Tuesday, February 15, 2011

With a little help from a new friend

The other day I got a call from my friends at Paws With A Cause. It was the call we had been hoping for. After nearly three years of applications, interviews, fund raising and waiting, they had a dog for me.

Not any dog, but a service dog that, once trained, will help me live a better life.

For years, Toni and I had talked about getting a dog that could assist me as well as provide Toni some peace of mind when I am alone in the house. But when I started researching service dogs in 2007, I was dismayed to find that most of the organizations that provide dogs require the recipients to travel to the facilities for weeks of training.

I say most because Paws With a Cause was different.

Unlike the other organizations I found, Paws does the preliminary dog training at its Michigan facility without you. Once they feel the dog is ready, they bring it to you, and a trainer continues working with you and the dog in your house over the next three months.

Not only will the dog provide great companionship, it will do a host of simple tasks I no longer can do – including call for help in case of an emergency.

The process has been long and thorough to get to this point. It’s no wonder they are the nation’s leading provider of service dogs. And it’s no wonder each dog costs about $20,000 to raise and train. All costs are paid through donations so recipients aren’t asked for a dime. If you’re interested in making a donation, you can go to the organization’s website at www.pausewithacause.org or send a check to Paws With A Cause, 4646 South Division, Wayland MI 49348.

In about a week, I am expecting another call from the people at Paws telling me whether the dog they are working with is a good fit for me. If the dog clears that hurdle they will provide details about my new companion – its breed, name and picture.

And if all goes well, the dog will be moving in sometime in May. I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reading made easy ... again

When you live with a disability, you’re always on the lookout for ways to make life easier. I’m not talking about playing the latest lottery creation. I’m interested in devices that help me compensate for my physical limitations.

Don’t get me wrong. A big pile of cash would be nice. But I’m talking about life-changing technology: the equipment that enables me to drive my van, the power wheelchair that gives me reliable mobility or the portable ceiling lift that is no bigger than a toaster but moves me with ease.

And now my new Kindle.

That’s right, my Kindle. Because of my declining upper body strength, reading books - holding them open to read, even turning pages - is a battle. Now it’s as simple as pushing a button. Not only is it easy to hold and read, but also buying books is a snap. Instead of rolling around a bookstore where I would always require assistance, I buy books online and they appear in my Kindle within minutes.

I considered buying an iPad instead of the Kindle. A lot has been written about how the iPad is a great device for people with disabilities. Just google iPad and disabilities and you will find numerous stories about how the tablet is helping people with special needs.

But I’m not sure I would find it all that useful. I struggle with touch screens because of my weak arms and my fingers are, well, girthy. Not only is typing on a touch screen frustrating, some of the 2-finger commands are impossible. That’s why I use a Blackberry instead of an iPhone.

While the iPad has dominated the tablet market, a host of other companies will be releasing tablets in 2011 that will make the devices more affordable. And with more devices flooding the market more people will have access to the technology and more adaptive uses will follow.

With lower prices and more applications for people with disabilities, tablets clearly will be a life changer for more and more people. I might get one eventually, but for now, my latest life changer will have to be my Kindle. It’s not a flashy tablet but it has enabled me to enjoy books again.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A good neighbor indeed

Nothing warms my soul more on a snowy day then to see my neighbor, Ray, a retired school teacher, crossing the street with his snow blower to take care of my driveway.

Ray’s the kind of neighbor you speak to a few times a year or wave to as you drive by. It’s not like we drink beers together and watch football or share family events, but he is always there if I need help.

And for a man in a wheelchair, that’s very reassuring.

I know I could pay to have my driveway cleared but Ray steps up to the plate because he knows I could use a hand.  I don’t even have to ask.

Not only is Ray good with a snow blower, he is also part of my support network in case I get into a jam when I am home alone. Live in a wheelchair and you’ll realize those things happen more than you care to admit.

I’m forever thanking him, but it never seems to be enough. Neighbors like Ray make good neighborhoods and I think municipalities should go out of their way to honor residents who voluntarily help neighbors who are disabled.

In fact, I’d love to see my town initiate a program where neighbors sign up to assist a disabled neighbor. Call it the Good Neighbor Network. I’m sure other residents would gladly volunteer. Then at the end of each year we could nominate a Neighbor of the Year and hold a dinner to honor all the nominees.

What do you think? If you have a person with a disability in your neighborhood will you sign up to help?