On “Commuting While Crippled”

Casey, a graduate student in kinesiology, has kindly shared with us a recent post on “commuting while crippled” – a concern scholars with disabilities face that is rarely discussed on campuses.  Be sure to check out Casey’s blog, Adventures of a Part-Time Wheeler (and its facebook page!), including another post on travel-related concerns as a disabled person.

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Commuting While Crippled

Minnesota MS 150 bike ride, June 2007

Photo description:  This photo was taken in 2007 at the MS 150 bike ride in Minnesota.  It was taken on a paved bike trail with grass and trees in the background.  I’m on a seafoam green road bike (skinny tires and curved handlebars).  I am visibly fat wearing spandex black cycling shorts and a jersey that says “Erik’s Bike Shop” along with a white and teal helmet with a blonde ponytail visible.  I have dark sunglasses and a smile (although I didn’t see the photographer…I was just having fun!).

The past few years as a graduate student, I’ve had a pretty constant gripe about the difficulties I’ve had with transportation to and from the campus.  I live within what would normally be considered “walking distance” from campus, which means that I live about 0.75 miles away from campus (which I could wheel if the hills wouldn’t flip me backwards out of my chair).  As a kinesiologist (someone that studies human physical activity), I deal with ableism, both internalized and from a sociocultural standpoint.  It’s compounded by being fat, with the standard response to being both fat and gimpy is “just get off your ass and you wouldn’t be fat OR gimpy.”  Yeah, right. *sarcasm*

Non-walking options are also prohibitive.  Handicap parking lot passes run about $325 for the school year (and does not guarantee a spot that is actually walking distance for me, or safe when I’m wheeling).  The city bus system doesn’t have a spot nearby (as my home is considered close to campus).  The “special needs” bus requires a one hour window for a ride, which is not feasible with my schedule or my actual health care needs (and that’s when it actually works….it is notorious for losing appointments).  I’ve asked my partner to drive me to campus, but it costs more gas (as he works from home usually) and it grates on my fierce need to be independent whenever possible.

I’ve been toying with options.  I’ve wanted a moped for about a decade now ever since I saw a Vespa scooter, but I would need a three-wheeled scooter because of my balance and my shortness.  I would also need money that I just don’t have right now (the cheapest trike scooter I’ve seen is about $2,000 and the one I’ve been drooling at from Auto Moto with a roof is about $4,000).

Another option that I’ve wanted to pursue but can’t afford is a recumbent trike.  They aren’t that common, although recumbent exercise bikes in gyms and rehab facilities are.  This style of bike would allow me to bike without worrying about tipping over or dealing with legs that randomly give out on me.  Just like the moped, they are way out of my price range with most of them above $1,000 (and the good quality ones like the Catrike are at least $2,000).

My bronze crutch rigged to my red commuter

Photo description:  Photo taken outdoors at a bike rack with a bush in the background.  It shows a bronze forearm crutch attached to the handlebars of a red commuter bike (hard to see because of the bright sunlight and bush in background).

On Monday, I gave my old commuter bike a try.  It’s a youth Giant brand mountain bike that I bought when I first moved to North Carolina (I nicknamed it the Red Dwarf Giant because of the small size).  I had a bike shop in 2008 swap the tires from trail tires (which are thick and nubby and make road riding more difficult) to commuter tires (that are thicker than road racing tires but smooth).  I tied my forearm crutch to the handlebars, which doesn’t help with my balance and proprioception issues, but at least I have it to help me dismount and walk around campus.

How did it go?  Well, it was rough.  My partner helped me get the bike ready for me and we had to do some on-the-fly adjustments.  The seat had to be lowered significantly because I have to be able to reach the ground with my legs while on the seat….which means that I can’t pedal in an efficient manner (and makes it much more difficult to pedal, especially up hills).  I’m also unable to stand up and pedal to tackle hills.  I was a sweaty mess for my meeting with my faculty adviser (thankfully my adviser is also a kinesiologist, so the “freshly exercised” look is pretty normal in our departmental offices).

Since the ride to and from campus wasn’t too bad, I tried it again on Tuesday.  My rear end was sore because I wasn’t wearing padded shorts and my seat is an original factory issued barely padded beast.  The seat position, while rectifies part of the problem with my balance, makes any incline hell on my body and my spine.  Being able to get to campus without using gas is great, but it hurts and burns energy that I still don’t have.

This morning, I had to ask my partner to drive me to school.  Not only has biking blown through spoons that I sometimes don’t have, it seems to have eaten the energy I need to get to work and to do my scholarly activities.  Just crawling out of bed, getting into the shower, getting dressed, and grabbing the easiest breakfast option left me feeling like I needed to go back to sleep because of extreme pain and fatigue.  I managed to get through my four hour shift, but I’m not sure if I can manage to get my reading done for class tomorrow, or if I’m going to be able to go to the intermediate tribaret bellydance class tonight.

The bike commuting experiment may continue, but we’ll see what happens.  Money really has me stuck between a rock and a hard place.