Do It Myself Blog – Glenda Watson Hyatt

Your Accessibility Conscience

Climbing Unimaginable Heights to Zip Above Robson Square

Filed under: Living with a disability, Motivation, Vancouver Winter Games — by Glenda at 1:23 am on Monday, March 22, 2010

One thing you may not know about the Left Thumb Blogger yet is I’m terrified of open heights. Enclosed heights are no problem, but any place where there is a slightest chance, no matter how remote, of falling over the side, forget it! No way, no how!

So, what did I do Saturday?

Thanks to my childhood friend Karen and my cousin Craig, I did the zip line at Robson Square! The 550-foot zip line that goes high above Robson Square and Robson Street, with traffic whizzing by below.

Auntie Fern and Craig below the zip line at Robson Square (Auntie Fern and Craig with the zip line tower in the background)

But, it’s not quite as simple as that sounds! Although, thanks to Karen phoning ahead and pulling whatever strings, we had an appointment for 1:30 and, thus, bypassed the 6-8 hour line up. Once again the universe even out the score for the wheelchair!

Glenda harnessed up

After signing a waiver, we harnessed up. Here’s one place where perfectionism is absolutely necessary!

The three of us in our harnesses and helmetsAfter giving Karen’s husband Alec quick directions on how to drive my scooter – he was assigned with the task of driving over to the end of the zip line, the three of us began ascending the 140-foot tall free-standing tower with no elevator!

The tower of stairs up to the zip line(Looking up the tower of stairs)

With Karen on my left side and Craig holding me from behind, we began the 81-stair climb, taking it one stair at a time.

Climbing the stairs

I was out of breath by stair 15! We stopped every couple of platforms for a brief break and to let others pass us.

Karen, Glenda and Craig taking a break on a platform

Going up didn’t really bother me in terms of height because the tower was enclosed with a fabric.

A view of Robson Square through the meshed fabric

Getting to the open top after our half-hour climb was another matter! One hundred and four feet is an extremely long way down! I was kinda having second thoughts; like, what the heck am I doing? and other unbloggable thoughts. But, turning back now meant going back down all 81stairs.

I sat on a folding chair to catch my breath and to let a few others go ahead. Man, my mouth was dry after that climb! That better count as my workout for an entire month!

Then it was decided that Craig – who came over from Victoria only to help but realized the plans were changing when he was handed a waiver form! – should go first to have someone on the other side to help me. He tentatively stepped down the four stairs to nothingness!

I was next. (insert several unbloggable words) While the staff was hooking me to the two lines above, I was thinking Yes, I’m terrified. This is the scariest thing I have ever done! But, I can do it. I can push through my fears and survive, hopefully!

Looking out to the 550-foot line, it seemed like it’d be the most alone place I’ve ever been. If something happened out, no one could quickly come to my rescue. This is definitely independence!

The staff helped me to sit down on the top stair and then to bump down the next ones before giving me a slight push. Karen shot this brief video before jumping herself:

Craig snapped this shot while I was nearing the end. Definitely not my most flattering side! Although I’m not sure it’s possible to have a flattering side while careening across a line 140 feet above people and traffic!

Glenda zipping high above Robson Square

And this shot of me likely uttering another unbloggable phrase:

Glenda zipping above the traffic

I know I should have had a profound thought or revelation upon reaching the other side safely. However, in that moment, I was very relieved that I hadn’t met my Maker!

Karen was next to reach the other side. We caught our breaths, unharnessed and began descending the only 40 stairs.

Thankfully Alec met us part way, and he and a staff folded their arms into the firemen’s chair to take me down the remainder of the way. I never pass up the opportunity to be carried by a good-looking guy; two, even better!

Glenda being carried by two guys doing the firemen's chair

Climbing clip attached to my scooter

We were relieved to safely reach the bottom and to greet our respective loved ones!

We had done it! We each faced our fears and survived! Thanks to Karen and Craig, I did something I never really imagine myself doing! Accomplishing this moved the line of impossibility even further away.

We each received a gift: a climbing clip with a 10% off coupon for the zip line in Whistler or New Zealand. (Let’s allow our legs to stop feeling rubbery before we consider our next adventure!) For our efforts, a plaque of bravery or a bottle of champagne would have been more appropriate!

But, seriously, the Ziptrek staff were excellent! They had no qualms in me doing this and they allowed us to take our time on the stairs. We didn’t feel rushed or pressured at all.

Thank you, everyone!


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Traditional Media versus Social Media Coverage of the Paralympics

Filed under: Living with a disability, Social Media, Vancouver Winter Games — by Glenda at 8:02 am on Thursday, March 18, 2010

Yesterday I was interviewed via email by CBC Radio about “Social Media and the Paralympics”. It was to air this morning on CBC’s Early Edition. However, my interview responses were cut from show, which raises a larger question about traditional media and representation of people with disabilities.

First, my written responses to the interviewer’s questions: 

How important is the role of social media in the Paralympic experience?

The role of the social media is crucial in the Paralympic experience. I have found that many people didn’t even know the Paralympics existed because traditional media do not cover the world’s second-largest sporting event. Social media is increasing awareness and building interest in these Games. Once people know about the Paralympics, they are wanting to know more, to see more; social media is filling the gap where mainstream media is failing.  Also, social media is also being used to put pressure on traditional media for more coverage of the Paralympics; for example, the Facebook page "Encourage CTV to Cover More of the Paralympics". Yesterday CTV announced it’ll air live the Closing Ceremonies across Canada. A result from the outcry via social media? Quite possible. Without social media people would experience very little of the Paralympics unless they are at the venues.

How does online help YOU experience the Games?

Social media has deepened my experience of the Games. I have tweetdeck open all day and am monitoring the hashtag #paralympics, so I get results from events immediately rather than needing to wait until the day’s highlights on CTV. I first heard of Brian McKeever’s gold in cross country skiing on Twitter. I also see photos from people’s experiences and links to blog posts and online news stories related to the Games. Paralympicsports.tv allows me to watch events that I wouldn’t see otherwise. Thanks to social media and online coverage I’m able to experience the Paralympic Games in a way I couldn’t relying solely on mainstream media coverage.

What’s the difference between social media during the Olympics vs the Paralympics?

The difference between social media during the Olympics and the Paralympics is there seems to be more focus on the athletes’ stories and the actual events, like what is ice sledge hockey and how does wheelchair curling differ from regular culling. There is definitely less coverage from the various pavilions , houses and other party-related events; no doubt because there are fewer. And, as I mentioned before, there’s an unified rallying voice for more coverage by traditional media. The social media has created a hunger, a market for the Paralympics.

Often in situations like this I would record a phone conversation and play it on air. From what I’ve read of your bio, I understand that we won’t be doing that, but I’d like to explain why. Would you mind telling be how you explain your ability to communicate, so I don’t make a mess of it?

Due my cerebral palsy, my speech is significantly impaired making verbal communication with those not well-versed in Glenda-ish futile. The written word is my most effective means of communication. Given enough preparation time I also use text-to-speech technology, although I use that mainly when giving presentations and speeches.

Despite my last response, I was not included in the story “Social Media and the Paralympics”. Yet, included were two local bloggers – Rebecca Bolwitt aka Miss604 and Andrea of 2010VanFan – and a professor from the School of Communications at Simon Fraser University (coincidentally I have a communications minor from SFU).

I can’t help but wonder if my responses were excluded because I am unable to do a phone interview, like the others did. My method of responding didn’t fit their format.

This raises a larger question: how much access or representation do people with disabilities, particularly those with significant physical disabilities, have in traditional media?

I mean, we’re talking about the world’s largest sporting event for people with disabilities and how traditional media provides minimal coverage, then traditional media cuts a well-known blogger with a disability from a story on how the social media is covering the Paralympics. WTF? What gives?

Social media is definitely more accessible to those of us with disabilities, enabling our otherwise marginalized voices to be heard for the first time in history.

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Breaking News: Interviewed by CBC Radio!

Filed under: Social Media, Vancouver Winter Games — by Glenda at 7:26 pm on Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Today I was interviewed via email by CBC Radio about “Social Media and the Paralympics”. Perhaps my post The Paralympics: Challenging Social Media to Respond Where Traditional Media Fails Athletes with Disabilities got their attention.

The interview, in some form, will air Thursday morning around 7:20 am (pacific time). You can catch it on 690 AM or 88.1 FM and online as a podcast.

Once the interview airs, I’ll post the questions with my responses here on my blog for those who couldn’t catch it and for my readers who are hearing impaired.

Woohoo!

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People with Disabilities Aren’t Quite ‘Out from Under’

Filed under: Advocacy, Living with a disability, Vancouver Winter Games — by Glenda at 5:10 pm on Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Out From Under exhibition sign Presented as part of the Cultural Olympiad, Kickstart Disability arts & culture is hosting the groundbreaking exhibition “Out From Under: Disability, History & Things” that pays tribute to “the resilience, creativity and cultural contributions of Canadians with disabilities”. The exhibition is on now until Sunday, March 21st at the University of British Columbia’s Robson Square campus.

Darrell and I took in this display while at Robson Square for the Paralympic Torch Relay. I found the display to be a sobering reminder of people with disabilities were treated or, more accurately, mistreated in the not so distant past.

I found the display case with three shovels to be most jarring. The written explanation read:

Every object has a history. And every history has some relationship to disability. One simply needs to dig for it a little.

Take the ordinary shovel.

Shovels have been used in conditions of forced institutional labour and to bury disabled people in unmarked graves.

Fancy shovels with commemorative plaques have been used at sod-turning ceremonies for rehabilitation facilities, as a way of recognizing charitable benefactors.

Shovels adapted for accessibility today enable disabled people living freely in

communities to do whatever garden or yard work they choose.

As disabled people find and claim their power, they take hold of the tools once used to push them under.

(From: The exhibition text)

The ordinary shovel was accompanied by a photo of the mass grave site at the Woodlands School in New Westminster. That could have been my fate had my parents listened to the medical professionals and had institutionalized me because I “wouldn’t amount to anything”. Chilling!

Ironically, after viewing this historical display of how people with disabilities have struggled to overcome oppression, I had to wait for an UBC employee to unlock the wheelchair washroom. The men’s and women’s washrooms were unlocked, but the wheelchair accessible washroom required a key. WTF? I couldn’t believe it! What happened to freedom and independence when I need to wait for someone to come to unlock the door so that I can pee?

However, this was nothing compared to what it took for one of the exhibition’s curator and disability rights activist Catherine Frazee to travel from Toronto to Vancouver to be at the show during the Paralympics. Unable to fly due to her disability, Catherine decided to spend four days and nights to travel by train; historically the railway united the country and she was looking forward to experiencing that part of Canadian history.

But Via Rail insisted Catherine and her customized wheelchair had to travel separately; not a possibility for her. Catherine and her assistant/life partner were forced to drive down to Chicago to board the Amtrak with an accessible sleeping car  to travel to Seattle and rent a van to get to Vancouver. 

Can you imagine denying Canada’s top disability rights activist the use of her wheelchair when traveling by train?

Perhaps a wheelchair accessible washroom key and a Via Rail ticket will be added to the “Out From Under” exhibition years from now.

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From Watching Gold to Touching Gold at the Paralympics

Filed under: Vancouver Winter Games — by Glenda at 3:05 pm on Monday, March 15, 2010

Thunderbird Arena ready for Paralympics Ice Sledge Hockey Early Saturday morning Darrell and I dragged ourselves from our warm bed and made our way out to the University of British Columbia’s Thunderbird Arena for the first Paralympics Ice Sledge Hockey game – Canada v Italy.

Ignoring my fever and potential bronchitis, I donned my official Olympics hockey jersey and headed out the door. Except for a vague memory of attending a Canucks practice session back when I was in preschool, this was my first ever hockey game; that is embarrassing to admit as a Canadian!

The game was amazing – a little slower than ice hockey, after all it takes longer to turn around and maneuver a sledge, although the guys definitely move and they aren’t afraid to slam another player into the boards! The linesmen had to do some high stepping to avoid an oncoming sledge; occasionally they weren’t quite quick enough!

The Canadian team dominated the ice, leaving the goalie Paul Rosen alone in the Canadian end for most of the game! Here are a few highlights from the third period:

How these guys balance sitting on the equivalent of one skate blade and their upper body strength is incredible! Surely shoulders weren’t designed to propel one’s self across the ice like that.

Darrell and I will return to Thunderbird Arena on Tuesday evening to watch Canada take on Norway and become one step closer to defending their gold medal title from the 2006 Paralympics in Turin!

From Thunderbird Arena we made our downtown to the Vancouver Public Library. After a quick lunch at the same cafe as our first quasi-date nearly fourteen years ago, we headed for the lineup for the Royal Canadian Mint to see the medals. Upon reaching the end of the lengthy line, a security guard informed us that the line was now closed and to come back tomorrow. We turned to head away.

An official-type woman came running after us and said she could get us to the front of the line. Initially we thought she meant when we returned tomorrow. But, no, she meant now; she led us to the front of the three-hour lineup! I felt guilty bypassing the hundreds of people standing there. I don’t use my disability to take advantage of a situation, but occasionally the universe has a way of balancing the score…and who am I to argue with the universe!

Darrell and I were given white gloves and proceeded into the secured area with the next group of perhaps; perhaps 15-20 of us. We read about the process used to make the amazing medals, each one unique, in the display cases while waiting to get close enough to see the actual medals.

Another official-type woman came over to us to tell us to wait behind after the other people left and then we could get our photo taken with the medals. Much to my surprise and delight, I had the opportunity to touch and have my photo taken with each of the six medals (3 from the Olympics and 3 from the Paralympics). A few of the photos aren’t quite in focus and I’m definitely not feeling my best, however the photos are my memories to cherish.

Glenda touching a 2010 Olympic gold medalTouching an Olympic gold medal…

Glenda touching a 2010 Olympic silver medal and silver…

Glenda touching a 2010 Olympic bronze medal and bronze…and to think each one is unique. The process used to create them is amazing!

Glenda touching a 2010 Paralympic gold medal The Paralympic medals are more rectangular in shape, with Braille on the back.

Glenda holding a 2010 Olympic gold medalThe Olympic gold was brought over to me for me to hold up close; an opportunity not afforded to everyone!

Glenda touching a 2010 Paralympic silver medalSpeaking with mechanical technologist Renato Romozzi, he preferred the shape of the Paralympic medals and definitely favoured the bronze for its colour.

Glenda touching a 2010 Paralympic bronze medalI would like to sincerely thank the Mint for making this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity extra memorable for my husband and myself. I appreciate the extra time you took with us so that we could experience these awesome medals up close. Thank you.

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