As a woman with a disability who has been wheelchair mobile for as long as I can remember, it should come as no surprise that I accomplish many day-to-day tasks in a manner that is somewhat different than most of the typical population. There are shoelaces that hang from the knobs of every door in my house so that I can reach behind me and close a door as I am exiting a room if I need to. My cups and plates are on low shelves in my kitchen so that I can access them easily when I make a meal. Several grab bars are in my bedroom and bathroom so I can use them for stability when I am transferring or getting dressed. That is simply how my world works. I’ve never known any different.
One of the pieces of low-tech assistive technology that I use every day is a reacher. That is a metal stick with a trigger on one end and a grip mechanism on the other. Its main function is to pick things up when I drop them because I am not always capable of bending completely at my waist to reach the floor. And let me tell you, because of my limited finger dexterity and my habit of bumping into things, I drop lots of objects routinely. If I happen to drop food, Leah, my service dog, is all too happy to help. After she has chewed and swallowed the mess, she is quick to tell me that I shouldn’t feel guilty or embarrassed. She knows we are all clumsy from time to time. Sometimes when I drop food because I am having a spasm, things work out very well for her.
When I drop a non-edible object though, it’s a different story. I do a quick search in my house for the nearest reacher and bring it to the object that I dropped. Then I use the reacher to grab the edge and slowly lift whatever it is onto my lap. There are times when the process is slow. Objects like my cell phone are flat and slippery, and the smooth edges aren’t always easy to grab, but with patience and perseverance, I almost always get what I am after. I see my reachers as the tools that get me from where I am to what I want.
For the last few weeks, with the exception of some friends “pinch hitting” out of the kindness of their hearts, I have been without caregivers. Given all the things I am dependent on other people to do, the situation was often terrifying. One morning I fell out of bed and was not close to my phone. I had to put a post on Facebook to ask friends in Lawrence to call 911. The plan was successful. The paramedics got to me about 45 minutes later. But I was still badly shaken and emotionally off balance for the rest of the day.
Not everything was bad though. There was a day when I was able to change my clothes all by myself, which is not something I usually do. I put on my shorts over my tennis shoes and then I used my reacher to get my shorts positioned correctly and also to help me pull my shorts up. The process of my changing clothes took me about two and a half hours. There was a whole lot of frustration and I had to take several breaks so that my emotions did not get the best of me. But I did it. By the end of the process, I was dressed. and that accomplishment is all mine.
The last few weeks have been difficult, and there were times I was in situations when I was not sure what to do. It was in those times that I tried to remind myself to “be a reacher.” I had to figure out how to get myself from where I was to what I wanted, and in the process, there were some days I completed tasks on my own that I never thought I could. Looking outside the box, using visualization and stating the outcome of what I was going to do before I started the task were all things that helped me in doing what needed to be done. I also often told myself I had more strength than I felt at the time, and it was possible to push the limits of what I thought I could achieve.
I sincerely hope I don’t have to be quite so independent again at any time soon. That was rough. But I have several things that I am hoping to accomplish in the next few months. I made a sign to hang in my office.
It says: Be A Reacher!
Reminding me to figure out how to get from where I am to what I want.