Real Life Stories of a Disabled Mom: The Appearance of Access

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on November 24, 2022 # Lifestyle

lake viewThe other weekend the weather was so perfect. The temperature was up, the humidity was low, and the sun shone across a clear blue sky. It not only inspired us to say, “We’re not going to have many more of these!” but to take an impromptu fabulous wheelie leaf safari. I sat down with my spouse and spawn to mull over the top two choices that would get us water-side and leaf-peeping in 20 minutes or less. Caveat Emptor kids, when you’re a wheelchair user and a parent, every destination require a quick rundown to work out the good, the bad, and the ugly, activities, terrain, and amenities like seats and bathrooms. Our choices for the day’s jaunt were in opposite directions, so visiting both in the event that one didn’t work out wasn’t really in the plan.

Park number one, while lush and bucolic, was also devoid of an accessible path. I would have had to tread incredibly carefully over rocks and roots, holding onto my husband’s arm to get to the lake while also attempting to corral the kids without me hitting the ground. The risk of twisting, torquing, or spraining a body part was compounded by the lack of places to sit, and this place was happily relegated to dad and kid adventures.

walkway

Park number two has been one of our go-to destinations for years. While I’m not sure if it has been officially wheelchair friendly, it has always been workable. With a small lake, waterfall, a horse path, and a number of bridges, it offered a picturesque escape we’ve enjoyed since before we were married. It would be an easy win, or so we thought. Arriving at the park, we were pleasantly surprised by the addition of van-accessible parking since our last visit in the summer. While official access had increased, workability had decreased. The path leading up the main bridge over the lake and waterfall had receded, and the rise of the bridge was significantly higher than on previous visits. Even with the chance to back up and build up speed and momentum, I was shaken by the impact of my scooter smacking into the bridge. I am very grateful for and appreciative to my girls and husband for being able to pivot easily, change direction on the path and hold fast to our plans for our day of beautiful weather and scenery.

Our workaround trail had the same gravel-related issues we always have on that path, turning and getting stuck and literally just spinning wheels. Gravel and scooters do not mix well. But we kept pressing on to get to one of our favorite spots since our oldest was small. It was an Eagle Scout Project bridge with railings for holding on to and declines for scooting up and down. It covered a small gully that would get muddy when it was damp out. It wasn’t just a place we walked over; we all played on the bridge, and our daughters loved it and had fond memories of it.

But when we arrived at the location…the bridge had been replaced. The railings were gone, and in place of the declines were unfriendly edges that would require a sizable step up. As it was dry, I could scoot through the gully. However, they took a happy accessible moment in the park, and they made it into an affront to wheelchair users. I imagine it was just not thinking about all the users of the park, but isn’t that just as bad? We enjoyed our remaining time at the park, but my girls asked me why I wasn’t welcome. That’s my call for positive action, so someone else doesn’t feel that way.

I’m Kieran Bridget O’Brien Kern. Power is literally my middle name. When my husband and I became engaged, we agreed that parenthood was a two-person job. I am the primary caregiver to our children, but we all work as a team. From infancy onward, we have adapted and grown together. Every day there is a new challenge. Every new challenge is an opportunity to learn more about them and myself.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.