Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Yes Lene, There Is a (an Accessible) Santa Claus

At a certain point in life, you realize that the mystical, magical creatures who populated your childhood are perhaps more prosaic in origin. The Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Santa… Adulthood takes over and the world loses a bit of its shine. 

And then something happens to make you realize that the magic never went away. 

As you know, I’m a big fan of the Toronto Santa Claus Parade. I live close to the parade route, making it easy to pop out to be part of the fun. In the past 18 years, I have shown up in good weather and bad, only ever missing one parade. I love every part of it. The floats, the costumes, the building excitement in the crowd, the sense of community and mutual joy, and the way everyone, adults included, plotzes when Santa finally arrives.

In the last couple of years, it’s been less fun. Something happened and the good-natured Toronto crowd morphed into people who seem to believe going to the Santa Claus Parade was an extreme and very competitive sport. People were no longer there to be part of the crowd, but to make sure that they and their children — including infants who had no idea what was going on — would be first in line. The previous very Canadian awareness of fairness went out the window and latecomers would muscle up in front, regardless of whether this meant blocking the view for children and wheelchair users.

Two years ago, I finally had enough and got in touch with Santa’s elves on Twitter. Yes, of course Santa is on social media. How else would he know who’s naughty and nice? 

I advocated for a designated wheelchair area along the parade route and last year, Santa delivered! There were a few kinks along the route to Berczy Park where this area was located, but I ended up being closer than I ever had before. People still put their chairs on the street in front of me, but because I was on the sidewalk, I could see over their heads.

Well, sort of.

This year, I got back in touch with the elves to confirm the location of the designated wheelchair area and have a chat about crowd management. As usual, they were absolutely awesome, representing the Guy in Red with grace, humour, and commitment to accessibility. I sensed that perhaps I had a surprise in store.

The day dawned, cold and wintry. Really cold. For only the second time in my history of attending the parade, I brought a blanket and borrowed a hat from The Boy. I didn’t care if I looked dorky, because even bundled up and covered by a blanket, there were times I envied the little ones, encased in snow suits. Did I mention it was cold? 

I arrived at Berczy Park and at first, couldn’t find the wheelchair area. Then the crowds parted and it’s entirely possible that a beam of light appeared through the grey, wooly-looking clouds, shining on a really big sign hung on fencing around an area near the curb. That was one amazing designated wheelchair area!

Interestingly, despite the fencing and the line of wheelchairs, able-bodied latecomers still spied this relatively uncluttered area and headed straight for it, entirely — and obliviously — blocking a seated view, as well as the view of the children just behind us the barricade.

But it didn’t matter. Because the elves had dispatched one of their taller compatriots to be sentry, guarding the integrity of the designated wheelchair area. And every single time, he politely, but firmly, directed able-bodied spectators to go elsewhere.

For the first time in 18 years, I and all the other spectators in wheelchairs had an entirely unimpeded view of the parade. It was incredible. Every single photo in this post is the result of being able to see everything, without having to crop out heads, backs, and bottoms, or using my zoom creatively.

Although I have had fun before, it is nothing like being able to see it all. Thank you to the parade elves for making it possible.

And for proving that yes, there really is a Santa Claus.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Our Hands Can! Community Stories: October 2014 - Change of Seasons

Change in the air this time of year. Whether it’s leaves that change colours, wardrobes changing from summer tank tops to sweaters (or vice versa in the Southern hemisphere), or the temperatures, there is a shift going on. At Show Us Your Hands!, we got so excited about change that we decided to update a number of the things we do. This includes our logo and, even more excitingly, we’d like you to design it for us! Are you interested? Click here to read more about the Show Us Your Hands! logo contest and send us your design!

We got some great contributions to October’s Picture Project. Our theme was Change of Seasons. We’d like to thank Daniel P. Malito for donating the October prize: a signed copy of his book So Young: A Life Lived With Rheumatoid Arthritis. Read on to see who won!

It’s not just our community members who contribute photos to the Picture Project. The members of the Board do, as well. Over the coming months, we’ll show you some of their contributions, as well. We’re starting with Lene’s new discovery. She said “Bought a great sweatshirt with built-in fingerless gloves. Perfect! My right hand always gets cold from being out in the elements driving my wheelchair.”

Pets can be an important contribution to your quality of life, adding love to your every day and also getting you up and moving. 

Bridget submitted this wonderful photo that’s the epitome of the love that exists between a pet and a person, saying “My hands can still hug my pup when I'm going through a bad flare on a chilly day.” Give that wonderful squishy face a hug from us, too, Bridget!

Showing you one of the other benefits of having a pet, Ann shared this photo of an leafy walk. “I'm lucky to be able to take my dog Trudy for Autumn walks in the woods using my mobility scooter.” We’re glad you and Trudy have found a way to enjoy the outdoors.

Drumroll, please! The winner of the October Picture Project is April, with this very creative submission. She said “Today my hands were completely enjoying the fall weekend.” Thanks for making us laugh, April an congratulations! Email us you address at infoATsuyhDOTorg and we’ll get the book in the mail to you.

Do you want to be part of the Picture Project this month? Our theme is gratitude. Take a photo of your hands doing something related to what you’re thankful for, then post it on the Show Us Your Hands! Facebook page or Twitter and tag your post with @showusyourhands. Submit as many photos as you’d like.

The November prize is a signed copy of Elizabeth M. Cristy’s wonderful children’s book Why Does Mommy Hurt?: Helping Children Cope with the Challenges of Having a Caregiver with Chronic Pain, Fibromyalgia, or Autoimmune Disease. We’d like to thank Elizabeth for donating this month’s prize.

Just a reminder: by submitting a photo, you give Show Us Your Hands! permission to use the photo and your name in our community programs, such as the monthly Our Hands Can! Community Stories.

What are you thankful for this month?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Redtailed Beauty

Last weekend, The Boy and I decided on an excursion to Henry's, Heaven for camera nuts. Not to buy, just to see, hold, and possibly to covet.

What? Don't you do that?

We cut through St. James Park on the way, both carrying our cameras. I got stuck taking photos of leaves and he wandered off to pursue his obsession: catching a pigeon in flight without any blur. After a few minutes, I heard him whisper-shout my name, looked up and saw my beloved frantically waving for me to join him further into the park by a clump of trees. I moved towards him, then heard what he was saying (a whisper-shout is hard to decipher at a distance):

"Warp speed and bring your zoom!"

So I pushed it into fast, speed and an uneven path collaborating to shake loose a kidney or two. When I got closer The Boy continued in a now penetrating whisper:

"Bird of prey in the tree, people taking photos, come quickly!" 

I hoofed it. And saw this incredible sight (as always, click on photos to embiggen)

I've seen Peregrine falcons in the neighbourhood, both in flight — they nest at a skyscraper not too far for me — and once at a community fair on the arm of someone working with them, but I've never seen anything but photos of a larger bird of prey. This was magnificent, considerable in size, and, impossibly, right downtown. There was a handful of people standing before the tree, phones aloft and pointed at this beautiful creature. Needless to say, we quickly joined them.

The bird sat there for some time, looking up with intent at the pigeons flying overhead. They were minding their own business, not yet aware that someone quite unlike them had joined their territory. And then the eyes sharpened and its position changed 

It took off and in flight, you could really see its size and the bird of prey-ness of it

Photo by David Govoni

Turns out it was not yet hunting. Instead, it found another tree closer to the road and settled near the top business branches to get a really good view of the area

 And then it lifted off and soared, circling the park

and the pigeons, quite understandably, panicked

It didn't catch lunch that time, instead flying north to find other, slower prey, leaving The Boy and I awed and humbled at this gift of seeing such a beautiful bird

The pigeons, on the other hand, were left relieved and shaky, huddling close for comfort

It took a  while in Google, but we identified the beauty as a Redtailed Hawk. When posting a photo to Facebook, my more bird-knowledgeable friends confirmed this, saying it was a juvenile.

And it was breathtaking.