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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Cooking With One Hand Behind Her Back

Erin Poyle

Erin Poyle slicing and dicing in her kitchen.

By: Janelle LoBello

Name: Erin Poyle
Injury: C5 incomplete
Mechanism of Injury: Motor vehicle accident
Date of Injury: 1991

At age 35, living with quadriplegia for 18 years, Erin Poyle is a self-taught chef who finds cooking to be an outlet for her. "When I don't feel well, I cook," says Poyle, who is living with a C5 spinal cord injury after a motor vehicle accident in 1991. "It's therapeutic. It takes my mind off things."

In high school, Poyle would "sit on the sidelines" and watch her dad cook. "My dad was one of those 'Out of my kitchen' type of guys," jokes Poyle, who has most of her mobility only in her non-dominant left hand. Though, cooking and baking were part of her physical therapy after her accident, nothing had "sparked" right away, says Poyle.

Moving from Michigan to Colorado in 2001 by herself, Poyle would mostly use the toaster oven in her kitchen to prepare meals. "I met a guy who would cook a lot of Mexican food," explains Poyle, "but it was always too spicy. I would watch him and say, 'Hey, I can do that,' and then I started cooking myself."

Slicing and dicing
Though Poyle cooks plenty of meals, her kitchen is non-adaptive. "I didn't want to waste my insurance money on adapting this kitchen," says Poyle, who has pull out shelves for spices and vinegar. "I don't know if I'm going to live here forever."

Though some parts of cooking are difficult for her, Poyle finds her own ways to make cooking a bit easier. "I place a cutting board on my lap," says Poyle, who has a harder time holding and chopping round items. "And my counter is filled with crap!"

In cooking for herself, Poyle just began looking up recipes and adding her own twists and flavors. "I starting making dishes you would see in restaurants like chicken piccata," says Poyle, who found cooking to come naturally to her. "Then I would throw the recipe out the window and make it my own. Everything I tried on my own turned out awesome!"

"Another reason I started cooking," explains Poyle, "is because the restaurants out here are just boring!"

A book for a cook
Poyle's website features tips, recipes, and her e-cookbook, Erin's Cookin' With One Hand Behind My Back for $19.95. Erin is donating 10% of the proceeds to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

"With the online cookbook, I didn't have to worry about publishing," explains Poyle. "It is about 42 pages, and you can just pull up whatever recipe you want."

Her favorite dishes to cook are Mediterranean, Greek, and Italian. "I haven't cooked any Indian food yet," says Poyle. "I haven't conquered it, it's too scary!"

Poyle needs occasional help when putting items in the oven or opening jars, but overall she says, "The flavors are all mine!"

Learn More
Want to add more zest to your dishes? Take a look at the Cookbooks and Cooking for People with Disabilities fact sheet from the Reeve Foundation's Paralysis Resource Center.

Tell us your story
Telling your story is one way to let anyone touched by paralysis know that they are not alone. We've created a place where you can share your journey for your benefit, and the benefit of others. Your story matters. Share it.

AbledataProvides a helpful guide: Informed Consumer's Guide to Accessible Housing.

Accesibilty Equipment Manufacturers AssociationCompanies that make elevators, lifts, stairway chairlifts and similar products.

Adaptive EnvironmentsPromotes accessibility as well as universal design through education programs, technical assistance, and design advocacy so that every individual, regardless of disability or age, can participate fully in all aspects of society.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Assistive Technology - Environmental Controls (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Home Modifications (PDF)

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)Spotlights universal home design.

Concrete ChangeThis Atlanta based agency works to make homes accessible to all. Minimum standards include: at least one entrance with zero steps, 32-inch door passages and bathrooms on the main floor.

Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental AccessDedicated to improving the design of environments and products by making them more usable, safer and appealing to people with a wide range of abilities, throughout their life spans. IDEA provides resources and technical expertise in architecture, product design etc.

eHow.comHow to Make Simple Wheelchair Accessibility Modifications to Your Home

Disability SystemsStrong, reliable and portable wheelchair ramps for your handicap access needs. These wheelchair ramps are all aluminum and will last longer than wood or steel. Handicap ramps include folding, threshold, utility, solid, portable, bariatric and side door van ramps and rear door van ramps for all your access solutions.

Home Free HomeHome Free Home is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing pro bono architectural design services to people who need to remodel their homes to accommodate a disability.

InvacareInvacare Corporation manufactures and distributes home medical equipment (HME) and mobility products for people with disabilities and those requiring home health care.

Wheelchair-accessible House PlansOur wheelchair-accessible house plans feature sloping walkways to the main entrance, wider doorways, interior passages and closet doors, lever-style hardware, and convenient heights for things such as thermostats and light switches. Search our inventory of wheelchair-accessible house plans to find the right one for you!

The National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home ModificationAssists the elderly with information of services. Features national directory of home mod resources.

The Ramp ProjectView a detailed, step-by-step instruction manual on how to build ramps and stairs for home accessibility along with the accompanying engineering drawings.

The Right SpaceAlbert M. Ayala is a publisher and building contractor in Central Arizona. When his mother, at age 89, fractured her tibia and came to live with him and his wife, he began looking for an accessible home design guide for building and remodeling contractors. What he found was an enormous amount of text referencing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He found no easy-to-understand residential guide.

WheelchairNet: Home ModificationsJust what does it take to make a living space accessible? Are you thinking about a child who will grow up in a house or a parent who is just beginning to use a wheelchair in their home? Maybe you as a wheelchair user would like to make everyday life in your home easier and more enjoyable. Regardless, you will find some helpful resources here.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.