Embracing the Outdoors and Venturing Into the Unknown

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by Kevin Schaefer |

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“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. … You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

By now, my readers and editors are probably rolling their eyes at the absurd number of Tolkien references I manage to insert into my columns. For those of you who are unaware, I like “The Lord of the Rings” a lot. And yes, I am devouring the new podcast from the actors who played Merry and Pippin in the films.

Still, the above quote from the character Bilbo often rings true. As a lifelong wheelchair user, the outside world is a tricky place to navigate. Even with the Americans with Disabilities Act in place since 1990, many public spaces remain woefully inaccessible. Part of the reason I mainly go to my favorite movie theaters and bookstores is that I know these places inside and out. Sometimes even venturing to a new restaurant comes with risks.

Case in point, one day while in college, I had planned to meet a friend at a coffee shop. It was on the far end of a long street across from campus, but still within walking distance. I started trekking toward the designated location, but hit a literal curve about midway through.

As I was nearing a crosswalk, this part of the street looked like it hadn’t been paved since Tolkien began writing “The Hobbit.” There were cracks, potholes, and bumps all around the area. I naively thought I could navigate around the obstacles and make it to the other side of the street. Instead, I became stuck near one of the cracks. I wasn’t in the street and blocking traffic, but I was unable to move.

A nearby driver was kind enough to step out of their car and help me. Mostly, I needed my hand adjusted so I could back my chair up. I then texted my friend and suggested we meet up at a different location.

This is just one of many examples, but it’s why I tend to prefer indoor activities. I naturally gravitate toward cool, dark theaters and shops with wide, open spaces. Venturing into the unknown is indeed a dangerous business.

Nevertheless, I’m not averse to the outdoors. During the spring and summer months, I relish the opportunities to ride around the neighborhood and enjoy the fresh air.

Back when I first got my service dog, Pandy, I began making these “walks” a regular thing. What started as something to keep her active turned into one of my favorite pastimes. I came to love these moments of tranquility when I could either clear my head or collect my thoughts, say hello to neighbors, or watch my canine companion scare away the geese in our front yard.

When Pandy passed away last summer, I knew I would continue my routine walks. If anything, I’ve made them longer and more drawn out. I take my time and travel to opposite ends of my neighborhood, stopping to converse with people along the way.

Even these little trips come with risks. I have to make sure my hand doesn’t slip off my chair’s joystick or my phone doesn’t fall off my tray. To do this, I slow down when necessary and recognize when I need to turn around and go home.

Rolling outside my front door is a dangerous business, but more often than not, the risks are worth it.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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