Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ramps - Switchback

Through the winding tunnels under the University of Saskatchewan, which connect the buildings that vary in age, elevation and repair, a person will encounter many ramps of multiple different characteristics. Some are steep enough that I would not feel safe climbing or descending them independently in a manual or power wheelchair. Others are properly and reasonably gradual, with many ramps falling between those two extremes.

The ramp pictured above is one of the better ramps in the tunnel system underground. The switchback halfway up gives a person an opportunity to rest, regain strength for the next climb, and can be a place to wait for a clear path to the next plateau. This ramp would be one example of one that is too narrow for multiple people at once and when the masses are moving through here it can become intrusive to be the guy in a wheelchair blocking everyone else's way.

Unfortunately, depending on the time of day and year, some of the access points in these tunnels are often closed or locked which necessitates venturing outside to find a suitable detour. Often choosing to take the tunnels is a longer distance than going outside but it can save exposing oneself to the elements. When you hit one of these dead ends, only to have to go outside to find a detour, it results in much wasted time and energy in backtracking. Far from a perfect system when time between classes is short, transportation arrival and departure times have short windows, and when accessible washrooms are less frequent than they should be.

Thoughts: If attendance at a post secondary education institution is in your future minimize those first stressful days by having a good explore to determine the best routes for yourself. Don't be afraid to mention to the appropriate counselor the problem areas that need addressing. It may not be fixed by the time you have completed your stay but, hopefully, you will be making it better for the next person who needs proper access.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Slowing Things Down

My apologies that today's post did not get put up at the usual time and as expected. It is a work in progress and I'm happy that the reason it is not up is not due to illness or other problems but due to the fact that I was making a photo. The photo was an experiment that failed. Well, I suppose no experiment that teaches you something is a failure, but the results were not what I expected. Mainly it was due to the fact that garden flowers do not have the luminescence under UV light that I expected and that the moonrise calculator I used online was off by an hour because Saskatchewan and Mexico City are the only smart places in North America who do not participate in daylight savings time.

Summer is a great time for making photos, not as great for processing and writing posts because the winter will come too soon and too harsh to waste any opportunity to be outside enjoying the weather and photographing. The second reason that posting may slow down in this space is because I'm running very low on material ready to share. That doesn't mean I don't have ideas and photos brewing in the back of my mind but the images that are ready to go are growing fewer by the week. The third, and most significant, reason is that we are growing closer to the arrival of our baby which involves preparations and will involve a pleasant shifting of priorities in the next while.

I still welcome your visits, contributions and sharing my work with those you feel would benefit from, or appreciate, it. There may simply be occasional gaps in upcoming posts. By no means is this work complete or forgotten about. I may simply be even more aware and prudent about making the most of every opportunity available to me to create a new photo.

I expect to share this week's post with in the next two days and will try to have more work prepared ahead of time in case we have an early arrival of our family's addition.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ramps - My Van

After a fairly worry free ownership of a Dodge Grand Caravan, modified to have pneumatic suspension by Van Action, it was good to upgrade to a mass produced product that is the Braun Rampvan. Because they manufacture tens of thousands of these each year, with dealership and repair support in most major centers, it gave me much greater confidence in the ability to have a problem diagnosed and fixed quickly, should one arise. When the pneumatic suspension system on my Grand Caravan developed a leak finding it was incredibly difficult and when it was thought to be found and repaired it was not long before the problem resurfaced.

It was an excessive source of anxiety for me because that van could not be driven without that pneumatic suspension. It functioned by inflating the suspension every time the van was to be used. If the compressor that inflated the suspension were to fail it would be mere minutes before the van would be unsafe to drive. I was never stranded anywhere but with the compressor cutting in every 60 seconds my concerns over it having excessive wear or overheating and failing completely were not without merit. With a Braun Rampvan the rear suspension is compressed each time the user wants to enter or exit the van. If this system were to fail the ramp may be a bit steep but the vehicle would be perfectly drivable.

The ramp on these vans can vary in steepness from a grade of 1:7 to a grade of 1:9, when parked on a flat surface. This depends on the distance the floor is dropped and the style of ramp. In the case of mine, a Toyota Sienna, the floor had to be dropped 12 inches, which resulted in a slightly more gradual incline than in my friend Paul's Honda Odessy which has a 10 inch drop floor, but a different style ramp that is steeper for the first third, then more gradual for the top two thirds. One good push will get you over the steeper bottom half of his ramp then the rest of your climb is easy. The ramp on my van has only a slightly steeper bottom half and requires just a little more than one full push to get over that hump. You cannot always count on being able to, but when the opportunity to park next to a curb or sidewalk comes, take it. Your ramp will be virtually flat.

These differences between vehicles and ramps can be difficult to determine which will work the best based on your physical ability. An authorized dealer should be able to provide you with demonstration models to try. Other technology, such as hill climber brakes, are available to assist in the process. They will be covered in the future and I hope to complete compiling a video we recorded the raw footage for to demonstrate the difficulty of climbing each ramp on each van by two quadriplegics of slightly different levels of neurological function.

If there's one thing I have learned about vehicles it is that necessity truly is the mother of invention. When I had a ramp I needed to be able to climb my determination made it possible in a short amount of time. The same could be said for difficult transfers and many other physical things I needed to be able to accomplish independently. Determination and practice go a long way.

Other adaptations to the vehicle will be covered in future posts.

Source: Authorized adapted vehicle reseller and modifiers.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Ramps - Our Deck

The time has come to begin my series on elevated access. By that I mean ramps and lifts that enable us to access those places not on ground level. I say that the time has come because until now I have focused on subjects whose consequences have the greatest impact upon quadriplegics. Ramps and lifts affect such a broad range of disabilities it would be difficult to list them all.

This ramp is the one in our backyard that allows me access down to our patio, flower boxes and lawn. Our deck supports are made of treated lumber but the surface materials are made from Trex composite material that does not require staining or care of any kind. That, combined with the aluminum railings, was undoubtedly more costly initially but over the life of the deck the savings in stain and labor to maintain it will easily pay for the additional cost. At some point I will discuss the invisible costs of living with a disability. Paying for labor to do something as simple as stain a deck is one example of those less visible costs.

Though it does not look very steep because of my choice of ultra-wide-angle lens, the ramp is the building code standard of 1:12, which I find a very easy climb, unless my push rims happen to be wet from watering flowers or chasing the dog with the hose. Times like those I am grateful for my hill-climbers which, when engaged, prevent me from rolling backwards. On occasion the flat landing halfway up the ramp has been a great benefit to either have a different view of our backyard or to be a place to turn around and chase the dog back down.

One final note for anyone looking to build or modify a home to be barrier free: Be aware of your space limitations on each side of the house. On one side we have crushed rock, which I cannot access nor cross. On the other side, by the patio as pictured above, is a sidewalk that leads to her front gate with the inconvenient exception that the air conditioner blocks my path. Had we known, or had our home builder being more mindful of the situation, we would have either relocated the air conditioner or had it installed higher up so that getting past my wheelchair, or with the lawnmower, would be possible.

Source: Custom-built by our home builder to suit the size we wanted and the space available.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Zip Ties, Split Rings, and Paracord

When it comes to dexterity few things are as challenging as zippers. Tiny little tabs designed to be pulled with a pinch between the index finger and thumb. Not quadriplegic friendly.

My simple solution for a lot of years was split rings. I think every keychain in my parents' home was scavenged for this purpose. The fact that my dad had a small collection of keychains help my inventory of split rings to grow quickly. It's remarkable how many zippers there are to benefit from a permanent ring on them. Zippers are everywhere.

The one place that I most wanted my adaptation to be less visible was on the fly of my pants. For that location I chose to use a small black zip tie, as barely visible on the pair of jeans in the photo above. Zip ties like that do wear out in time and a few did break on me, leaving me with a bit of a struggle to do up my pants until it could be replaced with a new zip tie. Thankfully that zipper does not need to be started like on a full-length jacket zipper. I have no secret method to assist in starting a zipper on a jacket. That is simply a matter of trial, error and patience.

Though I still use split rings for a lot of purposes, I have transitioned to using paracord for most of my zipper pulls. There are a myriad of colours to choose from and their flexibility can provide minor advantages over split rings in certain circumstances. I have even begun transitioning away from bungee cord and toward paracord for my pant hooks. The snaps that connect two ends of paracord together to make a pullable tab and loop, like those attached to the yellow and black paracord in the photo above, are cheap and abundant on places like eBay. However, I found the ones I chose to not hold nearly as well as they should. I made certain to make my selection based on the size of paracord I was using, prepare the ends by cutting and melting them and made certain the snap was applied properly, but often it would let go at inopportune times.

The alternative is to simply thread your length of paracord through the zipper eyelet then tie the two lengths in a half hitch, as I have done for the zipper laying immediately to the left of the pouch, the second one to the right of the pink lanyard. A more interesting alternative is to tie an interesting knot in the end and use it as a lanyard, essentially a simplified version of the lanyard I tied to be my keychain. As frequently as we are forced to compromise form for the purposes of function, this is one of those simple places that I appreciate the more decorative look of a diamond knot lanyard over a simple half hitch. I decided to get extra fancy and do a double diamond knot for the longer zipper pull on my camera bag.

Hit me in the comments with your zipper adaptations, if you have any unique methods.

Source: paracord and snaps – eBay. Split rings – dollar store or craft supply store.