This is my favourite time of year. Cool, crisp days with a gentle breeze that makes midday lounging in my hammock a very pleasant indulgence, and a welcome reprieve from a week’s hassle.
The start of a new year is also a time for reflection, and at times one cannot escape the sentimentality that seems to inundate everyone as they email and BBM philosophical greetings and wishes. Unfortunately, this feeling lasts just as long as their “New Year’s resolutions.”
I too am victim to this reflective process, and as I lounge enjoying this breezy morning, my cat and dogs nearby doing the same, I cannot help but appreciate my ability to function “normally.” I suppose as a physical therapist, this is the kind of thing for which I am grateful as my profession exposes me to so much “disability.”
But as I reflect further, what is considered a disability in Trinidad is not disability in other countries. I return to my trip to the Grand Canyon a couple months ago. I visited the Apple Store in a town in which I stayed, and was attended to by a gentleman in a wheelchair. We got chatting and he confirmed my suspicion of a spinal cord injury through which he lost the use of his legs.
His wheelchair was specially designed for his needs. It was easily manoeuvrable as demonstrated by the agile way he weaved himself around the crowded store. He performed all his duties as efficiently and professionally as his colleagues. He told me that he had had his car modified to include hand controls and he easily learned to drive in two attempts. He was able to transfer his heavy-set body into his car independently, fold his wheelchair and lift it into the vehicle without any help. I thought to myself, “Wow, you really do not see this kind of accessibility and high level of independent functioning in Trinidad.”
Another accessibility experience I had on that same trip was during the drive to the Grand Canyon from Phoenix. As we were getting ready to board the shuttle service, a man in his 50’s approached the driver. He stated that he was “permanently disabled” and produced his disability card, which allowed him to receive a discount on the price of the shuttle.
As we embarked on the two-hour drive, the man began talking in strange riddles, with a fixation on 1974 and seemed to know every detail of every movie ever made! However, he did say that he got some money and he wanted to take a tour of the country, hence his visit to the Canyon. I thought that it was so courageous of him to do this on his own. Of course it was made much easier for him by the modifications and options the USA has created to encourage independence of handicapped persons.
My third experience during the short visit to the Canyon was at the rustic resort itself. Ar breakfast the waiter was a young gentleman, probably in his early 20’s with what I believe was cerebral palsy. He walked with a slightly altered pattern, wore a hearing aid and his speech was slightly affected, but quite comprehensible. This lad handled the demands of a busy breakfast period at the restaurant with the efficiency and ease of his colleagues. I again marveled at how well integrated he was in his community.
In Trinidad, we make our citizens disabled. When someone is injured permanently or in pain, we seem to reinforce dependence rather than encouraging self-sufficiency and motivating the individual to attempt activities independently, with modifications. I suppose that “nurturing” tendency is part of the Trini culture when caring for injured loved ones. However, this great care can do more harm than good.
It is a constant battle we fight as physical therapists. Educating the family on exposing the injured individual to opportunities to strengthen himself and not being too quick to “help” are concepts not easily received by family members. Individuals learn by trial and error.
They must be exposed to situations where they can make mistakes and learn from them in order to develop better methods of performance that work for their abilities.
We do not have a sub-acute rehabilitation facility where such individuals can receive the rehab they need by trained specialists. Further compounding the dependence issue is the fact that most establishments are yet to be properly outfitted for the handicapped. As a nation, and a people, we fail to understand that injury and pain do not mean disability and dependence. Modifications and training can create independence but it must involve everyone from government, to the family, to the individual.
My wish for this year is one of greater accessibility for all differently-abled people. May we start to make it happen.
Carla Rauseo, P.T., M.S., C.S.C.S. is a physical therapist and Certified Strength and
Conditioning Specialist at Total Rehabilitation Centre Limited in El Socorro.