Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dancing With the Stars

So everyone is talking this year about how Heather Mills is on Dancing With the Stars and the "how are they going to work around her prosthetic leg?" issue. One, I'm not sure it's going to turn out to be as big an issue as the press has made it. Two, I think they made the wrong first step in terms of giving her a partner who is used to working with making adaptations due to physical ability levels past.

What most people do not know is that one of the pros this year has experience dancing with people with disabilities, specfically wheelchair users. It's not listed on his bio and he was not placed with Ms. Mills. How do I know this then? I've danced with him. Brian Fortuna's mother is the AB choreographer who has worked with American Dancewheels Foundation, an American style wheelchair ballroom organization, since it began. For a short time about a year ago, I danced with ADF. Brian, when he was around was part of a two-couple tango I was in. I also danced with him a couple times during training. He's a good dancer both with AB and disabled partners. He also knows how to adapt for physical disabilities. I have to wonder how many pros are that flexible. I think it's unfortunate that Brian will not be given the chance to show his talents on that side.

Of course, I'm now looking forward to the day that they put Stephen Hawking or another celebrity in a wheelchair on such a show, too.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Unexpected Access

Sometimes it's the unexpected access that makes all the difference. There's a historical recreation/re-enactment type museum near me called Old Sturbridge Village. It's set up to be an 1830s New England village with original buildings and such. It, like many similar places, is on the brink of running out of money and closing, so I figured once I starting using a wheelchair, that it would be out. This made me sad because I grew up loving this place. I went quite a few camps there and even had my birthday party there once.

OSV has these lovely cookies and last fall I started craving them. So I convinced one of my friends to go with me. I figured we'd go to the gift shop and not do much else. Well, that didn't exactly happen. I decided we might as well try the village. Surprise one was that as a wheelchair user I got I think it was like half-price admission. I don't always approve of such things, but since the village isn't completely accessible, I appreciate the sentiment a little more. Surprise two was an access map that not only marked building access, but how steep paths and roads were at different points. So we went to the village and didn't do much, but had fun.

In January, a friend and I were looking for a place to meet while she was home on winter break. OSV was half-way between us so we decided we'd at least start there and then maybe move on. It was rainy and cold; really not a wheelchair friendly day at all. My friend switches between chair and cane and had brought her cane. But we went anyway. And it was fabulous. We could get into quite a few more buildings than I had realized. Also, there's a horse-drawn shuttle type thing that does a loop out past some of the further out buildings. We got out that far on foot/wheels but were getting tired. The guy running the shuttle happened to be aroudn and he asked if we wanted a ride. As it turned out, they have a ramp so that I was able to get on without transfering out and lifting my chair on after me. So that was the biggest and best surprise. The ramp is steep. I wouldn't have gotten up it on my own, but it's there.

I am so impressed that this place which doesn't have much money has worked so hard to make itself accessible to everyone. Not ever building is and second floors aren't except for things such as the tavern, but I know some of the buildings I went into, I wouldn't have been able to get into 5 years ago if I had been using a wheelchair then. I really want to hold this place up as an example of what you can do if you want to. Because I doubt they had to. And so many places with many more resources hide behind money as an excuse when it's not at all that. And it's so sad that such a place will likely be closing before I have kids I can take there. So while it's around, I'm spreading the word.