. The fact that I have a high-tech device, literally at my "paralyzed fingertips" to do basic social media activities is a 21st century breakthrough for me! More than that, the Apple Watch provides me with a sense of security and independence I never had until now - - in more than 34 years of paralysis - - 35 next month. With the watch on my wrist I no longer have to wear a "lanyard," affixed to my iPhone 6 , and around my neck. I don't worry about the dangling phone getting caught on the edge of my dining room table or falling into my soup dish anymore. When the phone rings I can use my paralyzed finger to answer it and speak normally. I can send messages, call my family, friends and other business and medical professionals listed in my iPhone. Apple Watch on my paralyzed closed hand . I can send or answer a message with the touch of my finger or answer with several preset messages usin