Last Thursday, I was delivering documents to the Social Security office. This random guy struck up a conversation with me. During the conversation, he informed me that he was proud of me and that I must be strong as he would not be able to handle having a disability.
There is no reason for this guy to be proud of me as he does not know me; this guy does not know any of my accomplishments (or if I even have any), nor what my day to day life is really like. I simply was an inspiration to him due to my disability.
The ironic factor of this conversation was our location. There are no inspirational terms connected with going to Social Security. In my mind, I am at the place that represents the lowest part of my being; there is no pride in collecting Social Security at age 24. The simple fact that he finds me inspiring because I have a physical disability is demeaning.
This situation paints the perfect picture of how society views people with disabilities. All this guy knows about me is that I use a wheelchair and I collect Social Security - how is this inspirational?
There should be a reason to be proud of someone. And even though it is well-intentioned, it is still demeaning when an "inspirational term" is cast upon a person for no reason at all. I want people to talk to me as a human being, not an inspiration and then give credit when credit is due. Empowerment does not come from false success.
The high standard of success is lost when a person with a disability is considered inspirational for just having a disability. This treatment of people with disabilities perpetuates the view that a person with a disability cannot be a viable member of society as there is no expectation.
Disabled people are stuck in an oppressive cycle. If there are low expectations, then there is no need for access. If there is no need for access, then there is no way for a disabled person to be successful and if there is no way to be successful, there is no success to raise the bar of expectation; thus society's standards are kept low.
This situation exposes the social stigma that those of us with disabilities are not capable of accomplishing anything more than just being alive. Because of this low expectation, society does not see a need to provide access for any higher accomplishment.
Until society stops viewing the disabled as "inspirations" (for simply being disabled) rather than their accomplishments, people with disabilities will continue to be stuck in an oppressive cycle.
This past weekend, I had the incredible opportunity of running for Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2017! I truly enjoyed the ability to share my platform on an equal opportunity for people with disabilities. Ms. Wheelchair is an organization that promotes disability advocacy. Women have the opportunity to run for the state title, and if they win, they can go on to compete for Ms. Wheelchair America, all while advocating for disability rights through their platform.
At the pageant, I also saw and met so many amazing people! Ms. Wheelchair is an awesome way to make contacts and just meet some pretty sweet people! Thank you to everyone that made this opportunity possible, and thank you to everyone who was cheering me on! I so, so appreciate it! Here is my speech and my answers to the two random questions I was asked!
People with disabilities make up the largest minority in the United States as well as in the entire world. Anyone, at anytime, can become a part of the disability minority. However, people with disabilities are underrepresented and often unheard. Even though the way people with disabilities are perceived and treated has greatly improved throughout the past forty years, ableism still has a strong presence here in the United States; the best way to eliminate this poor treatment of people with disabilities is to eliminate ignorance through education.
One major area that still is a barrier to people with disabilities is acquiring a job. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, only 17.1 percent of people with disabilities were employed, while 64.6 percent of people without a disability had a job. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 12.5 percent; this contrasts with the unemployment rate for people without a disability which was only 5.9 percent. These statistics are drastically unacceptable and have not changed much over the years.
One of the things continuing to hold back the disabled community is the employer. An employer is not going to hire someone if they, the employer, believe the potential employee is going to be a liability or an extra expense. Many buildings are still not fully accessible or equipped with necessary adaptive equipment, making it potentially more expensive to hire someone with a disability than a person who is not disabled. If a person needs an accommodation to be successful at their job (i.e. a ramp to enter the building, an adaptive phone or computer), an employer is likely to look at this as an extra expense; businesses do not like extra expenses (who does?).
This is where education comes into play. Having the knowledge of what equipment and resources exist is important; having the connections to acquire accommodations without having to pay for them out of pocket is pertinent to the success of the disabled community. If a person with a disability is qualified, they should not be penalized for needing an accommodation to fulfill a job; no one should be denied employment that they can do simply due to ignorance or a lack of modifications. A person with a disability who is qualified for a job should have just as much of a chance of getting hired as anyone else applying for that same job. Accommodations should not subtract from a resume.
Ableism and ignorance still have an unnerving amount of influence in the treatment of people with disabilities. With education in the workforce, we can begin to erase the misconceptions and poor treatment of people with disabilities. Society needs to know that people with disabilities are people, and should be treated as so. Hopefully one day the statistics will reflect the abilities of the "disabled" community.
I ordered my first piece of adaptive clothing, and I am so glad that I did! I bought a pair of jeans from Endless Ability, and boy am I obsessed!
Endless Ability, an adaptive clothing company, was created by Chelsie Hill; she embraced her biggest insecurity -- her legs -- and started Endless Ability to supply people who use wheelchairs with an alternative to conventional jeans. And let me tell you, these jeans are amazing!
I have never found a pair of jeans that have fit me so well. First off, the legs are not loose around my stick-like legs; they are tight as skinny jeans should be. And unlike any other pair of skinny jeans I have owned, they are also super easy to pull up. The best part about these jeans is once they are pulled up, they stay up! I have always had an issue with pants slipping down when I slide back in my chair or transfer. I also love how the jeans were made with elastic-like material, which eases the putting on process without loosing the stylish, sleek look of the pant. The pockets are also situated higher than on a typical pair of jeans so that the wearer no longer has to sit on them (which can be uncomfortable/cause skin issues) and can actually use them. These jeans are so functional and comfortable, but yet still flattering and super cute.
I love my new jeans; they are my favorite pair of pants. Thank you, Chelsie Hill, for embracing your insecurity for the better by starting Endless Ability and inventing these fabulous jeans! I will for sure be investing in another pair in the future!
Kyann sitting in her manual chair wearing her jeans from Endless Ability
When purchasing an accessible vehicle, financing is not the only thing that the consumer has to consider. Where to buy an accessible car is the first dilemma. Where to purchase an accessible vehicle is not like simply picking what brand of car you want to buy and then going to that dealer; the average dealer does not sell accessible vehicles. Up until recently, the consumer either had to go to a dealer that specifically converted and sold cars (which were and still are few and far between), or scroll through adds hoping to find that one accessible car nearby. These are still the two main ways to find an accessible vehicle, but now participating Honda dealerships and Costcos have begun to sell modified vehicles as well.
Another dilemma arrises when the consumer needs to get their converted car worked on. There are not many places that have the ability or willingness to work on the converted parts of the car. I was not informed of this until it was too late. When I purchased my van, we drove five hours to Kersey Mobility in Sumner, Washington, to what we thought was the closest modified vehicle dealership. We later found out there was a dealership, Absolute Mobility Center, in Woodinville, Washington, only two hours away. When I needed my van serviced, Absolute Mobility would not help me simply because I DID NOT BUY MY VAN THERE. They lost my business; I will never buy a vehicle from them.
We called the dealer in Woodinville because we needed the ramp repaired which required a certain part that only an accessible vehicle dealer is able to acquire. We called the dealer in Sumner, told them what we needed, they said they had the part, so we made an appointment. We drove all the to Sumner just to find out that that the dealer had given that part away the day before; someone else needed that part and they (the dealer) said that they were not guaranteed that we were going to show. We needed that part and we made an appointment; there was no reason for the dealer to assume that we would not show. What terrible customer service! They wasted our time and money, and showed us that they believed they did not need us, that we needed them. They lost our business as well.
My van is currently missing the front right fin (a fin that is only on converted vans), and the once automatic ramp is now manually operated. Both of these are easy fixes, but our family mechanic is not able to acquire either of the parts to fix our van; the companies that convert vans have monopolized these parts. We are stuck; the closest dealership will not service us, and even if we make an appointment at the dealership (from which we purchased our van), we could drive five hours just to be disappointed again. Fortunately, both of these fixes are not necessary; my van still gets me from place to place, and that is all that really matters.
Think of your dream car. What is it worth? Maybe $50,000.00, $60,000.00, or maybe even $70,000.00? Now imagine that you go to purchase this dream car and instead of that car, it is a minivan; a minivan that costs $60,000.00. This is what many people face when they wish to purchase an accessible vehicle.
The average accessible car tends to be $20,000.00 to $40,000.00 more than their non-accessible counterpart. On average, a new 2016 Honda Odyssey is going for $30,000.00, where an accessible 2016 Honda Odyssey is going for $66,000.00. This is almost the equivalent cost of a new Jaguar or Porsche! A new 2016 Dodge Grand Caravan rings up at about $26,000.00, while the modified version costs $45,000.00. This is about the same price as a new Audi.
Over the years, the types of cars converted has drastically increased which has broadened the choice available to the consumer. First there were the large passenger vans, then the minivans came onto the market. Now there are accessible cars that range from as small as the Kia Soul to as large as a Ford truck. There is even an SUV that is now on the market that is specifically designed as an accessible vehicle (no conversion needed): the MV-1. This new array of accessible cars has made it possible for the consumer to not have to sacrifice as much as their choice for accessibility.
As the types of accessible vehicles have increased, the ability to afford an accessible vehicle has increased as well; cars that cost less than a minivan before the conversion typically still cost less after the conversion. There is also the factor that more fuel efficient cars are also being made accessible which translates into a lower gas expense. However, this does not mean that there is a "cheap" accessible car; this is quite the contrary.
Vans are no longer the only type of accessible vehicles that cost twice as much as the regular counterpart. A new 2016 Kia Soul costs about $18,000.00, while the new 2016 accessible Kia Soul is $30,000.00. Yes, this is way less than a Honda Odyssey or even a Dodge Grand Caravan, not to mention the gas mileage, but there are the drawbacks of minimal seating and the fact that the consumer still has to spend almost twice as much for the same exact car.
The MV-1 is a little more expensive than the Kia Soul and as of now there are not any used MV-1s (it has not been on the market long enough for there to be any used cars). This SUV, has been designed as an accessible vehicle; it does not have a regular counterpart. The MV-1 costs about $31,000.00. This is also way cheaper than a minivan (with a similar number of seats and gas mileage). The MV-1 also has the perk of not being a converted vehicle; this means that the integrity of the vehicle is not diminished due to cutting the frame. When it comes to accessible vehicles, the MV-1 is relatively well priced, but to the average American household, $31,000.00 is still a pretty steep price for a car.
When purchasing an accessible vehicle, used is an option. However, why should the average consumer be forced to buy used when they could theoretically afford a new car? The consumer is forced to buy used simply because they cannot physically access a new -- but cheaper -- typical car. This means that when a person who is simply seeking mobility cannot afford a new converted car, they are stuck buying a used one (for typically the same price as a new non-converted car).
The ridiculous pricing of accessible vehicles does not end with the price itself, but continues with the financing. There are car loans, and then there are accessible loans; the loans that the bank gives out when they do not understand the cost of the car that the loan is for. Back in 2006 when my family purchased a used 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan, the cost totaled $20,000.00 more than the van itself was actually worth. To the bank, this did not compute. Instead of receiving a car loan with the typical interest of about four to five percent (at that time), we received a loan with the interest of 10.99 percent. Our other choice, in purchasing the used van, was to take a second mortgage on our house, and I know multiple families who have done this. If we were to have purchased a luxury item -- such as a camper, boat or plane -- we could have received an interest rate of just one percent. But, a $36,000.00 used minivan is not considered a luxury item (nor should it be).
Accessibility should not be treated as a luxury (and in this case, it is not even considered that), but a necessity. A necessity should not cost extra, and definitely should not cost as much as a Porsche. Modified vehicles need to be more affordable so they can be purchased by more who would like to do so. People who need an accessible vehicle, need it to get from point A to point B, that is it. An accessible vehicle is not for pleasure, it is not for status, it is simply for equal access and mobility.