Tuesday, September 29, 2015

An afternoon of picking apples picked up my spirits

Déjà Vu: This column was originally published in the Journal-News, a newspaper distributed in Rockland County, New York, October 22, 1990

I'm re-publishing this column as part of my online blog because apple picking season is upon us. I still believe the message is appropriate today and is an example of the activities many of us with disabilities can enjoy in the United States, and perhaps around the world.  Photos were added to this posting from my collection or the web, as noted.

Some of the organizations and programs mentioned here may have changed or no longer exist in New York State as of this writing.  I hope you find this column helpful and informative.

I have found another thing I can do from a wheelchair: pick up apples. As a boy from the Bronx, I didn't think I'd enjoy it. Boy, was I wrong!  I had so much fun. I can't wait to take the family out again next year.

We didn't plan it, we just did it on a whim. We had driven to Chester, N.Y. to visit some friends. On the way home, my wife Maggie, a veteran "apple picker," suggested we find an apple orchard in the area. We ended up at Applewood Orchards in Warwick, New York just off Route 17.
Where it all started, Applewood Orchards.

The day was beautiful and we were eager to try what Maggie had enjoyed as a teenager. In my 35 years, I've never picked or even thought of picking apples off trees. As a native New Yorker, the only apples I picked came off supermarket shelves -- already bagged.

My son J. R. (James Richard), who just turned one, and my seven-year-old daughter, Danielle, were also novices -- not counting their  experience plucking apples from our refrigerator.

We parked the van, picked up our plastic apple bag and marched into the orchard, with Maggie and the kids leading the charge. The "armored" division, me and my wheelchair, brought up the rear.
Apple picking at  C.N. Smith Farm, East Bridgewater, MA. 

Once under a good tree, Maggie and Danielle went at it. But as they put apples in the bag, J.R. pulled them out and threw them on the ground. He must have believed they belonged there, since there were hundreds of others already on the ground. 

Just watching the kids was a joy!
Photo from C.N. Smith Farm, which we visited.

When the bag was half-full, we slung it over my wheelchair armrest. Then I drove under the trees, trying to catch apples while Maggie and Danielle picked. Maggie showed Danielle and I what she was made of, climbing high in the trees after the choice, juicy red apples.

There she was  - - wife, and mother of two - - almost swinging from branch to branch. Danielle burst out laughing. 

I was thoroughly enjoying myself!

As Maggie climbed for that perfect apple,  J. R. decided to pick up some less-than-perfect apples off the ground, and put them in our bag. To stop him, Danielle put him on my lap, and we gave him an apple to eat, which he did, sitting quietly for the next half hour.

To top off the day, I drove my wheelchair under a low branch and knocked an apple down with my fist - - my first apple "picked" from the tree. 

Danielle picked it up for me, checked the quality, and put it in our bag. She was becoming a veteran apple-picker. When full, our bag yielded about a bushel of apples, and we paid eight dollars for it.
Family time at Applewood Orchards, now called Apple Dave's Orchards.


We spent almost two hours at the orchard, picking apples, talking, laughing and watching other people do the same.

On the way out, we bought lunch: hot dogs and a gallon of apple cider.

Driving home, the kids fell asleep and Maggie talked about how all of us, as a family, enjoyed the afternoon.

Rockland County has apple orchards too, of course. Dr. Davies farm, the orchards of Conklin, and Duryea Farms come immediately to mind.

Sitting in an electric-powered wheelchair didn't limit our fun. I maneuvered through the orchard, finding level ground and was able to accompany my family to almost every tree. (A person in a manual wheelchair would need help going through the orchard.)

Whether handicapped or not get out there and pick - - there's some great fun waiting for you.

Massachusetts Orchard Directory
Cherry orchard at Brogdale Farm, Kent, England
This Orchard Directory for Massachusetts is on the website "Orange Pippin". All 50 states are listed.

Monday, September 14, 2015

"What I did on my summer vacation"

This blog wraps up summer here in Massachusetts, and marks our first year as New England residents since leaving New York State. Photos taken by Maggie Sinocchi, unless noted.

After 35 years of paralysis due to spinal cord injury and a work career of nearly 40 years, I have tried to live as “normally” as possible.  But living in an “ablebodied” world has presented challenges and restrictions hindering full participation in society for people like me. As you know, that’s what this blog is all about.   

Because I put myself in situations or events where disabled people are not expected or cannot participate due to physical limitations, I either have a good time without incident, something unexpected happens, or I get into trouble. This is the essence of living with a disabiliy.

The Bay State is disability friendly based on my personal standards

So far, I have found Massachusetts mostly “pro-disabled” and “disability friendly.”  My disability standards, however, are not as rigid as the Americans with Disabilities Act standards. I look for reasonable accessibility and common courtesy.   

For example, if I can’t get into an establishment or folks are rude, I take my money and that of my family and friends, and go elsewhere. I’ll also file complaints with the Massachusetts Office on Disability if establishments are non-compliant, if they discriminate, or demonstrate rude and obnoxious behavior.  

A good barometer of being “disability friendly” is, for example, when automobile drivers are courteous as I attempt to cross streets where I live or visit. "Hey, this is a big deal for me.  Try doing that in New York’s midtown Manhattan!"

By courteous. I mean drivers stop when they see me waiting at a crosswalk (with or without Veronica, my service dog) and allow me to wheel my power chair across the street.

We also found restaurants, department stores and Fenway Park disability-friendly. Most recently, these included Boston Medical Center, Cameron’s restaurant, Hallmark Cards, Jared jewelry, Kay’s Jeweler's, Macy’s, Monponsett Inn, Olive Garden, Red Robin, Target, The Olde Hitching Post, and Walmart.

And, the movie theaters in the towns of Hanover and Kingston, Massachusetts, are quite good. I have yet to be turned away from any establishment in this State due to my disability.

When you can’t walk on water roll on sand

Riis Beach, from Yelp
Many of the beaches I visited this year, about a dozen, are fairly accessible and allow me to enjoy the venues to the extent I can. They all fall short of allowing me to wear my “Speedo” as I did when I was a 17-year-old surf guard at Riis Park Beach in Rockaway, Queens, New York. But, unfortunately, I can no longer wear my 30-inch waist Speedo anyway, so that’s a moot point.

Nantasket Beach
Many of the pedestrian crosswalks, walkways and sidewalks, however, need repair or regular maintenance. I was able to overcome many of the obstacles presented as I traveled with my wife because I use a power wheelchair and she guided me over rough terrain.  Non-power or “push” wheelchair riders would face more difficult challenges given water damage to asphalt walkways, “broken ramps,” and very bumpy terrain.

The Cliff Walk is a 3.5-mile walkway. 
View from Cliff Walk.

I found these conditions at beach locations at the State’s most impressive sites such as Duxbury Beach, Easton Beach and the Cliff Walk, Rhode Island, Nantasket BeachWollaston Beach, and Coast Guard beach on Cape Cod.

Scusset Beach, which is on the northern side of the Sagamore Bridge as you head to Cape Cod, had an impressive wooden boardwalk that transversed a sand dune to the beach and shoreline. 

Beach wheelchair behind guard tower at Scusset beach.
Once over the top, a wooden-planked seating area is set aside for wheelchair riders. This section had me less than 1,000 feet from the water.  From here, a “beach wheelchair” is made available by the State of Massachusetts for those who can transfer onto the chair, with assistance, and then be able to sit on the beach or venture to the shoreline.    

Sitting in the wheelchair section at Scusset beach , I still scan the water as I did when I was a lifeguard at Riis Park Beach, in New York.

The horse with no name

In late August, on our way back from Wollaston Beach in Quincy, which is just south of Boston, we stopped at Briggs Stable, a working farm for more than 100 years. The farm was hosting an equestrian event that evening. The Briggs farm billed this event as a “Mini Show.” 

Horses and riders were impressive. Photo from Briggs website.

I had never witnessed this type of event first-hand. The farm was just a mile away from my condo, so we decided to drive in and have a look.

Because we were on a ranch, with no designated parking spaces, we pulled up alongside side some pickup trucks and their respective horse trailers. Others did the same. We watched as some riders mounted and rode their horses to the exhibition area. 

This seemed to be a women’s equestrian event, and the riders ranged in age from under just under 10 years of age to adult. Surprisingly, I was certain I saw a rider with down syndrome - - my eyes teared up with emotion. I was impressed that the disabled were afforded the opportunity to ride.

My wife asked me if I wanted to get out of the van. I looked at her as a New York City boy would, and said, “No, I don’t want the wheelchair to spook the horses, ruin the show and kick me on my head.”  Maggie laughed.

Taken from our iphone at Briggs Stable.

I soon realized that some of these trailers had not finished unloading their horses, and I suggested we move the van. I was getting nervous. “But we have a good spot,” she said. I nodded tentatively.

Illustration of unloading (bitsandbytesfarm, web).
We sat a few minutes more and watched three young women unload a beautiful black horse out of the trailer on the driver’s side of my van. I couldn’t take my eyes off the huge tail and the horse's “ass,” its tail swaying.

As the horse backed down the short ramp, it turned its head toward us, and bucked, kicking the front of my silver Toyota van with its legs. 

We were both startled and jumped in our seats.The women quickly calmed the horse down, and apologized. They also offered to cover the slight damage. We declined the offer and left the event. We figured the mare was just "horsing around." 

Newport Vineyards

 Maggie and I visited the vineyards and enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine. I also bought a bottle of  "Port" and brought it home.
After the Cliff Walk tour, mentioned above, we visited the Newport Vineyards, which was originally planted in 1977 on a hill overlooking Rhode Island Sound.

I bought a bottle of port.

 Since the original plantings in the 1970s, the vineyards, under the ownership of John and Paul Nunes, has grown to 60 acres.The vineyards, in addition to fine wine, now house the Brix Restaurant, The Marketplace, the addition of Fatulli's Bakery & Deli, a new Tasting Room and Tank Room.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"At half time, one of the men in a wheelchair got up"

Déjà Vu: This column was originally published in the Journal-News, a newspaper distributed in Rockland County, New York, November 19, 1990

I'm re-publishing this column as part of my online blog because football season is upon us. I still believe the message is appropriate today and remains part of the disability experience many of us still face in the United States, and perhaps around the world.  Photos were added to this posting from wikipedia, a Metlife Stadium Google image and a free disability site.

Some of the organizations and programs may have changed or no longer exist as of this writing.  I hope you find this column helpful and informative.

I saw three able-bodied men recently sitting in wheelchairs, pretending to be disabled, in order to get free and good seats at a football game.

Imagine, pretending to be disabled. Before I say more, let me describe the circumstances.

For several years, the management of the New Jersey Meadowlands sports complex has graciously provided tickets to Giants and Jets games to people who are handicapped and in wheelchairs. It is done through the Dr. N. Howard Hyman Memorial Program, in conjunction with the teams.
Metlife Stadium

These tickets are distributed free to organizations caring for the disabled and to disabled individuals throughout the tri-state area.

With these special tickets, a handicapped person is admitted to the game and allowed to station his or her wheelchair in one of several designated handicap spaces around the Stadium. One guest is allowed to accompany the handicapped person. The guest usually brings a folding chair.

In other words, one free ticket allows admission for two people -- one disabled person and one guest (a friend, relative, attendant, whomever you like).

Year after year, Mrs. Tess Hyman and Mrs. Lillian Lucca spend a great deal of time administering the program and ensuring that disabled people get these tickets.

They do a terrific job. But the system is abused sometimes as when my wife and I went to see the N.Y. Jets play the San Diego Chargers several weeks ago.

We were in one of the special areas, my wife sat on a chair next to me. After a while,  three men in wheelchairs rolled up, accompanied by their attendants.

My wife noticed them behind us and offered to move her seat to the rear of my chair so they could have a better view of the game.

The men politely turned down her offer. But she said that if they change their minds later she'd be happy to move. We continued watching the game. 

At halftime one of the men in a wheelchair got up and left. A little later, he came back with hot dogs and passed them out to the two guys still in their wheelchairs. After a while, the two wheelchair buddies got up and returned a bit later with beers.

When we realized what was happening, I turned to my wife and said, "Can you get me one of those hot dogs? I want to want to walk, too."

We were angry. Three able-bodied men were sitting in  wheelchairs and with them were three "attendants."

Ablebodied men created a "foul" by impersonating the disabled.
In effect there were six people at the game who had nothing to do with disability and who used tickets designated for  handicapped people -- veterans, disabled children and others who don't often get the opportunity to go out.

We couldn't believe that able-bodied men were impersonating handicapped people just to watch a football game. 

I wish I could impersonate an able-bodied person. I'd gladly exchange my chair for a good set of legs with anybody who wants to take the "perks" or perceived "benefits" of being handicapped -- handicapped parking, free football tickets ramps, automatic doors. 

But with the perks come pity, discrimination, unemployment, expensive medical care and the fear that something else will go wrong with your body.

The football-ticket privilege is similar to the privilege given to handicap people to park in special spaces near the entrance to buildings. And it is likewise abused, such as when able-bodied people park "handicapped-licensed" vehicles in those spaces.

http://www.myparkingpermit.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Massachusetts-handicap-parking-permit-signs.jpgThe handicapped parking permit or license plate authorizes parking in handicapped spaces only when a person with a disability is in the vehicle. Otherwise it doesn't apply.

When an able-bodied person exploits handicapped license plate privilege, he or she may be keeping a handicapped person with a legitimate need from getting into a building.

What kind of people take advantage of goodwill gestures (such as free football tickets or reserved parking spaces) that are intended for handicapped people? 

The answer, sadly, is that it could be anybody. Because to many people these abuses are not really crimes.

But try explaining that to a handicapped person.