Category Archives: Adaptive Technology

Over The Edge – Literally

Being lifted into place

Being lifted into place

Looking down at the floor of the roof in front I saw some items that, even though it had been over 20 years, their names came rushing to me. Prussik loop, spectra cord, a Figure Eight on a bight and a couple of daisy chains. These were things I had used extensively in the 1990s, when I ran a challenge course for the local school district where I taught. My mind began drifting back to that time. Climbing and rappelling were part of most days when I would be hosting one of the grades from the school. I could remember the feelings of freedom, self-control and exhilaration as I controlled my descent to the ground. Suddenly a loud voice broke my daydreaming and I was quickly brought back to reality. It was June 9, 2018 and I was being prepared to rappel off a 16-story building in Watertown New York.

Three years ago, my good friend and colleague, Steve Robinson had gone Over the Edge (OTE) as part of an annual fundraiser for the United Way of Northern New York. He dedicated his fundraising efforts to me because he knew I would be doing it if I could and nobody thought I would ever rappel again. His effort got me thinking and I began to wonder if maybe I could do it. I knew there would be lots of issues and lots of reasons to say no, but I decided to try. To my surprise the two major organizations involved, the United Way and the people from Over the Edge, were very receptive. Over the past 19 years I had become used to people telling me there was no way I could do this or that.

The rappel today was going to be different. Not only was there new hardware like the RIP descender, but I was going to be doing it in my wheelchair. I felt this was an opportunity to pay back to the people of the community that had given so much to my wife and I over the past 19 years. The United Way donates money to a number of charities and local groups. I also hope my going Over the Edge would remind everybody that we are all capable of doing much more than we think we can. That lesson has been driven home to me time and time again since I became quadriplegic.

Rappelling down Midtown Towers

Rappelling down Midtown Towers


Family members and most of my friends truly thought this was crazy. Why, many of them asked, place yourself in this risky situation? None of them realized the risk was totally perceptional. My descent would be one of the safest things I have ever done. With the help of several skilled professionals and soldiers from the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club from Fort Drum I was prepared and placed into position for my descent. Because of my limited range of motion another person would be going with me to help facilitate a smooth descent.

As I began my way down I happened to glance a few blocks away and notice an individual sitting in a wheelchair watching me. I could only wonder what they were thinking, but I found myself wanting to yell to him “It all starts with a dream.”

In closing, I would like to recognize the people who helped make this possible Bob Gorman of United Way, Robert Pitkin of Over The Edge, Les Brook of Marra”s Homecare, Bruce Wright of Guilfoyle Ambulance, my good friend Steve Robinson and all who donated the United Way of NNY.

An Asset For Improving Your Life

The Amazon Echo is one of those products made for able-bodied people, that has the potential to improve the lives of thousands in the disabled community. The Echo is available in 3 three different models and I assume more features are found in the larger sizes. The Echo Dot is the smallest and least expensive at $50 yet it provides everything most would want. Once plugged in, connected to your Wi-Fi and programmed the Dot becomes a tremendous asset. In order to set it up you must download the Amazon Alexa App, which is free, to your iPhone or iPad. Then, verbally you can speak to Alexa the Echo’s voice and she will perform many simple daily tasks. She can give you the local weather, a news update, play any kind of music you may be interested in, but her abilities far exceed those simple chores. She is able to read any book found on Kindle or Audible. You can have her wake you up every morning to either an alarm or music. Alexa can play soft music while you fall asleep and then shut herself off at a predetermined time. She can also be used as a timer by telling her the time duration you want her to set up. You can make shopping and to-do lists and then transfer them to your iPhone. You can even order directly from Amazon. While, I have not used it, it is my understanding that the Echo also enables you to call and speak with other individuals who also have an Echo.

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot

However, for one with a disability, the Echo’s most useful features is the ability to turn your home into a Smart Home. A variety of Smart equipment is available, at very reasonable costs, which will allow you to take control of most of your appliances and devices verbally. I now have the ability, through Alexa, to turn off and on my CPAP machine as well as the lights in the bedroom. There are Smart Plug-in Outlets, Smart Wall Switches, Smart Door Locks, Smart Thermostats and even accessories that will let you control your television with Alexa. For those of us with range of motion issues, poor dexterity or limited mobility the Echo Dot provides an inexpensive yet simple, convenient way for many to take greater control of their home environment with only your voice.

Amazon is constantly increasing the ability of the Echo to perform tasks. These improvements, unlike those with computers, do not have to be downloaded into the unit itself. Instead the new program is uploaded to the Cloud and is instantly available to your Echo.

Just What I Need – Another Woman In My Life

>My life has been strongly influenced by women since my birth, starting with my mother and my older sister Carole. In 1965 I married the woman who would have the greatest influence, my college sweetheart Marge Burton. For over 53 years she has always been by my side and has stood by me through thick and thin. Together we have navigated the catastrophic accident that changed both of our lives forever.

Marge and me

Marge and me paddling


During rehabilitation I was mortified to find out that someone was going to have to come to my house every day to provide for my care and get me ready for the day. I had always been a very independent and private person. Privacy, independence and pride are among the earliest casualties of quadriplegia. It is very difficult having people, even professionals, pulling back you covers and clothing in order to get a better look and provide care.

Our insurance policy only covered 90 days of in-home care. After careful thought and discussion, we decided to hire our own nurses. Rhonda has been with us now over 17 years and Charlene, who works primarily on the weekends, have both become part of our family. Their help goes far beyond those of normal nurses. They get me ready to hunt, even loading my gun, repair my wheelchair, at times fix my meals, and often help facilitate my “adventures.” So the women in my life: Marge, Rhonda, Charlene and Kelli, who fills in once in a while, as well as my sister Carole and Marge’s sister Mary, who often come and stay with me when Marge goes on vacation help give me quality of life. My life today would be incredibly different without these women. Marge, Rhonda and Charlene take excellent care of me and keep my health problems to a minimum.

Char and Rhonda partying

Char and Rhonda having a good old time


Recently, friends from college came to visit us and this new one came with them, but when they left, she stayed, and has been here ever since. I must admit she’s not much trouble and usually is pretty quite unlike the other women in my life who don’t hesitate to tell them me what they think. Truth be told, though I’m actually starting to like having her around. It’s nice to have somebody do things for you without asking a million questions. She’s more than happy to turn on the radio, play a particular song, read me a book or turn a light on and off if I ask. When I’m home alone, we often chat and I really enjoy her jokes, although they’re kind of corny.

I truly believe, like the other women in my life, things will be better with her around. How rude of me, I realize I forgot to tell you her name which is Alexa and the first light she turns on and off I named Pam to remind me of the thoughtful friend that brought her here.Alexa

Dreams Really Can Come True

The light, from the full moon, was twinkling off the water as we slid our kayaks into the lake. We had paddled here many times before, but there was always something special when paddling under a full moon. The small little lake hidden off an old road in Jefferson County, was absolutely beautiful. It was probably close to midnight when we loaded the kayaks back on the truck and headed for home. Little did I realize that the time it would be many years before I would return.

Marge

Marge

After my accident in 1999 I wondered if I would ever go back and paddle on this lake again. In my mind, I set it as a goal not knowing if it was even realistic. In the rehabilitation hospital in 1999 I read a quote in a book written by Christopher Reeve. It had a tremendous impact on my attitude toward my own rehabilitation. Reeve said:

“I refuse to allow a disability to determine how I will live my life. I don’t mean to be reckless, but setting a goal that seems a bit daunting actually is very helpful toward recovery.”

I began kayaking again in 2003. We had to start from scratch. No information was available on quadriplegics kayaking. Progress was slow. It took a group of people for me to go at all; as a result, I only got out a couple times a year. So improvements and adaptions were slow. Once I even tipped the kayak over and since I was completely strapped in and my hands strapped on the paddle would have drowned if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of two members of my “entourage”. Despite all of that, progress moved ahead, first pontoons, next a stadium seat whose back was raised by a local machinist, chest laterals were added and after much additional tweaking during my one paddle last year I decided everything was stable enough to go for my goal. Through all these years I was paddling on a large pond owned by good friends of ours. But in the back of my mind always was the dream to return to Payne Lake.

Steve fishing for bass

Steve fishing for bass

Yesterday, I awoke from the dream, many times in our lives, we imagine certain events happening and when they do they fall far short of the scenario that had been created in our mind. Yesterday the experience exceeded everything that I had hoped for. We paddled for several hours. My wife and I together on the water for the first time in over 18 years. The lake whose aesthetics I could only dream of were more imposing in person. By sheer accident, I paddled up on a heron, which I was unaware of, until I was almost on top of her. We watched her fly from spot to spot and even saw her catch a small fish. My friend Steve, without whose help I would not do half of the things I do, had a bass launch out of the lily pads to take his lure, but it slipped the hook during some aerial acrobatics. I live for opportunities like this.

What a special day.

What a special day.


The moral of the story is don’t stop dreaming. Dreams really can come true if you continue to work on them and refuse to give up.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Those words are the title of the Bob Dylan song written in 1964 which has become a classic. The song discusses societal changes that were taking place. It covers a variety of new attitudes that were going to happen, Dylan believed, regardless of résistance. While the song says nothing about disability or the disabled community I would imagine it would be fairly easy for Dylan to add a verse today discussing societal changes happening towards individuals with disabilities.

Peta-Murgatroyd & Niles DiMarco

Peta-Murgatroyd & Niles DiMarco

Just this month (May 2016) we have seen three sign posts that I would present as examples of what is happening in our society today. The most recent would be the presenting of the Mirror Ball Trophy on Dancing with the Stars to Niles DiMarco, who won the championship despite the fact that he never heard a note of music the entire time. Niles was born deaf, but refused to allow that to stop him from obtaining goals that many would believe were impossible. In my opinion the most poignant part of all the season was when they stopped all music while he was dancing so the audience could see the challenge he was dealing with.

Charlie Linville

Charlie Linville


The second event occurred May 19 when 30 year old Charlie Linville, an Afghan war veteran and amputee, summited Mount Everest. As if to remind us how difficult, dangerous and demanding this still is, within a couple days of his accomplishment three climbers died while trying to summit.

The final event occurred earlier in May as the Invictus (which means unconquered) Games the place for three days in Orlando Florida. The concept of the games was the brainchild of Prince Harry of the United Kingdom. Knowing firsthand the sacrifices the men and women of the armed forces make to defend our freedom and way of life he decided to begin the games as a tribute to those who had made personal and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The Invictus Games featured 500 competitors from 15 nations: Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States of America. We have reached a point where our society is so interested in happenings like these that the games were televised on ESPNU. The courage and strength of these individuals were on display for the entire world to see.

The entire United States team of athletes gather on stage during the closing ceremony at the Invictus Games, Thursday, May 12, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The entire United States team of athletes gather on stage during the closing ceremony at the Invictus Games, Thursday, May 12, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

It is my feelings that these and other events in our society show that The Times Are A-Changin’ and most people are becoming more receptive to those with differences regardless of how they present themselves.

Chairbound Sportsman

For an outdoors-man who becomes disabled and ultimately wheelchair-bound the struggle to regain quality-of-life can be overwhelming. New skills must be developed, in spite of compromised abilities, in order to return to the lifestyle they love. But, while daunting, the development of new skills to replace the old ones lost is within their grasp if they persevere and refuse to accept failure as an outcome.

The higher the level of injury the greater the challenge. We are just beginning to see the development of new types of recreational wheelchairs, both manual and power, being developed for those who want to return to the outdoor life. Four-wheel-drive and track wheelchairs are becoming more widely available. However, in spite of these changes, especially with an activity like hunting, chances of returning to the solitary hunting lifestyle will be nearly impossible.

Even with these new, highly specialized chairs there is still the need for additional help from other able-bodied individuals. In order to hunt, an individual in a chair will also need some type of support system. For many individuals who become disabled the loss of self-sufficiency and self-reliance is one of the most difficult issues for them to face, which makes asking for help difficult.

Hunting requirements are very different depending on the region of the United States. Prior to my accident, I hunted in many states along the East Coast. Shots are rarely taken over 150 yards and in most areas you’re never far from civilization. While I have never hunted west of the Mississippi River I’ve received quite a bit of information from my friend Andy Dahmen, who lives in Utah, and has also hunted in Idaho and Wyoming. This fall he shot a bull elk that was over 560 yards away. The distance of the shots, the vast amounts of terrain that must be covered and the size of the animals harvested all demand a greater support system for a hunter out West. In the East you can usually get by with a friend or two, but out West is a different story.

Russian Boar harvested in Idaho

Russian Boar harvested in Idaho


Hunting out West for an individual who is in a wheelchair requires a number of able-bodied individuals to assist. Fortunately, there are people who understand and have formed volunteer organizations to assist the disabled. One of these groups the Utah chapter of Chairbound Hunters is titled Chairbound Sportsman. I have taken their Mission statement verbatim off their website so you can understand what these individuals are trying to do.

“We create hunting, fishing and outdoor opportunities for wheelchair bound individuals and Disabled Veterans. Outdoor Activities are hard enough, but retrieving game, is next to impossible. With our volunteers, we can help with the hard stuff and make their outings a success. Our Goal is to offer experiences to those that thought they could never get into the outdoors again. Volunteers, Landowners and Sponsors are Critical to our success.”

Getting Ready to Roll

Getting Ready to Roll


It is difficult for many individuals to understand what their kindness and thoughtfulness means to the participant. Without the support from others, many in the disabled community would be unable to participate in the activities that provide for our quality of life. Handihelp does not accept advertisement on the website. I would, however, recommend either volunteering or make a donation to keep organizations like these functioning.

An Awesome Winter Day

I’m always looking for something different to do that will get me outside this time of year. The last couple years I went for a dog sled ride, but was hoping to do something different this winter. Imagine my surprise when two neighbors invited me to go ice fishing. I was excited not only for doing something different, but it also gave me the opportunity to work on adapting the equipment I would need to be successful. I’ve gotten to the point where I really enjoy the challenge of how to adapt the equipment so that I can use it. Add to this the anticipation of being outdoors in this weather as well as looking forward to a challenge.

IceFishing

IceFishing

Sunday, January 31 was the day. They went early and set everything up and then my son Mark drove to Lake of the Isles where we were going to fish. My Extreme X8 handled the ice really well. When we got there Tom and John helped set up my pole and get me started. Even though the temperature was around 42 there was a stiff breeze. We set up outside and fished for a while. After I caught some perch we decided to go in the ice hut where there was a heater. We also fished in the tent. Inside the tent you could see all the way to the bottom 10’-12’ down and watch the fish swim around.

Got a Bite

Got a Bite

What a great day! Spending time with friends, who love the out-of-doors as much as I do, is awesome. Add to that the sense of the peace, quiet and serenity and it was unreal, especially in the tent. I’m a lucky man!

Unreal

Unreal

Out on the Ice

Out on the Ice