Do It Myself Blog – Glenda Watson Hyatt

Motivational Speaker

Special Ed Class Provides Early Training for the Left Thumb Blogger

Filed under: I'll Do It Myself: The Book, Living with a disability — by Glenda at 12:14 am on Saturday, September 12, 2009

From Special Ed Classroom to University GraduateGrowing up with cerebral palsy, my school years began in a special education class annex several blocks the main school. Now that is segregation!

But, at age five, I didn’t know the difference. I was excited to be starting Grade 1 with my friend Marika from Kindergarten and soon became friends with my four or five other classmates.

Our teacher Mrs. Rutherford was somewhat apprehensive having me in her classroom. As I share in my autobiography I’ll Do It Myself:

Being non-verbal, my teacher Mrs. Rutherford was concerned that she wouldn’t hear me when I needed help, so she gave me two small brass bells – her mom’s dinner bells – to ring to get her attention. It was soon discovered that the bells weren’t necessary as I was verbal enough to catch her attention when needed.

The bells were soon buried in my desk drawer and Mrs. Rutherford was well on her way to mastering Glenda-ish. The learning for both the student and the teacher continued…

Because getting to the chalkboard was difficult for most of us once we were placed in our seats, we each had an 18-inch square piece of chalkboard at our desks for practicing our printing. It was also easier to work on a horizontal surface rather than a vertical one. Initially, my printing was wobbly scribbles. With practice and extreme concentration, I controlled my jerky movements enough to make my letters almost legible more of the time. I also kept a chalk eraser handy, though inadvertently an uncontrollable movement erased a good letter. In frustration, I did the letter again.

Although learning to print, and then to write, were important steps in learning to read, it was evident that printing would not be efficient. It took too much energy and was too time-consuming to keep up with my work, and that would only worsen through the grades. Learning to use a typewriter was a necessity.

An electric Smith Corona typewriter was placed at the back of the room, which a few of us shared. When it was time to do typewriter work, Mrs. Rutherford dragged me in my desk chair over to the typewriter table and then dragged me back to my desk when I was done. Then it was the next student’s turn. A while later, perhaps once funding became available, we each had a typewriter at a second desk beside us. We simply dragged the typewriter back and forth as we needed it. It was much easier, especially on Mrs. Rutherford’s back.

As I have only one somewhat functioning hand, I only typed with one hand, my left hand. While typing, I steadied my hand on the typewriter hood to give myself some control over the spastic movements and used my thumb to hit the keys, causing my wrist to be in a dropped-wrist position. This concerned the adults, particularly the physio and occupational therapist. Although this was decades before repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome had been invented, they were concerned that the dropped-wrist position would cause damage over the long-term.

They decided a splint with a stick to hit the keys was needed to keep my wrist in a good position. With this contraption snuggly Velcro strapped to my arm, I was expected to have enough arm control to steady my hand mid-air, without resting it on anything, and to accurately hit the keys. And this was less frustrating than printing with a pencil? After a few days, the splint ended up in the back of my desk drawer, and I resumed typing with my left thumb, my hand in its compromising position. I type the same way today, as nothing else feels as natural. For a non-verbal individual who relies on written communication, my left thumb is my most valued body part.

Smith Corona 2200 electric typewriter with keyguardA Smith Corona electric typewriter with a keyguard still occupies desk space. This how I fill out cheques, forms and other such tasks that cannot be completed on the computer.

The typewriter in this photo is my second. The motor on my first, an even earlier Smith Corona model, eventually blew up!

Who knew the learning to type at the age of five would eventually lead me to becoming known as the Left Thumb Blogger!


Previous miniseries post: Catching the Back to School Fever: Launching a Mini Series on My Years from Special Ed Class to University

Next miniseries post: Excuse Me If I Lay on the Floor When We Meet

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Catching the Back to School Fever: Launching a Mini Series on My Years from Special Ed Class to University

Filed under: I'll Do It Myself: The Book, Living with a disability — by Glenda at 11:28 am on Thursday, September 10, 2009

A young Glenda wearing long-legged braces and standing with her walker

With Back to School Fever in the air, I have this small urge to go back to school, if for no other reason than to buy the fun school supplies they have nowadays.

But, seriously, I was one of those strange kids who loved school!

In my autobiography I’ll Do It Myself, I share my first day of school:

I began Grade 1 in my purple heather sweater and purple plaid kilt, treasures from our summer holiday in Edinburgh. I was one bonnie lass!

School was an older building; actually, it consisted of two buildings and a portable. The main building had four or five classrooms for the primary grades, the staff room, changing room and the principal’s office. The older kids were upstairs in the other building, accessible by a long, steep ramp.

As this was before integration and mainstreaming had been invented, all the Special Ed students went to this school, which was actually an annex of a larger school, several blocks away. This was definitely segregation. But, at that age, I didn’t know any differently. I was excited to be starting school with my new notebooks, crayons and lefty scissors. And, I do remember hating missing school when I was sick. It was so boring to stay home.

At this point in this post, I was going to share some of the adaptations that were made for me in the classroom. But, rather than write one lengthy post, I have decided to try something new. After all, isn’t that what going back to school is all about?

From Special Ed Classroom to University GraduateThis post launches a mini series on my school years: the classroom accommodations made during my elementary and high school years through to seven years at university, the successes and struggles I faced, and how school may have been easier had I had the technology that exists today.

By sharing my experiences and lessons learned, I hope to offer ideas and encouragement to parents with children with disabilities who are still navigating the school system, as well as support for older students with disabilities and for teachers who work with them.

This mini series is still very much under development. Your suggestions, ideas and questions are most welcomed and will help to shape this series.

I invite you to come back to follow this series over the next couple of weeks or to sign up using the form in the upper right corner to receive this series and my other blog posts right in your email inbox.

School is in. Let’s see what we learn by sharing and asking questions.


Next miniseries post: Special Ed Class Provides Early Training for the Left Thumb Blogger

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The Physically Challenged What? Martians?

Filed under: Accessibility 100 — by Glenda at 5:57 pm on Saturday, September 5, 2009

Accessibility 100

Yesterday, while exploring a website promoting an upcoming accessibility workshop, I read:

The physically challenged represent approximately twenty percent of the population, and this number is growing.

I was left wondering the physically challenged what? Horses? Cats? People? Which population? Of Mars?

Physically challenged, disabled and handicapped are not nouns; using them as such is grammatically incorrect and impedes comprehension.

Consider the follows three revised sentences:

Sentence #1: Correcting grammar and improving comprehension, the sentence could be rewritten to read:

Individuals with physical challenges represent approximately twenty percent of the Canadian population, and this number is growing.

Of course, sentence #1 assumes the Canadian population is being referenced.

Sentence #2: Assuming the 20% figure includes all disabilities, the following sentence would be more accurate:

People with disabilities represent approximately twenty percent of the Canadian population, and this number is growing.

Sentence #3: Alternatively, the sentence could be rewritten to read:

Canadians with disabilities represent approximately twenty percent of the population, and this number is growing.

By changing the word “people” to “Canadians”, this segment of the population is given a sense of belonging and citizenry. After all, isn’t that what accessibility is all about?

Words can confuse or clarify, simplify or elaborate, demean or empower. Take care in how they are used; otherwise, readers may think you are talking about Martians with physical challenges!


Accessibility 100 is a series of 100 easy-to-implement, free and inexpensive tips for improving accessibility for people with disabilities. This is a community project. Feel free to leave your comments, questions and ideas for future Accessibility 100 posts.

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My Response to Nurse Ratchet

Filed under: Advocacy, Living with a disability — by Glenda at 2:37 pm on Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dear East 31 Unit Manager,

On Monday, my husband was discharged from the East 31 Medicine/Neurology Unit after a two-week hospital stay for pneumonia. For the most part, he received good care, for which I am grateful. However, one incident was very upsetting.

Both my husband and I have cerebral palsy and use power wheelchairs for mobility. Yet, we live independently, without any attendant care. We have done a fair bit of traveling without any companions. We work well together as a team, as a married couple, to problem solve and overcome any obstacles.

Saturday afternoon, once his nurse had supervised his safe transfer into his power chair, we mentioned to her that we were going down to the cafeteria for a drink and for a change of scenery. She flipped! She said my husband, who turned 50 today, couldn’t leave the floor without a relative. My husband explained that I am his wife. The nurse told him to wait for his parents, who are elderly. She continued that we would have to take the elevator and that, if something happened, I was “incapable”.

Incapable of using the elevator? Incapable of helping my husband or of summoning help, if needed, in a hospital? The nurse knew nothing about me except that I use a power wheelchair/scooter and that she could not understand my speech. She knew nothing about my capabilities. Labelling me as incapable was not only demeaning and insulting, and dismissed my role as wife; her firm comment was also discriminatory.

Not wanting my husband to experience any reprisal from the nursing staff, we were good disabled people and begrudgingly stayed within bounds.

If the nurse’s comments reflect the unit’s policy, this archaic policy regarding people with disabilities needs reviewing. After all, this is 2009, not 1909!

Thank you for your attention in this matter so that another spouse with a disability is not dismissed in the future.

Sincerely,
Glenda Watson Hyatt

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