Thursday, December 31, 2015

Help me make a difference

This passing year, through the nonprofit that I created, Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation we opened hearts and minds and made the news with our wheelchair challenge. There's only one day left to make a tax deductible donation this year. Check out the news clip below ! It's not a huge organization, but I have a lot of passion for it. It's not simply a cause that I picked up: Disability is something I've dealt with all my life. I wanted to do something to change the way people think and feel about people in wheelchairs, about people like me. And I haven't really seen anyone else trying to either. I think with some resources, with your help we can really make a difference.  I see this Foundation for what it could be, for what it could do- and that excites me. I know a lot of organizations ask for your support. Please give us a chance to make this dream a reality.
With 2016 approaching, please consider donating to FDAAF so we can make Florida more accessible, business owners more aware, general public more educated, students more involved. We'd like to continue developing programs that promote empathy and inclusion - and understanding for the basic human need to feel independent regardless of mobility issues. Let's find fun ways to talk about those heavy topics, together. Visit To donate go to… 

Monday, December 28, 2015

My old, heavy, stylish laptop

A few days ago I got to revive my old laptop that was with me for most of law school days and Bar Prep. Our grant writer needed a computer to work on, nothing fancy just something that powered up for her to use  as a glorified typewriter and I had this thing sitting on a shelf gathering dust. It was a Lenovo X61- a convertible laptop with a screen that turned around when I needed to take hand written notes with a stylus as I rested the machine against the edge of my desk like a copybook. Aside from the hard drive that it refuses to boot from and the battery that only holds the charge for sixteen minutes, the machine still works, probably because I remember paying more to have it upgrade it and customized. And I have to say- as odd it is- I miss it.  It was the most fun I've ever had with a laptop. It felt well build and sturdy, had a certain weight to it, but at the same time the keyboard was petite and not taking too much space in my lap. I think I was the only person in America who liked that strange red joystick pointer button placed between the keys, that eliminated the need for a touchpad. I liked that - at the time- it felt light, that it didn't take much space, that it had an ultrabase it snapped into but that I mostly left behind. I bought two stylish carrying cases for it, one was made of genuine leather. It made me feel like I've had something of really high quality and I took it everywhere. Class, exams, getting food on campus, the bag was always with me resting on my lap as I wheeled through the city. Two or so years earlier my brother bought me a widescreen Sony Vaio, which I think he still believes was a better choice for me, and I got the Lenovo when it stopped to power up a month after the warranty expired. It was 2008. As I took it out last week one thing came to mind. How it the world was I ever able to carry anything so heavy? No wonder I was so slim and strong back then! And I really struggled as I was bringing the machine to a local pub for the grant writer to pick up. It could be that I now use a lighter wheelchair: My old one, Kuschall AirLite was made out of Titanium, the new one- tiLite seems to be some form of reinforced aluminium and is noticeably lighter - maybe it had a better weight distribution. And the bag was almost as heavy as the laptop. Who ever conceived such a thing? One of my Board Members later pointed out that it wasn't designed to rest on my lap, although I've done it like that for years. She explained that when it hangs from your shoulder you don't really feel the weight. Wouldn't it be nice if somebody designed a laptop and a carrying case precisely for wheelchair users like me? So it wouldn't feel like it's going to fall off because it's too light, but then wouldn't add to much weight in the front? So it wouldn't be too bulky or too small and above all- be functional, comfortable and stable.

I've decided to replace to hard drive but the next challenge is getting the system back. Back in 2008 I bought the student version of Windows 7 with a lifetime option of digital download from a vendor called Digital River that doesn't seem to be in business anymore.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

in the news

It's rare for me to say that a reporter did a good job covering my story, but I'm really happy with Angie Angers' work on the Wheelchaired for a Day segment. The young reporter from the local CBS affiliate explained my motivation for launching the project in a clear and approachable manner. She talked about the foundation, informed the viewers about how they could donate and participate. Dealing with journalists over the years has been a mixed bag. They either overwhelmed their audience with too many details or haven't said enough. This on the other hand- works. I really like her narration. In fact, when reaching out to potential sponsors and supporters lately I've been using her clip lately. It touches upon all the important elements and ties them together in a way that make sense. If only I wasn't there looking angry, speaking over a power drill, with my hair fighting of the wind. Thankfully I was only there for a few seconds so I skip that part.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The bus waits round the corner

This might not be a big deal, but it irks me because it shows how little consideration for the needs of people in wheelchairs like me goes into planning in Gainesville where I live.  I don't know if it's temporary or permanent and if it's caused by the expansion of the Butler Plaza shopping area, but the bus drivers of the bus route 1, that I usually take to buy groceries on Sunday are now told not to wait on passengers by what used to be the last stop on the run, but to go round the corner and kill time there instead. On both ends, drivers usually sit there for a few minutes before they head back out again. You may ask: what's the difference, it's only a short walk away? The old stop had a shelter. The other is a rod in the middle of grass, and what's more important to me- it doesn't have a sidewalk. I've seen people running for the buss across the grassy area just to make it. I can't do it. I can't roll off a sidewalk and go through grass, even if the driver can wait that long. They do wait for 5,10 often a few minutes especially on their last run. So, it does feel at times like the bus is mocking me. It's there, so close, but I just can't get to it. And I guess it's not a big deal. Most of the time I have 30 minutes to wait for the next one - and it will stop for me if i get to the usual shelter five minutes earlier, because it does go through there. But it doesn't leave you with a good feeling to know that there's yet another place you can't get to. That people can run for it, but you have to wait. And I'm sure there's a lot good reasons for it: safety, narrow roads, traffic. But what I want to know is how come we still have bus stops without sidewalk access, in the middle of a road or grass.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Starbucks remodel

All through law school I used to go to Starbucks almost every day. Grab a cup of a white mocha in a "for here" mug  and spend hours reading for class or studying for exams. Now I live across from their store in downtown Gainesville and you might be surprised to know- I don't go there that much at all. I'm a huge coffee drinker- although not as much as I used to. Its proximity was a huge selling point when I was picking out apartments and I still have meetings there from time to time because it has tables and chairs and it's a location that everyone knows.  The store changed - quite literally- and with the updated feel it is I who doesn't feel comfortable there anymore. Few months ago it underwent some extensive remodeling.  I was actually exited to see the finished product. It may look stylish and sophisticated and it even serves wine. In the process, with all the sitting areas and new furnitur,e it forgot to at least try to be wheelchair friendly. And I know it's probably not a concern for them. I doubt wheelchair users storm Starbucks locations daily to get coffee, but it matters to me. Coffee is an indulgence not a necessity and I tend not go where I don't feel welcome unless I have to. And if the most prominent area of the store is a high bar with stools, you know it feels off limits to me. Everything is out of reach. I'm now far more limited to where I can sit with my cup.  With the couch  closer to the door placed in front of some smaller tables and some tables on the sides, the shop feels like a maze that I have to navigate with small isles between the stools and chairs. I can't even roll from the door the door to the registers without waiting on someone to scoot over to let me get through or having to move their backpack off the ground. I could go for the table by the couches, but the isle is to small to face it, there's no room- so I have to position myself sideways. I can only use it as a side-table. It doesn't make me feel comfortable. Everything is higher and feels more crowed. Whoever approved this style clearly never had to use a wheelchair. I miss the times when the floorplan was more open and inviting. Because for me this was not it. I felt rushed. Even as I was able to claim some piece of a table top to rest my elbow on I felt constantly in the way. Unwelcome. Unwanted. Not fitting in with whatever "modern" design Starbucks  is going for as it transitioned from a coffee chain to "everything for everyone" type of franchise. I hope that it realizes that in turn it may disfranchise people like me. And I must say, As I ate my food and drank my cappuccino  facing the side of the room I kept thinking how much I'd like to sit with Starbucks executives, tell them about the work we have cut out for us at the Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation, the need for more inclusion, accessibility and empathy.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Brave Reporter

On Monday morning, Angie Angers, a reporter from a local CBS affiliate, GTN decided to spend 24 hours in a wheelchair. Just like in August we partnered with one of the biggest equipment providers in the country, Numotion- although this time they gave us (and her)  a different chair for a day. A light sports model that doesn't even fold. Angie seemed to have the navigation figured out pretty quickly as she went down and up the Hippodrome Theatre ramp both forwards and backwards, but her "left" and "right" was still a bit confusing. Her initial idea was to be in the wheelchair for a day like all our other participants earlier in the year and then report on her experience on local news. Here's what's brave about it. She was eager to do it. Her managers were excited for her to do it. And we were ready to go. You may ask, why is it such a big deal, it's just a wheelchair. But if you consider that reporters from the competition (ABC affiliate WCJB and student-ran PBS station WUFT)  were expressly told no to sit in the wheelchair, not to try it, not to pose with it, Angie's determination gains a new dimension. Where other stations focus of not offending anybody and tried to stay clear from making viewers uncomfortable and misunderstanding the point, GTN went for it. Yes, they will be tactful, yes, they will explain the motivation. But there are always risks of someone seeing this as mockery. Because disability and everything that comes with it scares people. To me- my wheelchair is a tool. It's an accessory. It allows me to be mobile. And it looks great. I don't project my fears, reservations and despair onto it and you shouldn't either. The types of reactions that we've gotten from the other stations was precisely the reason why we continued with the project and why  I want it to spread. To challenge how people feel about disability. How it's them who make awkward things that shouldn't be awkward and how a wheelchair becomes this sacred object with magical powers it was never intended to be. Some people use wheelchairs others wear glasses and we are all the same. And I will continue with projects like these until people continue to be weird about it, quite frankly. The more you fear it, they less likely you are to explore and learn about it, and we need to start having the discussion on disability. There was never a more pressing time to talk about wheelchairs and their roles in our lives. From Kylie Jenner's Interview wheelchair photoshoot and even more bizarre backlash  to changes in Medicare that will cut equipment reimbursements- the general public would support measures to address it but it doesn't understand it - and therefore it doesn't care. We haven't found the right model to talk about these issues and getting people interested and I'm doing my part. To me it's obvious that it has to start with people understanding wheelchairs and their users first and figuring out how they feel about it. To get there - they can't be scared of the chair or the conversation.

Later today I received information that GTN decided on a different angle. Some of the other managers became concerned with the story reported from the first person perspective. At first  I thought it meant they got scared and don't want her to be in the chair, but that's not the case. She is still filmed in it and goes about her day. Just not on the news. For her to be in the story someone else would have to report on it, so she decided instead to build her report from the video collection FDAAF already has and then talk about Foundation's mission, wheelchair issues and what is the idea that I'm pushing rather than a summary of Angie's day. GTN staff will give us videos of her experiences that you will access on our website hopefully this week.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

It's still offensive

How do you tell someone that what they do is offensive to you? That they hurt your feelings even if that wasn't their intention? Even if they don't know any better? Even if in their own mind they're doing something good. And, no doubt-- are themselves good people. How do you not kill that enthusiasm, that spark to help people, however misguided? And how do you not feel bad about yourself for saying something, because everything you say always comes out wrong?

There's a middle woman that I see walking her large dog around my apartment complex often. I think she lives in the the area. We cross paths when I get yo my bus stop and I wait for her to pass me in the sidewalk because dogs an wheelchairs don't mix. We often nod and smile as we go about our own ways. She seems like a nice lady. Last Sunday she chased me across the street where I was waiting for my bus and she insisted I take a dollar she was holding in her hand. When I declined, she made that gesture with her hand, the "c'mon, take it" encouragement. Here's what upsets me the most. When you do that, you instantly assume a number of things about me. It's not simply that you are better off than me economically, which would be bad enough. Yes - you assume that I'm homeless, that I'm in trouble, that you are in a position to help me without even asking if I need any help, that I'm some kind of nuisance, you can throw money at,that giving me money can make you feel better about yourself not being charitable or kind or understanding or giving enough. I didn't go to law schools around the world for then years just so I can panhandle in Florida. The most upsetting part is that you think you're better than me. That you don't think I had value. And then that I'm something you had to deal with.

The problem with that lady was that she hardly spoke any English. She seemed Latin. And it got me thinking as a Spanish speaking construction worker at the Reitz Union attempted the same thing a few weeks prior- maybe it's a cultural thing. Maybe this is how they were raised,  maybe this is how they react to people in wheelchairs in their part of the world. Doesn't mean that it was the right thing to do and that wasn't still offended. Because I can be a lot of things to reach higher and be bolder. I can be more educated and I work harder. But I can never not be in a wheelchair.

Last night, the same thing happened - only with Americans. I was out to throw some papers for a client into a mailbox. Instead of getting upset I told them I was a lawyer, and they were really surprised, because it was probably the last thing they expected to hear. He explained, he likes to help who he believes to be "less fortunate", but didn't mean to "offend". And I said calmly that it was still pretty hurtful whether it was his intention or not. I was out of my business cards, which he was eager to get, so I sent him to visit my blog. And I told him that the nonprofit I founded, Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation was created precisely to deal with these kinds of attitudes. If he feels bad - he should donate to it. We talked a bit and laughed a little. "Maybe I should make you feel worse about it so you gives us more money" I joked as we parted. But I know on some level at some point I'll need to come to terms with the idea that this is what people think, deep down. . And I don't think I ever should.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Today is Giving Tuesday. Here's how you can help

On December 1st, many nonprofits will double down on their fundraising efforts and the one I created is no different. With the support of online vendors such as Ebay or Amazon the industry will push to have the hashtag #GivingTuesday  trending, highlighting both the charity sector as a whole and their individual stories. Many worthy causes will introduce themselves to you and we all have one thing common: we want to make a difference. At the same time, smaller nonprofits like ours don't produce, make, sell or distribute anything and do not have a whole lot of power behind them. The sad reality we rely on donations and grants and a small handful of volunteers. Opportunities like this as we band together, are some of the few chances we have to convince you, to ask you  to give us a second look. We also have the attention of online payment tools, like PayPal, as they're trying to break the Guinness Book of Records world record for the biggest fundraising campaign today. Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation is part of that effort as well. If you donate, Paypal will forward 101% of your gift today. There's a lot of great stories.   Here's how I want to make a difference:

As someone who spent all his life in a wheelchair and proving I'm just as able, as capable, as professional as everybody else, I've  come to realize that while I'm doing all I can to prove myself, there's an issue with the public perception in  how it sees people like me. The problem is greater than me alone.  People with disabilities live in communities around you. I know first hand, we all want to feel included and appreciated, seen for more than just the external. To me it comes down to two major areas: being able to be mobile, function in the outside world and being able to access public areas with ease; And not having to deal with the stares, the looks, the well intended, but misplaced- pity. Just this Sunday a lady on the sidewalk attempted to give me a dollar she pulled out of her wallet. While in her mind she was helping someone in distress, the connection she made in her mind that disability equals trouble was the thing that worried me, not her actual actions. I need to educate people to change these attitudes and this is where I need your help.  This year, I'd like to focus FDAAF's action in following areas:
- To work as a disability clearing house by putting together a portal first in Florida, then beyond. We'd collect information on accessible buildings and areas, certify businesses as FDAAF approved on different levels, feature inspiring individuals with disabilities and stories of those who want to try their day in a wheelchair.
- A video is worth a thousand words. We have seen how we can change attitudes if we simply put people in a wheelchair, and then turn the camera on. In August we've spent an entire month giving business owners the wheelchair experience.  This is a project that inspired me to refocus on our mission, reenergized me and reassured me in what we were doing. I'm confident it needs to continue.

To me, it's a very personal cause. But I'm limited to how much I can do. I dedicated a lot of my time and money to make this vision come alive, and we're closer. But we do need your help. The harsh reality is that while we can lean on student volunteers to help us and they're eager to join and to learn- anything from t-shirts to pens and brochures cost money. We could do so much more with public support. We also hope to reach out to corporate sponsors- we can really make a difference together and reach out to a group of proud, independent, ambitious, driven people that are often overlooked. Please email me at
If you can, visit the PayPal's challenge to donate today

Or simply shop at Amazon via this link and they will donate on your behalf