Each handicap is like a hurdle in a steeplechase, and when you ride up to it, if you throw your heart over, the horse will go along, too. ~~Lawrence Bixby

Sunday, December 20, 2015

How can I keep from singing?

Our choir (Aurora Chorus) sang two concerts last week, titled Grace Before Sleep. We’ve been preparing for this since September with weekly rehearsals, extra section rehearsals, a weekend retreat, endless memorizing and learning foreign language diction (Norwegian, Hebrew, Swahili, Spanish). It is a huge commitment, this choir gig – a commitment of time, energy, love. I know what I’ve signed up for; I know it’s challenging and exhausting; I know it’s a test of my mettle.

That's me, center stage, singing Mata del Anima Sola. 
I've written about the courage I need to muster to participate in these concerts. This one was no different. Singing a solo and accompanying a song on guitar in both shows required me to make my way to the front of the stage and back (with assistance) four times. I feel very conspicuous during this transition time, cane in one hand, gripping a sister singer with the other, trudging slowly and clumsily. So it did not help that I miscalculated and went upstage one song too early! When I realized what I'd done, it didn't make sense to struggle back to my seat and then move up again, so I sat there center stage through one whole song! Awkward!

And in spite of all the difficulty, I sang and played well, the audience seemed to like it, and it felt good to be able to do, once again, the thing I love so dearly. I am supported so completely by the other choir members, not just during my solo, but all term, whether it's negotiating the stairs in our rehearsal room or schlepping my guitar, there is always a hand or two at the ready to help.

It was not an easy day, though. The venue we've been using is wonderful for acoustics and aesthetics, but it sucks for accessibility - especially, like on this day, when one or both of the elevators are out of service and I have no choice but to use the stairs (with help, of course).

I've had to make a hard decision to not sing in this venue any more, after our March concert. It will break my heart to not participate, but it adds too much stress and physical strain to deal with flights of stairs in addition to the demands of stage movements and, well, just getting there! It's also not very good will for our audience members -- had I been attending this concert and been forced to use the stairs, I don't think I would have stayed. I have been in dialog with the chorus coordinators, and they get it and are taking steps to improve the situation. It has taken longer than it should have, however -- this is an issue that has come up over and over in this venue.

And it was a battle I did not want to take on for Grace Before Sleep. 

Photos by Kathryn Kendall.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Some etiquette and common sense...

...regarding people with mobility devices:

Sometimes I wish I could engage a protective bubble around my body when I’m in a crowd. It is a vulnerable feeling when one has balance issues and the potential for getting bumped or jostled is high. Here are a few things to keep in mind that will make life easier for people with mobility challenges (pardon the shifting POV):

  •  If you see someone using a cane, give them plenty of space. They are likely to be a bit wobbly, and any sudden bump, or even the potential for one, can be distressing at best and dangerous at worst. 
  • If someone with a cane is standing in line, DON’T cut in front of them to get through. It’s startling and has the potential to set off a domino effect. There is extra space around me in a line for a reason – and the reason is NOT for people to pass in front of me. (This could also be true for a walker user, depending on how stable they are; always err on the side of caution.) 
  •  If someone is in a wheelchair or scooter or walker, pay attention to how you engage with them. It’s easy to feel left out of a conversation and very uncomfortable when I have to strain my body to participate. If I’m standing with my walker, I can’t turn around quickly or easily to talk with someone. If I'm sitting on my scooter, I have to crane my neck to listen or speak if you stand off to the side or behind me. Place your body near or in front of me when conversing; look me in the eye. If you can’t see my face, I can’t see yours and I certainly don’t feel part of the conversation. This is especially true when two or more people are chatting with me. I know it’s not intentional, but it is so challenging to feel connected when I’m so disconnected physically. 
  •  I’m one who doesn’t mind talking about my physical challenges, but not everyone feels that way. Ask if it’s OK to talk about it or to ask questions. I will probably give you way more information than you want! 
  • The same applies around asking to help. I love it when people say, “Let me know if I can help” but I’m not fond of people assuming that I can’t manage things on my own. I’m very good about asking for help when I need it, but not everyone is – that’s why asking is so important. (See my earlier post for more guidelines on this subject.)
  • When you're planning an event - party, concert, etc. -- try to use a venue that's fully accessible. That means access to the building and to the area where the event is, accessible bathrooms (and preferably ADA, with grab bars and toilets that aren't made for a first grader!), and access to food areas. If there are tables and chairs check for paths for people using walkers or wheelchairs. This seems like a lot to ask, and may not be possible at times, but being excluded from events due to lack of access sends a hurtful message. If you can't provide access, let people know so they don't show up and find they can't participate. It still may not feel good, but at least they will have the information ahead of time. 
That's it for now. It seems like a lot to take in, but really, it's common sense. We're just not conditioned to think about these things. But I'm making progress in training my friends!