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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Update on zombies, trains and books

Hi everyone, I am sorry I haven't been posting much lately. I am very busy with University: my exams have started and I will have to study day in and day out until the end of July. I will try to post as much as I can, but you will have to be patient.

Here is a quick update on what I have been up to in the past few weeks:

ZOMBIELAND: I volunteer for the Red Cross and we organised a zombie-themed weekend. We played games with and taught basic first aid skills to people stopping by. We told the kids about the importance of a healthy diet and we all had so much fun. I turned into a zombie and scared a few kids ("Look, a zombie on a wheelchair!!!!").

Two of our professors are interpreters, they were working at the International Book Fair in Turin. A few of my friends were going and I decided to join them. We thought it would be interesting to see them at work.
That means I had to take the train, which can be a pretty long process when you live in Italy and use a wheelchair. Here is what I had to do once we had picked our trains:

1. Check on the website to make sure both trains were accessible (many of our trains are not!). I was lucky, they were both ok!

2. Email the office to tell them I wanted to take those trains and I needed a ramp because I was on a wheelchair. You have to contact them at least two days in advance (no, you can't just decide to take the train without booking, unless you are willing to walk and carry your chair up and down the stairs).

3. Wait for them to let me know if assistance was available. It was!

4. Get one of my friends' documents so that we could get a cheaper ticket (she was my caregiver xD).

5. Go to the ticket office with our documents and my card and buy the tickets.

6. Go to Genova (it takes about 40 minutes by car) because the railway station in my town is not accessible.

7. Show up at least half an hour before scheduled departure time (note: in Italy, trains are always delayed by at least 15 minutes)

8. Follow the assistance guys on the service elevator and through the basement, which is full of cables and other stuff (passengers aren't supposed to visit that part of the station, but there is no other way to get to the platform on a wheelchair).

9. Wait for the train

10. Get on the ramp and wait for them to connect it to the train so that I could finally take the train with my friends.

When we got there, our professors were already interpreting. It was nice to see them at work and think that maybe someday that will be our job. 

FIRST EXAM: Yesterday I passed the first exam of the semester! I have 4 more coming up in June.

I think that's all, I hope I can find the time to write new posts soon: I have a few topics waiting. ;)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My essay about inclusion

I had to write this essay for my English writing class and I decided to share it with you before I hand it in. As you know, English is not my native language, please excuse any mistakes. Feel free to contact me with any kind of advice! A big thank you to Philip for giving me a couple ideas.

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, which highlights the frequent exclusion of autistic people from school and work opportunities. To what extent do you agree or disagree with integrating disabled people into our everyday life?

Many people think people with disabilities should be separated because they are a “burden” to society. Every single person, with or without a disability, is unique, but that doesn't mean someone should be discriminated against because he doesn't fit in society's idea of normal. It is very important to include every person in everyday life and everyone can contribute to society if they are given the chance to. For example, autistic people are often considered “stupid” or “worthless” because of their unusual behavior, but this is just a prejudice caused by ignorance.

Autistic brains work differently from neurotypical brains. Because of the way their brains work, autistic people may need to move their body or avoid eye contact to be able to think and avoid sensory overload, but that doesn't mean they are mentally challenged. Many autistic people can't talk or communicate in a reliable way, so they are often put in special education. Teachers think they can't learn just because they can't demonstrate understanding in a “standard” way. This is not a solution. Society needs to give these kids accommodations to be heard and teach them in a way that they feel accepted and valued. Just because they can't speak, it doesn't mean they can't think or feel just like anyone else. There are methods such as RPM (Rapid Prompting Method) that allow non-verbal kids to communicate through typing, which allows them to be considered smart and reach their full potential. Such methods could allow inclusion of autistic kids in mainstream schools.
The problem of inclusion does not only apply to autistic people but to people with disabilities in general. The main obstacle to inclusion is society's perception of disability. Disabled people are seen as unable to achieve, they are considered a burden instead of a resource. This mindset leads to one of the biggest problems that we have to overcome in order to achieve full inclusion, that is pity. Pity is an obstacle to inclusion because able-bodied see disabled people as an opportunity to be nice and they feel good because they helped the unlucky ones. People who care about and love someone with special needs are often considered heroes, in the same way as people on wheelchairs, for example, are considered heroes just for getting out of bed and remembering their names.
This is a very dangerous way of thinking because it implies someone doesn't deserve to be loved and accepted as much as anyone else just because of their disability and that disabled people are expected to spend their lives at home doing nothing, so it is surprising to see people on wheelchairs living a normal life.

Many people with disabilities, especially if they are mentally challenged, are given jobs “just to give them something to do”. In many cases, people with special needs work very hard and are often underpaid. The people hiring them take advantage of the fact that in some cases they can't advocate for themselves and they don't have a strong support system to “exploit” them.

In many countries, the school system doesn't do much to include kids with special needs in mainstream education. Let's try to figure out what the obstacles are and what we could do to remove them: different kinds of disabilities mean different kinds of obstacles.
Kids with developmental disorders may find it hard to attend a mainstream school because of their lack of social interaction (as in the case of autism), but they could be gradually included if the school makes an effort to help them overcome their challenges, for example by testing them in a way that they can demonstrate understanding, which may not be the typical way. Some kids, for example those with Down Syndrome, have intellectual disabilities that may prevent them from keeping up with the other kids' schoolwork, these kids will have different tasks if necessary, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be able to do their best and be around their non-disabled peers.
Kids with physical disabilities may have trouble attending school because of physical obstacles, such as stairs or lack of equipment (computers, special desks and so on). These problems are really easy to solve and public schools should make an effort to make the school buildings accessible to kids of all abilities. Inclusion does not only benefit kids with special needs, it also teaches other kids respect for all people and increases their understanding and acceptance of diversity.

People are only disabled when the environment around them doesn't enable them to reach their full potential. By eliminating the obstacles to inclusion, we turn the disability into a distinctive feature, which is not something bad, it is just part of a person and it has to be embraced. If we make an effort to fully include people with special needs in society we will learn to see the world from a different perspective and free our mind from prejudice. Inclusion is something we could all benefit from.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

WCMX World Championship: Guest post by David!

Here is a guest post from my friend David from Germany. He flew to the US to take part in the competition and did very well! In this blog post, he tells us about his experience with Team Germany (my friends Lisa, Philipp and Anna are with him together with a couple other guys). If you understand German, you can follow their adventures on "The wheel rocking world of Lisa and David". Thanks David for sharing your post with me!

Team Germany
Ph. Anna Spindelndreier

The World Championship in Dallas is over and it was such a great weekend. I really can't thank the organizers from Rise Adaptive sports enough. After winning an international contest last year in Venice Beach, I was already being called a world champion. But in fact this was the first official world championship: a hard-earned name, with 18 riders from 8 countries.

On Saturday, during the qualifiers, I was very nervous, but apparently my run was very satisfying not only for me, but also for the jury, that rewarded it with the 2nd place. The first 12 qualified for the final: alongside me there were Aaron Fotheringham, Blake Simpson, Katherine Beattie, Rico Reyes, Toni Quinoero Martin, Jake Harvey, Shaun Doss, Quinn Waitley, Pedro Henrique, Christiaan Bailey and Philipp Cierpka.

We have made a little edit of the runs of team Germany (Lisa, Philipp, Paul and I):

The kids of Team Box with Aaron Wheelz

On Sunday it was make-or-break. The scores from the qualifiers were invalid, only the two runs from Sunday determined the final ranking. Still, I was clearly not as nervous as I was on Saturday. It was different for Philipp. He was very nervous and worried he could break his wheel, which he had bent on Saturday, during his good qualification run. Even in his final runs, his excitement was noticeable, but he handled it very well and can now consider himself one of the 12 best WCMX riders in the world.

Though for Paul and Lisa the competition was over after the qualifiers, Lisa barely missed the finals with a 13th place and Paul, after a long mandatory break and with an unfamiliar wheelchair (he got my old TNS with last-minute emergency adjustments) has done well and gained the 15th place.

David can fly.
Ph. Anna Spindelndreier

So it was Philipp and I in the finals. Philipp was the first one to ride on Sunday, unfortunately he was so nervous he crashed several times: nothing bad, but points are taken away after each fall.
Besides crashes, creativity, style, use of skatepark (that is if you are using everything or just rolling in circles), tricks and lines or combos (the way you connect the different tricks and gaps in the skatepark) are evaluated. Once again, I decided to use my safe repertoire and preferably try not to fall and to make my tricks look as easy as possible, which I did. I was very happy with my runs and I managed to use everything, without crashing in the valid runs and with everything I could do at Alliance skatepark. Without crashing? Well, not really: during the very last trick of the very last run, I still managed to lay on the ground. I have tried to come down the handrail with a 50-50 and fell on my back. Anyway, I only did that because the first run was perfect and I thought: “If I make it, then it's good, but it's not a problem if I don't.” Only the best run was valid.

Aaron's handi-plant
Aaron crashed a few times, but compensated for them with his powerful tricks and managed to take home the title. Blake Simpson, the one I was betting on, who also was 1st in the qualifiers, unfortunately didn't have luck on Sunday and placed 6th . The 2nd place, that went to Pedro Henrique from Brasil, was not surprising but well deserved. Until then, I only knew his breathtaking backflips out of the quarter, which he also showed his ability at during the weekend. He landed all of them except one, putting pressure on everyone. Even Aaron wasn't able to land backflips at such rate. However, in such a contest, a single backflip is not enough to obtain a good place. Pedro proved that he can do other things besides using the jumpramp. His grinds, together with his fakie firecracker down the stairs, were crucial for the ranking.

I followed in the 3rd place: thereby the jury rewarded my clean runs and my use of the entire skatepark, as well as the fact that I always used each and every second of my 2 minutes. 
A video of Philipp's run, as well as mine, will follow; here are the general highlights: 

With 750 $ prize money and a bunch of new impressions and friends, the adventure continues. Because, as I am writing this text, I am already in Austin, very comfy at the breakfast table. What we experience here, you will find out soon. 

Greetings from Austin, Texas from Lisa, Anna and David

The winners: 1. Aaron Fotheringham 2. Pedro Henrique 3. David Lebuser 4. Rico Reyes 5. Jake Harvey
Ph. Anna Spindelndreier