The Abilities Buzz: July 2011
Abilities Expo Joins Twitter!
By Kristina Rhoades, Abilities Expo Ambassador
We’re excited to announce that Abilities Expo now has a Twitter account!
That’s right. We tweet.
We thought it would be another great way to stay connected with our friends and exhibitors in between shows. Abilities Expo has been on Facebook for some time and enjoys an interactive community of more than 3,000 group members.
So, what’s the deal with Twitter? With more than 200 million registered users (and growing by hundreds of thousands daily), Twitter has become a valuable resource for sharing information among people and organizations of common interests. Many people use Twitter as a go-to for relevant news, networking and much more.
We’re looking forward to using Twitter as a mode of communication with which we can answer questions, gather feedback and keep you up-to-date on what to expect at the expos. To follow Abilities Expo on Twitter, or to sign up for a free account, visit http://twitter.com/AbilitiesExpo.
Product Spotlight: MV-1
Vehicle Production Group’s MV-1 will be featured in the Ron Carter Automotive booth at Abilities Expo Houston on August 26-28, 2011.
America’s fourteen million wheelchair (or other mobility device) users will want to tune into this groundbreaking mobility solution.
Vehicle Production Group LLC (VPG) has introduced the 2011 MV-1, the first and only designed, engineered and factory-built wheelchair accessible car. These are not conversion vans or after-market retro-fits. These “first Mobility Vehicles” were created with people with disabilities in mind and meet or exceed ADA guidelines from the ground up.
"VPG is proud to be the first manufacturer to provide people with mobility issues with a purpose-built vehicle that provides ease of entry and exit, as well as a more comfortable ride," said Dave Schembri, CEO of VPG.
For him, one of the driving forces behind this initiative was his own experience with his sister, who suffered from ALS and used a wheelchair in the final years of her life. “There wouldn’t have been an amount of money that I wouldn’t have paid for a vehicle like this understanding how it would have improved her quality of life,” he said.
Employing the principles of Universal Design, the MV-1 delivers a superior riding experience. It comes equipped with a deployable ramp with two incline options that can support up to 1,200 pounds. Its spacious 3-foot x 5-foot entry way and even roomier interior allows for easy access by even tallest, widest and heaviest wheelchairs and scooters. It can seat up to six people comfortably and has incorporated top-of-the-line safety features. But the real bonus? Wheelchair passengers can roll in and ride shotgun!
In an era where going green is paramount, the MV-1 has given much more than just a casual nod to the environment. In fact, it is the only vehicle in its class with an available OEM engineered and assembled Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fueling system option. Because it's factory-installed, the MV-1 with CNG option provides riders the same durability, reliability and quality that everyone demands from gasoline-powered vehicles.
VPG set out to help people find mobility solutions by developing vehicles that allow them to travel with comfort and dignity. The jury’s in: Mission accomplished!
If you are planning to attend the Houston Abilities Expo on August 26-28, you will get to see all this for yourself. Ron Carter Automotive, a family owned and operated new and used vehicle franchise dealer in South Houston, will be featuring the MV-1 as well as a number of other first-class conversion vehicles.
For more information about the MV-1, please visit http://www.vpgautos.com.
Houston Takes Accessible Parking Enforcement to the Streets
By Sarah Galbraith Laucks, Abilities Expo Education & Events Director
Does this scenario sound familiar to you?
You have had a hectic day at the office. You’re on your way home and just need to buy a few items at the grocery store. You’d rather not stop because it’s raining and you’d really like to skip getting wet. But, you’re out of all the basics and the refrigerator just won’t stock itself.
You pull into the grocery store parking lot and head for the nearest accessible parking space. Next thing you know, a swear word escapes your lips! What do you see but an able-bodied person exiting a car parked where else but in the only accessible parking space! Now you’re stuck with driving to the back of the lot and parking sideways so you can exit your van. You have to cross your fingers and hope no one blocks your ability to get back into the van by parking on the ramp side.
Frustrating, right? But here’s the silver lining—if you’re a resident of the City of Houston, you can do something about it!
As part of Mayor Annise D. Parker's Volunteer Initiative Program, the City of Houston Parking Management is seeking individuals to participate in the Disabled Parking Enforcement Program. This program was developed to mobilize people to help fight accessible parking abuse. With the generous assistance of citizens like you, Parking Management is better able to ensure parking space availability to those who need it most. Think of it as concerned residents banding together to write their own tickets…literally.
Attendees who complete a workshop provided by the City will be badged and authorized to write actual citations for vehicles that park illegally in accessible parking spaces. In recent years, these volunteers made their presence felt by writing thousands of tickets and making their city more accessible to people with disabilities.
Abilities Expo Houston 2011 is pleased to partner with the City to offer the Volunteer Parking Enforcement Workshop from 9:00am to 2:30pm on Saturday, August 27, 2011 at Reliant Center.
Advanced registration is required and attendees must be 18 years or older. There is no fee to attend this workshop.
Freedom Shores – Your Choice, Your Destiny
By William L. Bussear II, Freedom Shores
“It is not what has happened to you, but what you do with what has happened to you that makes all the difference!"
In the early 60s, my father Bill—a former Marine and c-4,5,6 quadriplegic—his buddies who were also new to the chair made the choice to escape the “future.” They refused to allow themselves to be defined by their new circumstances or to believe conventional “wisdom” that their lives were over. From the moment that they all jumped in a car and headed to Mexico, my father had a dream! It was a dream most all of us have—to lead a “normal” life. To marry, have children and be productive.
Mexico was good to my father. Not only did he meet, fall in love with and marry Thelma, the woman of his dreams, something else happened! He fell in love with Mexico herself—the rich culture, the people, the language and, of course, the magnificent food! Although they lived most of their lives in the United States, Mexico forever changed my father’s destiny and his soul.
My parents went on to live that wonderful life that my father had dreamed about. Both received Master’s Degrees in Education and were both incredible teachers for more than two decades. They had a son, me, who was born with Spina Bifida. And every other summer, we would pack up the family vehicle and head south of the border to visit my Mexican relatives. All of them, as well as my mother and father, instilled in me a sense of pride in being Mexican. I basked in the culture and language of my mother, I met amazing people and, as I stated previously, the food was magnificent! I, too, fell in love with Mexico.
Years passed and I got married and started my own family. My parents retired from teaching and became what I thought were typical traveling retirees. That they ended up in Mexico was no surprise. The shock came when I received a phone call saying they had become the proud owners of property in a sleepy fishing village which they planned to convert into the first truly accessible resort for people with disabilities.
Freedom Shores was born!
To people with disabilities, travel can be a challenge. Yet we yearn for those adventures—the opportunity to be with our families and friends in new and exciting locales, to experience new cultures and to build a tapestry of memories that surround us with their warmth when we go home.
Those yearnings drove Bill and Thelma to create a unique, beach accessible four-star resort in Isla Aguada, Campeche (the safest state in all of Mexico) on the Gulf side of the Yucatan Peninsula.
In Freedom Shores, they realized their dream of opening a place where those in wheelchairs could vacation in comfort, alone or with their families, entertained by inclusive activities, in a resort which met all of their needs.
Freedom Shores offers inclusive geotourism
Nestled in the southeast of Mexico, lies Freedom Shores, an exquisite beach resort that is focused on creating a personalized vacationing experience for people with and without disabilities. This tropical getaway is located on the historic Yucatan Peninsula, surrounded by the tranquil blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where a great Mayan civilization once flourished among dense jungles.
This intimate, full-service beach resort on 2.2 acres features nine furnished rooms that are universally designed with breathtaking ocean or garden views. There are sidewalks everywhere!
This resort is small and personal and each hotel room is only a few seconds from the restaurant, the palapa and a beautiful tropical beach. Come, enjoy the amenities and services of the hotel, delight in the flavors of our cuisine, revel in the richness of our Mayan culture and appreciate the natural reserves that surround us. Paradise awaits you!
Here are some of the features that set Freedom Shores apart from the competition:
- Chauffeured W/C van airport pick-up and drop-off*
- Resort-wide wheelchair accessibility
- Wide sidewalks right up to the beach
- Nurses aides available 24/7*
- Wheelchair accessible deck/dive boat*
- Roll-in showers
- Roll under quad sinks
- Chauffeured W/C van tours*
(* Extra charges apply.)
All Inclusive Rates (Room rate plus 3 meals per day): July 1, 2011 -- July 1, 2012
- 1 to 30 days
- $117 per day for 1 person
- $147 per day for 2 people
- $177 per day for 3 people
- $207 per day for 4 people
Check us out at www.freedom-shores.com or give us a call at (951) 218-4023 to make your reservation!
Ask the Ambassador
Launching a Career as a Sign Language Interpreter
Do you have a question for one of our ambassadors? Ask it here. This response is from Ruthee Goldkorn.
Q: I would like to be self-employed, working as a training consultant and/or for clients who use sign language (ASL). How can I do this as a person who is Hard of Hearing myself?
A: I established a disAbled access consulting and advocacy services company 15 years ago with a partner who had all of the contacts. When she moved out of state, I was able to keep the business name and operation as a sole proprietor. Getting involved with a seasoned professional in the field in which you want to establish your business is extremely helpful. Reaching out to service providers will also be of great benefit to you. For this reason, going to the Abilities Expo and visiting all of the exhibitors who are service providers and talking to the Department of Rehabilitation are your very first steps.
Then, you have to establish a business plan and get a "doing business as" name filed. You can call your city to see what the process is to get a business license and how to get your DBA. Afterward, I would contact the local ILC's and ask if you can advertise your services through them. If you are actually certified as a translator, you can also call the county court executive offices and the school district to find out how to get into their system to be contacted for interpreting services.
You must have a business plan, a business name and a business license. The State DOR can help you with all of this if you need it. Talk to them when you visit the Expo.
Pose your questions to our Abilities Expo Ambassadors about anything related to disabilities.
The “NextStep” in Fitness
By Reji Mathew, PhD., http://rejimathewwriter.com/
Janne Kouri, President and Founder of NextStep Fitness, a state-of-the-art specialized gym facility in Lawndale, California, is an advocate with a focused dream: “…to expand NextStep Fitness in communities of need throughout the U.S., so people living with paralysis or disability would have access to community-based fitness options. This is a nationwide problem, and it needs to be addressed,” he says.
This mission is inspired by Kouri’s own journey. In 2006, while playing beach volleyball with friends, Kouri took a break and dove into the water to cool off; he hit his head on a sandbar and was instantly paralyzed from the neck down. He then began a challenging rehabilitation for his spinal cord injury at Fraizer Rehab Institute in Louisville, Kentucky. His background as an avid exerciser and former college football athlete at Georgetown University equipped him with a unique sensibility for tackling the demands of his recovery.
“Coming from an athletic background, I was used to working out—used to pushing—and had the mental capacity for it,” he says. Most people, Kouri notes, need support to find that mind-body connection. “Each person has to make a decision: Do I dedicate myself to re-learning my body? Or do I give up? You have to find that inner strength, find a way to stay active and improve your situation. For people with disabilities, they need the accessible facilities to make that happen,” he adds.
During Kouri’s twelve-month intensive rehabilitation, he received Locomotor Training, a cutting-edge rehab intervention based on emerging neuroscience research for spinal cord injury (SCI). Kouri describes sessions in which he was set up in a suspended parachute-like harness over a treadmill, and then, with the assistance of therapists, he was guided to map out the pattern of walking. “Locomotor Training is not only about re-learning how to walk, as for some people it may give that result but not for others,” he says. “It has so many benefits outside of walking—improving circulation, improving bone density, reaping the benefits of being weight-bearing and upright on your feet.”
When planning for life post-rehab, Kouri wanted to continue Locomotor Training closer to home, but found no disability-accessible gym facilities or Locomotor Training on a community level in his hometown. He became concerned about post-recovery issues—living and staying well with SCI. Contending with this resource gap, Kouri and his wife armed with determination, and support from the Christopher and Dana Reeve NeuroRecovery Network (NRN), founded NextStep Fitness.
NextStep Fitness is now a non-profit exercise facility servicing a diverse clientele. Sixty percent of their members have SCI. Other members have neurological medical conditions such as cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and stroke. They also make use of the broad ranging adaptive exercise resources at the center.
The center’s motto “The next challenge… a lifetime of wellness” captures the spirit of their advocacy efforts. Kouri asserts, “ People don’t understand that for persons with SCI, not walking is only one minor issue as compared to the other health issues one has to deal with—staying fit, maintaining a healthy weight, regulating your body temperature, or coping with pressure sores. SCI constantly requires you to learn what your body needs—and it can be changing every day,” he says.
NextStep Fitness takes efforts to make the center accessible in additional ways. Memberships start at a modest $50 a month. Members can also choose the type of membership they need based on their health goals.
Kouri also noted the benefit of such a center in promoting community wellness. “There are physical benefits of having an accessible facility for our members, but, more importantly, we see mental benefits; our clients have somewhere to go where others truly understand what they are going through and what their bodies need. Also, we have become a resource to many of the family members of our participants. We take efforts to keep things light; our clients do get their exercise in, but it’s also an uplifting experience to be a part of such a community,” says Kouri.
Having access to Locomotor Training has aided Kouri in continuing to make gains in his own recovery far beyond his inpatient rehab days. His tireless three-year commitment to Locomotor Training has recently led him to take his first steps with a walker. Kouri is passionate about creating such health-enhancing fitness opportunities for others. “You should not have to move across the country or state to have a healthy life,” says Kouri. “Able-bodied people can go to their local gym to stay fit and reach for new health and wellness goals. We want the same options for people with disabilities.”
When asked about his next exercise goal, Kouri answers, “Locomotor Training is a central part of my plan, but I am looking forward to trying adaptive skiing this March.”
To sponsor a NextStep Fitness initiative in your area, contact Janne Kouri at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Reji Mathew is a non-fiction writer whose work covers a wide range of human-interest issues: health care, coping skills education, medical rehabilitation, disability, expressive arts and wellness. Her website, http://rejimathewwriter.com, is dedicated to exploring themes of wellness from a variety of advocacy communities.