Friday, April 29, 2011

Joining The Workforce With A Disability

This post is by our guest blogger Jennifer R. Resetar who tells us about:

Joining The Workforce
With A Disability



When most people go to work, they don’t think about much more than doing their job, getting a paycheck and then going home. Most people that work don’t have any type of disability. People with disabilities that work have a little more to think about: Will I be accommodated? Will my employer give me a chance to advance and grow? Will my coworkers see that I can work just as hard as they can? Will the costumers/guests/clients see that I am a valuable and hard worker at the company I represent? If, like me, your answer to most of these questions is “No”, then something should change. In this blog, I will share experiences from all of my jobs, some good, most painful. I write this blog because I want people to see that disabled people can be just as valuable an asset as anyone else in the workforce.

My first job began one week after Hurricane Charlie hit Florida. It was McDonald’s of Forrest City. I was 18 and had just graduated high school. My first two days; I trained on back cash, which is commonly referred to as drive thru. I was in the first window with my trainer Jason. They put me there because they knew of my disability and had a chair in there for me to sit down. But I had no prior cash handling experience and did pretty poorly. To top it off, my trainer was impatient and I told this to the manager, Carlos. He spoke to Jason, then moved me to sweeping floors and cleaning up after people. After a while I wanted another go at training on something else. I would ask another manager , Trudy if they would train me and she kept saying yes. It never happened. During my job at McDonald’s, I felt degraded and stereotyped because I felt that they thought as a disabled person, all I could do was sweep floors and clean up after people. I started looking for another job; especially one at Sea World as at the time, I thought working in a theme park would be fun as my natural uncle worked for Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for the first eight years of my life. I signed on with Quest Vocational Rehabilitation services which is a company that assists disabled people in finding and keeping a job. With the help of a gentleman named Carlos Jimanez, I landed a job at Sea World to start the day after my February 17 birthday. When I handed in my two week notice to Carlos at McDonald’s, they took me off the schedule early. I was unemployed for a week and a half.

My second and third jobs are with the same company so they will be in the same paragraph. My first position at Sea World was at Mama’s Kitchen, a restaurant now currently known as Artic Market. The supervisor was Cathy Hubbard, more about her later. I ended up doing the same thing I did at McDonald’s with a few new responsibilities added. At times I would help serve food on the counter and I would help serve food in the outside units surrounding the restaurant.

Cathy Hubbard a manager I had that I could not stand. One incident that still stays in my mind is the day I attended the wake of my husband’s maternal grandmother (who’s anniversary of death is coming up). He was my boyfriend at the time and newly so, so I decided I wanted to be there to support him and his family. I had the pleasure of meeting his grandmother one time before her death but it was still difficult. I have never been to any wake service or funeral service before that. When I returned to work after; as she was not part of my own family, I was still feeling the sadness of it. Cathy approached me and said something along the lines of “The guests think you look like you lost your best friend.” She said it in somewhat of a nasty way and I told her I just returned from a wake which she granted permission for me to go to.



In general, Cathy was always strict. As some of you may know, at one point Sea World was owned by Anheuser-Busch. When I worked their, August Busch III would occasionally visit the parks. When this happened, Cathy was at her worst, yelling at people and just plain being nasty . Eventually I began to refer to this situation as “Busch Freak Outs”.

Before I describe one funny experience I had at Sea World that involved a few stacks of trays , I will point out that I met my husband at Sea World and at the time we were dating . My husband and I were wiping them down and had already generated a few stacks of clean ones when I placed one on the stack and all of a sudden, the whole thing, both stacks of clean and dirty trays collapsed. One of the leads took a picture of it on her phone as we were all cracking up about it. She even showed it to Cathy who laughed for a change.

One good experience I had at Sea World started out with a bit of pain. I was suffering a major spasm in the corner of the restaurant when a guest approached me and said their table needed to be wiped down. I politely told her I was fighting a spasm but I would get over to her table as soon as I could. Instead of being nasty or inconsiderate about it, she said she understood and even helped me over to her table a little until the spasm finally died down. It was in Mama’s Kitchen I had my first brush of extreme physical pain. Eventually I asked for a transfer to a more sit down job. I also asked for the transfer to get away from Cathy.

The transfer I asked for led me to Discovery Cove and a restaurant called Laguna Grill. There I sat down, rolling silverware in the back of the restaurant. I had a supervisor named Paul Gober who was a great person for the most part. One good experience I remember here was being able to help another guest through the sand with his tray of food to a table. I somehow mentioned to him I have Cerebral palsy and he thought I was doing well and was very thankful and courteous to me.

After a few months of working at Discovery Cove with very few incidents that Cathy Hubbard became the supervisor of Laguna Grill. I forgot what happened to Paul, but I hated the fact that he had to leave to make way for Cathy. I feel if both of them were there, Paul would’ve been able to make things easier for me even in Cathy’s presence.

It was when Cathy Hubbard showed up at Discovery Cove that it was time for me to go. By now I no longer had Quest so I looked for another job on my own. I found Universal Orlando and started June 27, 2006. On my last day at Discovery Cove, I was trapped in the restaurant by a severe storm and in tears because I just wanted out.

At Universal, I finally got a job other than cleaning up after people and rolling silverware. I was a cashier for part of my time and a gameskeeper for part of my time. This is the most painful job to write about both physically and emotionally.

I started out at Marvel Superhero Island in front of the Hulk roller coaster at a cart that sold Hulk Merchandise. My trainer Moe who’s real name was Maureen was great. She treated me a lot better than Jason from McDonald’s.




It was after Marvel I ran into my hard times. I left Marvel because a new manager that reminded me every inch of Cathy Hubbard came on. I followed another manager named James Bryan that I thought was a nice guy to Amity Games. It was here in games that I ran into very inconsiderate guests and other issues.

There is one good experience I have to share during these tough times. Universal has a Diversity Team and during National Disability Employment Awareness Month one year, I was one of five people interviewed and photographed for a team member newsletter called Universal News. I was also on a panel consisting of the other four members of this Universal News segment where people that attended a Lunch and Learn were able to ask us questions. My husband was even allowed to attend this special session although he did not work for Universal.

One good experience I had in games was once I was full time, at the end of 2007, I was made an On The Job Trainer. The downside to this experience, I only had the position for two weeks.

Also in games, the guests constantly blamed me as the gameskeeper for the games being rigged when they lost when in truth the games were not rigged.

In the end, I left games to go back to merchandise. Again, I was outside and still had some rude guests who looked down on my constantly.

I had one guy who laughed at me one day in a store for the Twister…Ride it Out attraction. He asked me about the ride and I admitted I could not get on it because of a bad fear of fire. He did not know that it stemmed from something my younger brother did to me when we were very young. I was still upset that he laughed at me.

On the bright side, however, I had some very considerate guests and even a guest who handed me his rap CD which the songs are on my iPhone to this day and it was about two years ago.

The most painful part of my job at Universal Orlando, was being terminated the day after my mother’s birthday for something I believe could have been fixed if they had listened to me. I asked numerous times to be put indoors and they said no so I was outside in the cold, the heat, the rain, etc.

The exact details of my termination are painful for me to describe but are as follows. I was working outside as usual on my mother’s January 10 birthday and the weather was overcast but not too hot and not too cold. I made a few successful sales. The actual guest that caused my termination perceived me being rude to him when I asked him if he would come around to tmy left side. I did this because I cannot see on my right side and felt I could serve him better from my left side. I was told by my HR representative that this particular guest said I was rude. I had no reason to be rude and thinking back on it, I believe I was suffering extra physical pain due to the extreme cold snap we had about a day or two prior and it showed in my voice without my knowing it. I was sent home early that day and brought in at 2:00 P.M. the following day, January 11. Because of other incidents I’ve had they terminated me. Looking back on it, all of the incidents I had took place outdoors except for one that they sided with me on because they realized I was not yelling at the guest, but trying to solve the bigger problem of the situation that had occurred. In this situation, a lady came into the Aftermath store which is the gift shop to the Twister…Ride It Out attraction and asked me if I sold cigarettes. I said no, as we did not sell them at the time. Then I proceeded to ask her who told her that we sold cigarettes so I could have that person informed correctly and save future guests an unnecessary trip. This guest was given four express passes and I was suspended for a day and a half before my week long vacation to visit my mother. In the end, I was paid for this suspension and given a Back To Basics class for something I never did.

Now that Universal let me go I’m a happier person and their terminating me has led to many good events in my life including writing these blogs for www.wheelchairpride.com.

If you are disabled and work, please know no matter how worthless your management team, coworkers or guests might make you feel, you are still worth something and are better than what they think because they don’t know the true you. They just see your disability and stop there. Most of the experiences I had in this blog, anyone may have had, but the bad ones were harder for me. Companies like McDonald’s, Sea World, and Universal are just ruthless and only care about the money. They don’t care about the people that bring in those profits, the busers, patio people, cashiers, and gamekeepers. They are the front lines and if this blog touches any manager of a high ranking company and gets them to change their ways, I’m happy. It needs to be said and heard.

101 Year Old Wins Wheelchair Discrimination Complaint

According to a story published by CBS Local News a 99 year old Nettie Lobsenz was refused service by a NYC salon on Amsterdam Avenue because she was in a wheelchair. The salon said it was because of liability risk. Her daughter, Juliette Gould didn't buy it and made a complaint to the NYC Human Rights Commission. The committe agreed that it was discrimination and awarded Nettie and Juliette $7,500.

Another term of the settlement is that the salon has to post a sign saying it welcomes disabled customers within 30 days. So, if you are in NYC, go by the Amsterdam Avenue salon and see if the sign is there. If it is not, make a complaint. You too may win $7,500!!

What should you do if you are a wheelchair user and have experienced discrimination? See this interview with a disability attorney about disability law.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Listen To My Exoskeleton Interview!

I was interviewed live last Monday by Lon Thornburg the Author of the No Limits to Learning Blog. Our interview covered subjects including "How did I get started building the Exoskeleton Website?", and "What is the difference between the exoskeletons?" to "What are the opportunities and threats for exoskeletons?"

The interview has been archived and you can listen to it at anytime.

It was my first live interview and I found it a fun and facinating experience. I was a bit nervous going into it, but speaking with Lon made it quite comfortable.

Friday, April 22, 2011

UK Wheelchair Users To Pay GBP 50'000 For ReWalk Exoskeleton

According to an article in the Daily Mail Argo Medical will launch a model of ReWalk Exoskeleton for wheelchair users for home use in 2012. The personal use exoskeleton will cost £50,000 or significantly less than what the cost of the institutional model of ReWalk Exoskeleton.

Towards the end of this year we shall have a personal model that will be tailored to match an individual's physical capability, following medical assessment and training in a rehabilitation centre.


Initial efforts will be towards the military:

It would be fantastic for people returning injured from Afghanistan to find they're not stuck as a paraplegic


Read more about ReWalk Exoskeleton For Wheelchair Users or watch a video of ReWalk at the exhibition in Birmingham, UK

Monday, April 18, 2011

IHMC Exoskeleton For Wheelchair Users: Project Mina

I have come across a new exoskeleton which is being developed by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) called project MINA. Watch these cool videos of wheelchair users who have used Mina. Listen to what they say about having the opportunity to walk using an exoskeleton.



I contacted Peter Neuhaus the principal investigator for Project Mina to find out more about the goals and expectations for Project Mina.

* What stage is Mina in? Is Mina in Clinical Trials?

As you see from the video we have evaluated Mina v0 with 2 paraplegic people. We are now working on Mina v1. We will not be conducting clinical trials with v0.

* When do you expect it to be on the market?

Marketing Mina is not in our sights. We are focused on advancing the mobility assistance technology.

* How is Mina controlled?

The low level motor control is provided by an on board embedded computer system. The high level control is provided by an off board computer controlled by a human operator. In other words, the user does not have direct control over the stepping. Through words and gestures, the user is able to give cues and commands to the operator. We selected this temporary method of control for its ease of implementation. When walking on flat ground, the only control input from the user that we really needed was start and stop. Our current research efforts include developing a user interface to give the user direct control over the operation of the device. As we develop capabilities beyond walking on flat ground, a more sophisticated user interface will be required.

* It seems that Mina is tethered, is that correct?

Mina is currently tethered for power and high level control and data exchange over an Ethernet cable. Mina v1 will have the ability to run untethered for autonomous power and control operation.

* How will Mina differ from the other exoskletons (Hal, Rex, eLEGS and Rewalk) which will soon be coming to market?

Mina v0 does not offer advantages over the ones you have listed. Our research with Mina v1 will focus on usability, performance capabilities, operation over irregular terrain, and operation with a range of users, from paralyzed to able-bodied.

* Will IHMC commercialize Mina, or are you collaborating with a private company for that?

IHMC is a not-for-profit research institute and we will not be commercializing it. Our goals are to advance the field of mobility assist devices while at the same time protecting our intellectual property. When the time is right, we will license or spin-off our technology for commercial purposes.




While Project Mina may never be commercialized, you can read more about exoskeletons for wheelchair users which will soon be on the market on the Exoskeleton Website.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spanish Review Of RehaDesign Wheelchair "Zapatillas"

Alex from Adaptado.es did a review of RehaDesign wheelchair tire covers. While my Spanish is not really very good, I was able to understand his review with the help of Google Translator. One thing that Alex points out is that they "are elastic and even someone with very little strength is able to put them without help". Another thing he mentions is that there is little or no slippage. This is thanks to a foam type material on the inside of the covers which holds tightly to the wheels.

Read the review in Spanish, or see the English website for more information about RehaDesign Wheelchair Tire Covers.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Watch Wheelchair User Brock Waidmann In The Paul Reiser Show

Actor and wheelchair user Brock Waidmann will soon be appearing on the new Paul Reiser Show. The Paul Reiser Show, featuring the star of TV's "Mad About You" will debut on Thurs, April 14th on NBC.

What is unique about this show, is that while most Hollywood productions, such as the ever popular "Glee", use able-bodied actors to portray disabled characters, Paul Reiser chose Brock Waidmann, a real wheelchair user to play his son on the show.

We did an interview with Brock Waidmann sometime ago to get to know him better. Read that interview to see how delightful Brock is. Read it and I bet that like me, you will also feel that Brock deserves every success.

I hope that everyone who reads this will pass the word to watch the premier of The Paul Reiser Show and give Brock Waidmann as much support and encouragement as possible.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

October 2011: International Wheelchair Marathon Heidelberg, Germany


Photo by Norbert Wilhelmi


The Heidelberg International Wheelchair Marathon will be an autumn race this year – the start will be moved from the traditional date in summer to Sunday 9th October 2011 (11.00 am-Marathon Start, 9am Welcome Address). The reason for the delay is that parts of the course are still under construction. Where the diggers are working at the moment, the fastest hand-bikers will be speeding between Heidelberg and Neckargemünd this year. The round course (44 km) can only be opened for the athletes after completion of the road construction.

The course remains the same. Start and Finish will be on the banks of the river Neckar, the distance will be 44 km, the same as in the past years, including time measurement at the marathon point 42.195 km.


Photo by Norbert Wilhelmi



Many hundred sports people are expected again, hand-biker, sports people in their racing bikes, children and youths (“Mobifant Cup”) and everyday sports people. They are especially invited this year: The Heidelberg Wheelchair Marathon does not only want to present only top sport (the race is part of the Handbike-City-Trophy) but also wants to attract many hobby sportsmen. Add-on-bikes can be found in the garage of nearly everybody in a wheelchair, and with this sport equipment it is very inviting to take part in the half marathon on the flat course along the river Neckar. The organizing team with their new chairman of the “Heidelberg Wheelchair Marathon e.V.” Joachim Schermuly would like to more than double the number of add-on-bikes which was 18 in 2009. The aim is 50 athletes in this racing class.

Add-On-Bike
Photo by Norbert Wilhelmi


Inline skaters will also be at the start in October, the organizer hope to have dry weather and rapid overtaking maneuvers.


Photo by Norbert Wilhelmi


Around the race there will be an extensive program – with live music, information and the traditional noodle party.

In this respect everything is prepared for the 11th Wheelchair Marathon and – who knows – maybe also for a new course and world record. After all, in October the asphalt will in parts be as smooth as never before – the road construction works which will be finished by then will make it possible!

More information, the invitation and the registration for can be found on the internet at the official website for the Wheelchair Marathon of Heidelberg.


The 2009 Winners
Photo by Norbert Wilhelmi


I asked one of the organizers, Matthias Methner a few questions about the event:

Gene: When was the first Marathon? Is there a Marathon every year?

Matthias: The first Marathon was in 1989 and it takes place every two years (that means in 2009, 20 years after the first Marathon we had the 10th Marathon. This year we will have the 11th Marathon!)

Gene: How interenational is the Marathon? From which countries do you expect participants?

Matthias: The Marathon really is internationl - every year we get participants from all over Europe (The Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, Poland etc), and also overseas (including America, Japan, Algeria, etc). I can not say from what countries participants will come from this year, because the registration is ongoing.

Gene: Are there people who speak English in the organization? Is the organization prepared to communicate with the foreign participants?

Matthias: We have members who speak fluent English and French. So communication with the participants will not be a problem.

Gene: How much does it cost to participate?


The 2009 Winners
Photo by Norbert Wilhelmi


Matthias:
* For the Full Marathon distance until 30.6.11 the cost is 30 Euro, after 1.7.11 the cost is 40 Euro
* For Half Marathon distance until 30.6.11 the cost is 15 Euro, after 1.7.11 the cost is 20 Euro
* For Children until 30.6.11 the cost is 5 Euro after 1.7.11 the cost is 10 euro

More information, the invitation and the registration for can be found on the internet at the official website for the Wheelchair Marathon of Heidelberg.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Discrimination Affects Everyone

This guest blog was written by Jennifer R. Resetar. This is Jennifer's third guest post on the WheelchairPride Blog. In this post Jennifer discusses how,

Discrimination Affects Everyone


Before I begin my blog, I would like to say that Mid Florida Tech is in no way at fault for the incident of discrimination described below. In fact, they had a sign posted by the instigator of the incident removed after I reported the incident.

When you think of discrimination, do you think of the 1940s-1960s when African Americans and Caucasians were segregated? Discrimination did not end with segregation ending. It is still a part of our lives even now in the 21st century, the age of iPADs, iPhones, and other modern pieces of our culture. It does not just extend to race or disability or sexual orientation. I would like to share an incident of discrimination that happened to me recently.

On St. Patrick’s Day; March 17, 2011, I was at school, exploring a building I did not know yet before class when I discovered a sign posted by AT&T announcing a job offer. The sign stated that no experience was required for a costumer service position and two other positions listed. There was a phone number belonging to a lady named Brittany. I decided to call the number and was answered by a lady named Mindy. I told her I had found the sign posted in Mid Florida Tech.

“Would you like to set something up with one of our hiring managers?” Mindy asked me.
“Yes, but first, I need to know exactly where you are. I use public transportation,” I replied. This is where it all started.
“Oh, I’m sorry. We cannot hire you unless you have your own vehicle. You must have reliable transportation,” Mindy said.
This incident did not involve my disability in any way, it involved my means of transportation.

My Ride

The transportation that I use is the LYNX buses of Orlando, Florida. Many able bodied people including people in business suits, young and expectant mothers and children use these buses as their means of transportation. The buses are also wheelchair accessible with lifts built into the steps leading onto the bus. Some newer models display things in the form of a ticker such as when a bus is approaching a bus stop that transfers to other buses for the hearing impaired and it calls out these stops as well and it also calls out when someone has pulled for a stop by saying “Stop requested”.

As I have mentioned in earlier blog posts, I have Cerebral palsy and due to this condition, I can not drive and I will never own my own vehicle. Therefore, AT&T’s policy is a form of discrimination because by excluding people who use public transportation many people with disabilities like myself are excluded from working there.

Based on this information, AT&T could have discriminated against a number of students at Mid Florida Tech because there are a large number that use the same transportation that I use. I dealt with this incident by reporting it to Mid Florida Tech’s Dean of Students and returned the next day to find the sign removed before I could get a picture of it. The twist to this entire incident is that AT&T also happens to be my phone provider. Mindy did not know this. I did attempt to contact AT&T about this incident that afternoon but, unfortunately, I have not heard back from them.

As this incident shows, discrimination can happen to anyone, anywhere. It is a sad epidemic, much like that of bullying for children. In fact, I believe that the two are very similar. The only difference is, that children don’t really know any better until they’re old enough to understand the differences that people have, whereas adults should already know that everyone is different, or may use a different form of transportation to reach their destinations. What would they say for instance, if someone told them that they live close enough to where they can ride a bicycle to work? Will AT&T still say no? What if someone walks to work? We may never know the answers to these two questions, but now we know that if you live in Orlando and use LYNX to get where you need to go, AT&T will not want you on their staff. I am not trying to bash them in any way, but I wish the people that made this decision would open their eyes to the other forms of transportation out there other than cars and motorcycles. Mindy may not have had a say in that decision and must’ve just been stuck with the job of being the bearer of bad news; I may never know.

If you have been discriminated against for any reason, please, do not hesitate to tell someone. It is wrong and if the person who discriminated against you can see that what they did is wrong, it may be one less person in the world who will discriminate against another human being.If we can stop this epidemic, that will be one less thing we have to worry about in this world full of tough times and war.

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I would like to thank Jennifer for her blog post. Read more about the subject of disability discrimination.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Should You Pimp Your Wheelchair?

I wrote an article called Pimp My Wheelchair, with ideas and suggestions about how to turn a wheelchair from a dull ride to a cool, stylish and yes blinged out wheelchair. In the article readers have the opportunity to express their opiniono about if they "Think It is a Good Idea to Pimp A Wheelchair?"

While many readers agree, recently one reader expressed an opinion that I have often heard:

In some respects, it would be ok, but I get ENOUGH attention when I'm using my wheelchair. "pimping it out" would just draw more, and I don't necessarily like being in the spotlight for that.


She expressed what many wheelchair users feel but perhaps don't want to say. The fact is that people DO stare at wheelchair users. Why? Curiosity? Pity? Being nosey?

People stare because they simply don't know enough about something. Years ago people used to stare when they saw an interacial couple. Or they would stare are someone with alot of tatoos or with dyed hair. Once everything becomes common place or "normal" people stop staring.

I think that it is healthy to express your individuality. It is not like you are rolling down the street wearing footed pajamas for adults. Show people that you are you and that your wheelchair is part of who you are. If enough people did it, the days of staring at wheelchair users would probably pass.