Adventures in Lawn Work

Spring is finally here!  It’s my first spring in my first home and I’ve been anxiously awaiting the time when I could finally get out in the sunshine and work in my very own yard!  I knew it was going to be quite the job.  Our home had not been lived in for two years prior to us moving in so it was quite overgrown, to say the least.  We moved in late November, so there also wasn’t much time for us to clean up from the fall season.

I was so anxious to make our lawn look nice, that I was left with a sense of disappointment when I couldn’t exactly jump right in.  As a wheelchair user, I’m not able to reach the ground, which seems fairly important for yard work.   The largest job we have to do is raking.  There are still those leaves from last fall and quite a bit of dead and unwanted vegetation.  When I began, I started using a common leaf rake with a grip made of foam rubber tubing.  This allowed me to hold the rake further down toward the tines with the rest of the rake over my shoulder, grabbing the leaves and driving my wheelchair backward toward the leaf pile.  Truthfully, the rake was

Device that attaches to the handle of lawn tools, allowing you to put your arm through a ring and to a grip that lower down on the handle
Robo Handle

extremely heavy to use one-handed and the whole process was exhausting and not that effective.   I realized I needed to slow down and enjoy the process. I’ve been thinking about my abilities and the assistive technology that would work best for me.  When I began researching on the web, I realized there are many options for adaptive lawn tools that I had never thought about and several websites dedicated to the subject.  For example, there are lightweight rakes, telescoping rakes, rakes with interchangeable heads and tools, rake-scooper combination tools, and the Robo Handle, which attaches to handles to allow the use of tools with one hand.  Even a YouTube video of a wheelchair user raking convinced me that perhaps I need to change my technique.

No Bend weederThere is still much work to do beyond raking, however.  Weeding is a never ending chore, which is why I was excited to find the No Bend Weeder.  It is has a long T-shaped handle, and small “claws” that go into the ground (so it does require some arm strength to penetrate the ground).  You then twist, pull up the weed, and press a button to shoot it into your lawn/leaf bag or barrel.

Raking and weeding left some obvious bare spots in the lawn.  One of my favorite lawn duties is spreading grass seed and watering it.  Seeding by hand led to piles of seeds in some spots and none in others.  By using a simcoiled hoseple flour/sugar container with a handle and small spout, I was able to spread the seed much easier and evenly.  Watering without experiencing kinks is a problem for everyone.  I’m looking to invest in a lightweight coil hose that might be easier to use.  I’m finding that there are also many options for hanging hoses at any height.

I’m so excited to finally have a lawn and to discover that there are so many AT options to help me participate in creating my own beautiful space.  We still have much work to do, but I am starting to see the beginnings of my outdoor sanctuary.

view of a mulched tree. wooden fence, small garden plot

Assistive Technology: Not a Replacement for Social Responsibility

SignAloud Gloves - black gloves with micro processors on the wrists

One of the most exciting parts of working for the Michigan Assistive Technology Program is that it puts me in social media circles where I am more likely to see the latest prototypes of equipment and devices.  It seems like I see some sort of device, app, or equipment that amazes
m
e every day,  Just this week, I came across, gloves that turn sign language into speech, an electric mountain biking handcycle,  and a wheelchair accessible motorcycle.  The potential of assistive technology is limitless, and the ingenuity of people who develop new technologies keeps me in a constant state of awe.

Yet, I keep thinking back to a conversation I had several days ago,  I was talking with a woman who asked about my career,  When I told her I worked with assistive technology and explained what that was, she immediately became very excited, and recalled a video she saw online of a stair-climbing wheelchair.  “Isn’t it great?”  she exclaimed, “Pretty soon we won’t even need to build ramps!”

A power wheelchair ascending stairsNo.  Not great, for several reasons.  First, and most obviously, Many of these innovations that we are seeing are prototypes,  They may or may not ever become available on the mainstream market.  If they do become available on the market, it is most likely that only the most affluent, who are able to pay out of pocket, will be able to obtain them.  Most assistive technology tends to be low cost/lower tech and paid for by insurance,  People with disabilities and advocates are fighting for coverage of even the most basic equipment (durable medical equipment is an excellent example), let alone the latest cutting edge designs.

Secondly, the argument that stair climbing wheelchairs would negate the need for ramps in based the medical model of disability.  It’s saying to people with disabilities that their disabilities are the “problem”, and puts the responsibility on them to negotiate a world that is not accessible to them.  It puts the social responsibility of access as a civil right on technology and not on society, where it should be.  As a person with a disability, I am given the message that I am the problem, and that being afforded accommodations is “special” or “extra” in a thousand different ways every day.  In reality, my disability is a gift, not a problem.  The problem lies with society and the idea that we need to be fixed or in some way made better by technology instead of being granted the same access (physical and otherwise) as everyone else.

Finally, sometimes, the latest and greatest technology cannot and should not take the place of other methods or technology.  For example, many people now argue that there is no longer a need for people who are blind to learn Braille because screen readers and other auditory technologies are available.  However, by relying solely on auditory technology, a person may be missing out on important literacy skills.  There are also places where Braille may be the only way to obtain necessary information, such as locations and orientation within buildings.  It is also important to consider that communication via Braille and American Sign Language are very important aspects of disability (Blind, Deaf) community and culture.

Innovations in assistive technology are a wonderful, exciting thing.  I am certainly not arguing that progress and development should stop.  However, technology should not take the place of the social responsibility we have to provide access and accommodations to all – it is a civil right.  We also must be mindful that these cutting edge technologies may not be available or appropriate for everyone, and that existing technology and methods often play an important role in the disability community, pride, and culture.