On The ADA Anniversary

I’ve often wondered if the ADA creates more problems than it solves for some, if not all, people with disabilities. It helps A LOT, but it also causes a lot of headaches.

I’ve come to realize however, that the ADA isn’t really for people with disabilities. It’s for the people who can’t even imagine what life is like to live with a disability.

Kind of like how birthday parties really aren’t for the people they’re thrown for but for the people that go to them.

Kinda.

Without knowing it I managed to grow up just as the ADA was finding its “sea legs,” which probably explains why so many aspects of my life have become, in a sense, easier even though my mobility had had an endless ebb and flow.

I once heard it said that, “those who don’t need the law are truly freed from the law,” or at least that’s the best my brain remembers it as.

The idea being (I think) that we wouldn’t need as many laws (or any) if everyone operated with the same level of moral decency.

As great of an idea as this is I doubt it will ever happen, ever. Sorry all of you who dream of world peace.

It would be nearly impossible for someone to be able to imagine what it’s like to live with a disability, unless they do in fact live with a disability themselves; besides the fact that imagining it and living it are two different things.

That’s why the ADA is so important.

It gives people a clue into what’s needed in order for people with disabilities. Although it should be pointed out that what’s deemed ADA compliant doesn’t mean it’s accessible for those who need it to be, but it’s better than nothing.

(So if you don’t know anything about the ADA feel free to read up)

As much as I (and countless others) benefit from the ADA there always seems to be something new to learn.

Such as how many loopholes there are.

Like the loopholes for already existing buildings and/or religious institutions.

As a Catholic who works in a building that’s been “grandfathered in” (multiple flights of stairs and no elevator) I curse such loopholes often.

It would be nice if there were less (or no) loopholes in the ADA but that’s only a short term dream. Someday I’d like it if the ADA was an afterthought, making it in a sense unnecessary because access for all is a natural thing.

It seems so wildly unrealistic, but I can hope right?

*A similar version of this post was written on July 22, 2014

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“She’s A Really Good Swimmer”

Two cousins gave me my first swim lessons, basically by letting me fend for myself & pulling me up for air occasionally. Summers were spent in the pool so that’s where I wanted to be. It didn’t matter how I got in there. I’ve never been the biggest fan of lifejackets so I learned to swim early and often.

“Did you hear that Michael Phelps has wicked ADHD & the only way he could focus was under water because he couldn’t hear anything.”

Whether that’s true or not for Michael Phelps I can tell you it is true for some. Go jump in a pool, stay fully submerged, and then look around. What can you hear? Not much. Swimming is as simple as it is complicated, swim to the “X” at the other end. It’s pretty close to perfect as far as focal points go, especially if you’re looking for ways to block people out.

I don’t talk about it often but I was bullied in school, most notably grades 5-8. I was the new girl in the world’s smallest class, I’m also different from your average person, and girls can be relentless. I could hear people whispering and I knew it was about me so I did what I always did. I pretended I couldn’t hear them.

”She’s a really good swimmer”

I had met two of my classmates the summer before school started in the pool of the club our parents belonged to. I had hoped we’d become friends once school started, no such luck, but they acknowledged I was good at something.

I was around 11 by the time swim lessons involved swimming full laps. My first lesson was pretty exhausting but by the end of the swimming “term” I was able to keep up with the class. It was breaking through a glass ceiling for me. I was finally able to swim full laps, the catch is, in my mind that meant being “old enough.”

As soon as I could swim full laps I had a friend teach me how to do a flip turn and practiced it endlessly. We’d turn on the flood lights & go swimming at midnight in my aunt’s pool when we couldn’t sleep. I wore one piece racing suits & swim caps. I was ecstatic when my aunt agreed to buy me my 1st pair of mirrored goggles. I was just as heartbroken when I lost them over the winter.

I hated the words “adult swim” because the adults were allowed to swim laps only, and that’s all I wanted it do. I watched the swim team from afar every year wishing I could wear the same blue racing suit.

I read Andi’s love/hate relationship with her daughter being on the swim team.

It stirred up some feeling, mixed ones at that.

One summer I asked my mom to ask “Coach” if I could try out for the swim team (I was too intimidated by him to do it on my own), maybe practice with them a few times if he thought I wasn’t ready. I knew I probably wasn’t as ready as he would’ve liked but I knew he could work with me.

He had said “No.”

He knew he wasn’t going to let me join the team no matter how well the tryout went so he didn’t see the point in my trying.

I was crushed. If he didn’t even want me to try out I guessed I wasn’t a swimmer at all.

“Coach is a jerk. You wouldn’t have had a good time on the swim team anyway.”

It took a wise all-knowing high school aged babysitter to help me get past it, because when you’re in middle school high schoolers know more than your parents. She had also known “Coach” longer than I had and had friends survive life on the swim team. She was also the one who helped me survive the girl-piranhas. Her opinions were more than valued in my house.

I get where Andi’s coming from.

It’s hard to watch someone come in last. I often watch World Championships & even Olympics where someone comes in not just last, but painfully so. I use to wonder why someone would allow such an embarrassment for their country. One day while watching a race it hit me, like a ton of bricks.

This is the biggest stage anyone can compete on, ever. No matter what happens they made it this far. That in itself is an honor & deserves to be respected. Sometimes “just showing up” does make a difference. And just like someone has to come in first someone has to come in last. It’s one of the not so fun aspects of life.

I understand Sarah Kate all too well.

She’s having fun with her friends, and probably making a few new ones. She’s not she-who-has-cerebral-palsy is having fun with her able-bodied friends. She’s having fun with her friends.

That’s enough. In fact, that’s plenty.

Coming from a girl who wasn’t even allowed a tryout

Just knowing Sarah Kate is allowed to compete makes my loss not feel like one any longer, it’s a sign of progress.

Although it would be nice to find that coach after all these years and show him what I’m made of.

*A similar version of this post was written on August 9, 2012

They Forgot Me On A Train

I do not enjoy train travel and my most recent experience didn’t help matters, which is probably a dead giveaway given the title of this post.

I travel to NYC once a year. People think because I’m so close I do it all the time. 1) It’s not that close and 2) the logistics involved are beyond ridiculous.

I know a lot of wheelchair users who prefer to travel by train, but I’m not one of them.

A few years ago, it was announced that all railcars would soon be fully accessible, meaning no need for bridge plates and worrying about finding a car with a wheelchair space.

Years later not all railcars in use are accessible, and even the accessible cars require the need for bridge plates, which means you need a conductor to get the bridge plate for you.

And therein lies the problem.

I knew I would probably need the bridge plate once getting to my arrival station so I parked myself next to it and informed the conductor. Once the train stopped at my arrival station (also the last stop of the night) I let everyone else disembark ahead of me and waited for the conductor, especially after I saw the size of the gap between the train and the platform I knew I shouldn’t even try to hop over it.

I’m waiting a long time so I see if the bridge plate was left unlocked. It’s happened before, but not this time.

My mother decided to stand in the doorway to prevent it from closing and hopefully flag down a conductor who might be passing by, no luck.

The starts closing and unlike elevator doors they don’t stop when met with resistance.

My mother is standing on the platform and I’m still on the train with no way to open the door.

I don’t see anyone who is still on the train or a phone number, instead I just see an emergency intercom.

My mother is trying to find someone without wondering too far from the train.

I press the button on the intercom & start screaming for help. It’s late, pitch dark, and I have no idea if or when they’ll turn the lights off on the train.

Nothing.

I press the button again & scream.

Nothing.

Again.

Nothing.

At this point I’m panicked and just want the door to open.

I try the intercom again.

Still nothing.

Finally, a conductor walks through the car, doing the final walkthrough, my screams weren’t heard.

He tells me that he told the other conductor, the one my mother saw walk off the train but she couldn’t get his attention, that I would need assistance. He asks if I still need the bridge plate.

(I want to scream again, but this time for an additional reason)

He opens the door, puts the bridge plate over the gap, and wishes me a good night.

My panic has been replaced by fury but because it’s so late at night all offices are closed and I’m forced to just go home.

I go over the whole thing in my head and then again, on the ride home.

There was nothing I could’ve done differently, and that’s what I still find to be the most frustrating.

The world isn’t always a friendly place for people like me.

That’s just not acceptable.

Not to mention worse than being forgotten on a plane.

3,000 Words

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, so this post will be 3,000+ words.

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Why do these pictures illustrate my health focus? Because there are still numerous unnecessary obstacles for persons with disabilities but there are countless people trying to change that, including myself.

I’m participating in WEGO Health’s Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge. If you want to find out more about Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge visit their blog, Facebook, Twitter. You can find more posts by searching #HAWMC.

On Marathons & Misconceptions

There used to be a meme floating around F@cebook about F@cebook in college vs F@cebook in your 20s & 30s, basically in college your timeline is full of party pictures and other events whereas in your 20s & 30s your feed is filled with baby pictures and marathon times.

Well the joke’s on social media because the 20s & 30s timeline started in my college days, at least the marathon times part.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been friends with people who have considered themselves runners, probably just as long as I’ve had swimmer friends. In fact, I had friends who would just run laps around the playground at recess. I’d sit there and watch, wondering what the appeal was, because even if I could run there’s no way you’d see me doing it, especially for fun.

I’ve even had housemates who have never run a marathon before run in one because we lived in a town that hosted a marathon every year, while I stayed home and watched Walk The Line, again. Yup, I’m that person that can’t even be bothered to get up early to wish people luck, although I’m pretty sure I told at least one of them “just don’t die,” at some point before the day of the race.

During the 1st group retreat I made in the Northwest while people were asking each other how they liked their new homes. At this point most of the runners in the group were aware of the fact that my house was in a marathon city. There was a small window during that weekend where I thought we’d have countless people in our house, people we barely knew. Although I don’t think it would’ve bothered me as much by the time of the marathon came around, a small part of me is thankful that it never came to fruition.

I remember one person in particular asking me if I had heard about the marathon and if I was considering running it. Now I realize that at this point she had only just met me but I thought it was pretty clear that I was having some trouble getting around the wide open spaces of Eastern, flatter than flat, Montana. But then she asked if I ever thought of getting “one of those wheelchairs you can run with,” before I could laugh.

I explained that it was hard enough to get anything covered by insurance and something like a racing chair is horribly expensive, especially if it’s made well and for the user (which it should be whenever possible), and not covered by insurance because it’s considered recreational. Still she encouraged me to consider it “because people with disabilities run all the time.”

Lest we forget I find staring at a black line at the bottom of the pool a lot less boring than running just because. I’m aware it makes no sense to a majority of people but I’m not one of those people. I admit that running a marathon is mentally and physically challenging (like swimming) it’s just not a challenge I’d find fulfilling (I don’t think).

That being said if the so-called “runner’s high” is even a fraction of the rush you get after a sprint set with a new personal best time then I maybe, sort of, kind of, understand why people run.

I think the able-bodied community has misconceptions about persons with disabilities and sports. In my case it seems to be that people think I’m all into every sport I can get into or I participate in sports as a form of therapy (and I’m sure there are others out there I just haven’t heard them). The truth is, neither one is the case, for reasons to lengthy to get into here and now.

Honestly I had a negative point of view of adaptive sports for many years, partly because they seemed too separate from “real sports” for me. Also I was usually one of the least disabled kids participating so I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just play with the normal kids, because I saw myself as more able-bodied than disabled.

Once I understood the true nature of adaptive sports I kept my ear to the ground but wasn’t very optimistic because adaptive sports costs money, just like able-bodied sports. And at that point, as well as this point, I don’t have much money for stuff I might quit anyway.

People with disabilities are more like those without disabilities than people think. I think I’ve said this before, and more than once. We’re just as apt to like sports or not like sports as everyone else.

However, I will say that whether or not someone has spent most of their life in physical therapy in exchange of, or in addition to normal childhood sports related activities can have an effect on whether or not they’ll participate in recreational sports later on.

Let’s not forget that things like having surgery and the recovery process can be marathons within themselves.

I realize that I probably just contradicted myself but my last 3 points in particular were ones that I feel needed to be made, even if it does make my point less clear, because my points, like life, aren’t always clear but still important.

Running is great, but it isn’t for everybody, regardless of ability. If the only grounds for participating in an activity was the slightest chance of basic ability, then almost anyone or rather almost everyone would participate in Ironman Kona, climb Kilimanjaro, be a multi gold medal winning Olympian, and God only knows what else.

Not everyone is meant to be good or interested in everything but if you know someone (or are someone) with a genuine interest in an activity, especially physical, be as supportive as possible (or try to seek out as much support as possible). Desire is one thing. Talent is another. Access is yet another, which is often overlooked and/or taken for granted.

Why I: Don’t Suggest Giving Up Social Media For Lent

There are certain things I can count on as Lent approaches. Without a doubt, “What are you giving up for Lent?” is the most popular question to ask and/or be asked.

Now that social media has become such an important part of our lives it’s natural to consider whether or not to give it up for 40 days. I have several friends who engage in this practice, problem is most of them don’t use social media that much anyway. So is it really that sacrificial or are they really getting any benefit from it?

A point worth considering, but not the one I wanted to make right now.

As I write this there’s a snowstorm outside (I’m a write ahead & schedule blogging type). In fact at one point it was snowing so hard that it was snowing sideways. Thus my plans for the day have been canceled and I’m attempting to stay occupied indoors. In a way it’s going to make the point of this post much more poignant, at least I hope so.

The internet, and social media, has opened up everyone’s world. What I don’t think a lot of people realize is just how much it’s opened up the world for those with disabilities.

I wouldn’t be friends with many people if it weren’t for the internet, or at least I wouldn’t be as good of friends with people if things didn’t start on the internet. Let’s just say as an introvert with a disability it’s nice to get the “getting to know you” stuff out of the way when you only get to see people in person a few times in your entire life.

I can’t forget to mention Sara. If there’s anyone who taught me that just because you have physical limits doesn’t mean you can’t create solid friendships and an intentional community. Our friendship may have been short but it left me forever changed.

I don’t suggest giving up social media for Lent for one quasi-simple reason:

You may be part of someone’s community, and it may be the only community they have access to (especially in the winter months).

Giving up your social media routine for 40 days may seem like a good idea and in some ways it can be beneficial but if you do consider who you’ll be leaving behind for 40 days.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

How much can happen in 40 days?

Also consider your group of friends, do they also give something(s) up for Lent?

Do you all give up the same thing for Lent? If so, do you still have that same sense of community because you have other ways of keeping in contact or are you able to see each other in person?

Do you have one friend (or maybe more) that seems uncomfortable with your plan for a 40 day social media fast?

Have you ever stopped and really considered why someone is resistant to give up social media (especially if you “only” know them virtually)?

Lenten sacrifices are meant to make you a better person, but not at the expense of other people. If your sacrifice is harmful to someone else than are you really working towards a greater communion with the Body of Christ?

Alternatives to consider:

Cut back on your social media practices. Check in once a day or once a week.

Post the same thing on all of your social media accounts (idea borrowed from Pat Padley FYI).

Keep community connected through email or text, or an old fashioned phone call.

Make your intentions known early on, as in before today, so if any of your friends have reservations or objections you can engage in thoughtful conversation.

Have a way to contact you on your social media profiles and make it easy to find. Have you ever received an “out of office reply” with a contact email or number included? Like that.

I’m not saying that you absolutely shouldn’t give up social media for Lent.

I’m not God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit so I can’t say such things with absolute conviction. But I wish people wouldn’t make the decision as easily as they seem to. Virtual community isn’t the same as in person community but it’s still a community that needs nurturing, attention, and people to take part in it.

About That White Cap

A few months ago my swim cap ripped, so I had to get another one. What’s the big deal right?

(Other than the obvious) The store only had 1, and it was the one color I swore I’d never wear on my head ever again. I seriously considered not getting it but given that it was at the end of swim season & it was half the price that I was used to paying I pulled it off the rack and paid for it.

“It’ll turn brown in a few weeks anyway, just enough time to find another one.”

You see I have an emotional history with swim caps. They were used at a summer camp I went to as a kid to indicate a level of skill, as well as what you could and couldn’t do during coveted free swim periods.

I was a “white cap swimmer” for all but one summer, 1 summer I was the color below the white caps.

A white cap represents being stuck, not being able to make any progress.

A white cap is failure in the form of latex (or whatever they’re made out of these days).

The only saving grace to the whole thing is that any white cap I’ve ever had has turned brown in a matter of weeks so I wouldn’t be wearing failure on my head for very long, or so I thought.

A few weeks later a happened to meet people from Adaptive Sports New England and talked swimming, basically did they have any tips for gaining better access to my current pool or any others.

It turns out I’m not the only one who has had trouble finding a lane to swim in, and safely. I’m still not sure if I feel comforted by this, knowing I’m not alone, or bothered, because it means more people than just the lifeguards aren’t doing their job.

I also mentioned that I’ve turned to Y0uTube for tips on better technique. Which I realized was a ridiculous statement; I didn’t realize just how ridiculous it was until the words came out of my mouth (and I’m pretty sure at least one person wanted to laugh in my face).

They suggested I get in contact with the head of an adaptive sports program that could put me in touch with a swim coach. Now I’ve had similar things like this happen to me before and none of them have ever worked out, so although I was excited I was pessimistic.

I went home and send an email, just to be able to say I gave it a shot.

I talked to the head of the sports program then traded emails with the swim coach, again waiting for something to fall though.

Suddenly I had committed to attending the first practice of the year. I say “suddenly” but really I’d been waiting for an opportunity like this for decades. And I was indeed still waiting for something to make this not happen, because after decades why would this happen now?

And there was one big mental barrier I had to deal with; I still had that white cap, because it hadn’t turned brown.

I practically ran to the store hoping to find another cap, any cap that wasn’t white. I couldn’t bring myself to go to a swim practice, even one that was billed as “nice and easy,” wearing a white cap. If this was going to turn into anything at all it was going to be all about progress, not allowing myself to be held back by unpleasant memories.

And lest we forget that if I got in the water and failed while wearing a white cap I would’ve blamed the cap, regardless of my abilities.

I needed to get the white cap off my head, for good, and bought 2 new caps, just in case.

But as the day approached I rethought my “anti-white cap” stance; actually I rethought it about 375 times. In fact I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to wear until I put it on my head.

I climbed into a pool of real swimmers wearing a white cap and waited to be judged on my lack of ability, just as I had during those summers all those years before.

I faced my worst nightmare.

I’ve been attending team practices since the fall and I love it.

It isn’t what I expected. It hasn’t been easy. But what I’ve been able to accomplish in just a few weeks is pretty amazing, not perfect, but amazing none the less.

It turns out I’ve had more fears to face besides not being a total failure while wearing a cap of a certain color.

It’s all been done wearing the dreaded white cap, which has slowly turned a suspicious shade of orange.

I have no idea where any of this is going to lead because I don’t have any feasible long term goals at this point. Frankly I think I’m still waiting for someone to tell me to get out of the pool because I’m not supposed to be there.

Why I Remain Catholic

Maria Johnson suggested that those who attended her mastermind group at CNMC15, which I did, (in spite of the fact that I really wanted to run far away and hide until lunchtime) take on the challenge of answering, “Why do you remain Catholic?” which was asked by Elizabeth Scalia.

Why do I remain Catholic?

It’s one of those questions I’m always asking myself because there are plenty of reasons why I could (and probably should) walk away and never look back.

In fact I have walked away from the Church for at least a decade; actually looking back I wonder if I was ever “with” the Church until my 20s.

I’m a cradle Catholic but not a good one. I can’t even remember if I went to mass every Sunday growing up. I want to say yes, but I’m honestly not sure.

Regardless I went through the motions because I didn’t really understand any of it. There are a lot of people I could blame for that but I’m not going to, because what’s the point in doing that now.

In 5th grade I switched schools, to a Catholic school, and it all went downhill from there (to put in very nicely). It didn’t take me very long to figure out that if this was how Catholics acted I wanted no part of it.

In fact I went the extra mile and decided there was no God; because if God was in any way like anyone in my school I wanted none of that either.

Catholic schooling made me an atheist. I’m sure I’m not the only member of this group; however I may be one of the few that wondered back into the fold.

However I’m still not a fan of Catholic schooling, until the college and grad/post grad level. But that’s another post for another day.

So, why am I Catholic after being so severely scarred by Catholics (and the Catholic Church)?

The short answer is because I came to the realization that you can’t point out something that the Church can and should be doing better and just leave.

The first time I tried to change the Church I was in college (undergrad) and I decided I would focus all of my independent research on incorporating more art into catechesis. Because people just couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea that a Drama major would have even the slightest interest in theology and the Church.

It would’ve been easy to drop my research, maybe change my major and/or minor, and walk away from the Church (again).

In fact I was told to change my research, my major, and minor by several people (some of whom I respected highly and considered to be mentors) which could’ve caused me to walk away from the Church.

But I didn’t. In hindsight, I still can’t tell you if I was being stubborn or stupid or both.

I took a break from pursuing changing Catechesis as we know it, since 7 years of being a hardcore drama geek was slightly draining, and my (next, or real?) vocation fell into my lap.

After my latest surgery I had to pay attention to things I’d always struggled with but made due. The difference post-op was there was no “making do,” unless that meant never leaving the house, and even staying in home 24/7 required help.

Stairs and no ramp? Need to get someone to lift and carry me up the stairs, for example (and it really takes two people).

Where are the handicapped parking spaces? Are they clear of snow/debris/other cars?

The list goes on and on.

At some point a friend asked me if I was going to mass on Sunday. I told her “no” because parking was a pain and there was no place for me to be without being in everyone’s way during mass, of the subject of their pity stares and comments.

We talked about other options.

Going to another parish? It’s highly likely that I’d have the same issues just in a different location.

The Anointing of the Sick? A nice thought, but disability isn’t an illness that I need to get over. Yes, in this instance I was recovering but that wasn’t keeping me from attending mass, lack of basic access and a feeling of acceptance was. I wasn’t going to take up a ministers time just because I there wasn’t somewhere for me to sit safely during mass.

Eventually I went to the internet for answers (like most people do these days). I discovered that religious institutions, like the Catholic Church, are exempt from complying with the ADA.

However there were religious institutions that have complied with the ADA.

So why wasn’t/isn’t the Catholic Church one of them?

“Catholics are bad at tithing.”

“We don’t have the money.”

“We don’t have to comply with the ADA”

“We don’t have any disabled people who come to our church.”

“Complying with the ADA would destroy our building.”

“Catholics have the Anointing of the Sick for those who can’t attend mass.”

“We’re accessible; we just have a few stairs.”

“We have awareness services once a month.”

The list could go on and on.

Although these reasons appear to be completely valid reasons, and a true reality for a number of parishes, there are really just copouts to so many people with disabilities.

Attitudes need to change. The Catholic Church (as well as other faiths) needs to be more inclusive to the largest minority on the planet, because in the end everyone will suffer for it.

Why do I remain Catholic? Because nothing is perfect and no one is perfect and walking away because that’s the honest truth is just asinine, in my humble opinion. If you want change so badly then it’s a good idea to be part of that making that change, if not, sit down and shut up because you’re just complaining to hear yourself talk.

On The ADA Anniversary

This week (this upcoming Sunday) is the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

I’ve often wondered if the ADA creates more problems than it solves for some, if not all, people with disabilities. It helps A LOT, but it also causes a lot of headaches.

I’ve come to realize however, that the ADA isn’t really for people with disabilities. It’s for the people who can’t even imagine what life is like to live with a disability.

Kind of like how birthday parties really aren’t for the people they’re throne for but for the people that go to them.

Kinda.

Without knowing it I managed to grow up just as the ADA was finding its “sea legs,” which probably explains why so many aspects of my life have become, in a sense, easier even though my mobility had had an endless ebb and flow.

I once heard it said that, “those who don’t need the law are truly freed from the law,” or at least that’s the best my brain remembers it as.

The idea being (I think) that we wouldn’t need as many laws (or any) if everyone operated with the same level of moral decency.

As great of an idea as this is I doubt it will ever happen, ever. Sorry all of you who dream of world peace.

It would be nearly impossible for someone to be able to imagine what it’s like to live with a disability, unless they do in fact live with a disability themselves; besides the fact that imagining it and living it are two different things.

That’s why the ADA is so important.

It gives people a clue into what’s needed in order for people with disabilities. Although it should be pointed out that what’s deemed ADA compliant doesn’t mean it’s accessible for those who need it to be, but it’s better than nothing.

(So if you don’t know anything about the ADA feel free to read up)

As much as I (and countless others) benefit from the ADA there always seems to be something new to learn.

Such as how many loopholes there are.

Like the loopholes for already existing buildings and/or religious institutions.

As a Catholic who works in a building that’s been “grandfathered in” (multiple flights of stairs and no elevator) I curse such loopholes often.

It would be nice if there were less (or no) loopholes in the ADA but that’s only a short term dream. Someday I’d like it if the ADA was an afterthought, making it in a sense unnecessary because access for all is a natural thing.

It seems so wildly unrealistic, but I can hope right?

*A similar version of this post was written on July 22, 2014

I Went To Mass

For the fall semester I had an assignment I really wasn’t looking forward to. In fact I thought about trying to find a way out of it (by playing the D-Card since the vast majority of churches aren’t accessible), but I reconsidered (mainly because everyone knows my intentions in working towards a Master’s Degree and trying to bow out of the assignment would go against that).

The assignment was to attend a church within the Catholic tradition but not of my native culture; basically go to a mass that isn’t celebrated in English (or Latin, since that’s the 2nd language of some Catholics).

Once we chose a church we were to independently research cultural customs in relation to Catholicism to prepare for the visit. Originally I had intended on using friends for research and as “mass buddies,” because I’m not too crazy about walking into new and potentially uncomfortable situations solo.

Instead I found a church that looked like it would be more interesting, and potentially set myself apart from my classmates. But there would be no safety net. In fact when it came to “voice our concerns about our visit” I came right out and said (well typed) that I wasn’t concerned about the language barrier as much as I was the physical barriers.

I did as much research on the physical barriers as much as I could, which was probably more effort than I put into the cultural research. I could’ve called the parish office and asked but decided against it, for one thing being told, “we’re accessible, we just have stairs” is one of the more annoying oxymoron’s ever told, for another, if I’m going to be realistic about my research I need to know what’s out there, even if it’s ugly.

I was lucky enough to find one of the very few churches that has daily mass twice a day (1 English mass, 1 not) so I decided to go to daily mass rather than a Sunday mass, figuring daily mass would have a smaller crowd. I figured a smaller crowd would already be inside when I arrived so I could take my time with the stairs, if there ended up being any.

I arrived at the church prepared to climb a substantial amount of stairs, and there were a few, but there was also a ramp (And the heavens parted). It wasn’t a ramp that required much of a remodel to the building since it went over the existing stairs but it was clear that this ramp was meant to stay since it’s big, sturdy, and at a good angle for anyone that may have to propel themselves up it.

Although the ramp wasn’t at the main entrance it was close enough to the main entrance that I didn’t feel that instant pang of separation as you would seeing a sign saying “handicap access at back of building.” The door looked like a typical stained glass door that you would find at many other churches, except there was a hand plate for an automatic door to the side. I thought, “How much do you want to bet this doesn’t work because it might cause damage to the glass” (which I can understand but then the door should be made of another material). I hit the button anyway, and the door opened, and a choir of angels sang (not really, but they should have).

Although there were no “pew cuts” for wheelchair users or obvious places to safely put mobility aids the aisles were big enough that parking a wheelchair at the end of a pew wouldn’t cause an obstruction to others. Nor were there any rows that were marked as “reserved for the handicapped,” a personal dislike of mine.

It was obvious that this parish community wanted as many people as possible to feel welcomed. How many churches do you know of these days that offer 2 masses daily (in 2 languages), 5 masses on Sunday in 3 three different languages, AND is accessible? (The bulletin is bilingual as well.)

I may not have understood the language and fumbled my way through mass, because I’m still adapting to the “new” responses (it’s only been like 3 years), I still felt welcomed. A feat every church should strive for but few actually attain.

After mass I sat down to write out my assignment, reflect on the cultural differences one can find in the Catholic Church, and I did. However I spent twice as long on the assignment because I kept diverting to other aspects that caught my attention, like the ramp & the automatic door, and how in the end the language barriers didn’t bother me at all because I was in a building that was built at the turn of the century, looked it, and was still nearly barrier-less.

In hindsight I probably should’ve made the case for the fact that the disability community is its own culture within itself.

I went to a church that wasn’t mine & felt truly welcome. I may even go back for an English mass, especially if you consider that I don’t even feel very welcomed and accepted at my local parish.

*A similar version of this post was written on December 17, 2014