Accessible Hiking

I recently came across the PiggyBackPack.  WIth many years of working with people of all abilities I saw great uses for the PiggyBackPack.  Bringing children with disabilities out on the trail, in nature, theme parks and whatever else you can think of.  Spending many years limited with the children who were in wheelchairs I would of loved to have something like this to give them an opportunity to see more and do more.

Here is a story of a woman who uses the PiggyBackPack with her boyfriend to access hiking trails.

Accessible Trails are almost non-existent for me, due to my Spinal Cord Injury. Before my accident I did a lot of hiking and loved to backpack. My wheelchair limits me for obvious reasons. I am the 5th generation on a family owned and operated Apple Orchard here in rural Western Massachusetts. Being in nature was a huge part of my life and not being able to get out on the farm, like I used to, was really frustrating. Any time I needed or wanted to get somewhere, my wheelchair didn’t allow, I would hop on my brother’s or friend’s back and they would piggy-back me. The problem was that I couldn’t flex my leg muscles to help keep me in a proper piggy-back position. My butt would slowly slip lower and lower on their back and my arms would start to feel as if they were going to fall off from all the work I was doing just to hold on. I started trying to design something that would help keep my butt in place. I had multiple ideas of what would work for me and the person carrying me.

I stumbled upon the PiggyBackPack when it was featured in the New Mobility Magazine I subscribe to. Jackpot! This was exactly what I was looking for. The PiggyBackPack allows me to be carried for much farther distances without fatiguing my arms or hurting the person carrying me. My boyfriend and I will use it to take the dogs for a walk out on hiking trails here on the farm. There are a couple accessible trails in local parks but it’s not the same when you’re rolling on concrete vs a dirt trail. We recently took it with us on our vacation to the Dominican Republic. We didn’t know if we would run into accessibility issues at the resort and wanted a back up plan. Besides, we wanted to walk on the beach together and wheelchairs do not roll through sand easily. It was totally worth the extra space it took up in my luggage! The PiggyBackPack makes life so much easier for you and the person carrying you. The only downside is that they shoulder straps are narrow and not heavily padded. The idea is to have all the weight distributed through the hips but being 5’4″ tall and 110 pounds my boyfriend starts to have discomfort in his shoulders due to the straps digging in. I’m hoping to beef up the padding to eliminate the discomfort. 

I personally think the PiggyBackPack is IDEAL for someone that has a disabled child. It’s such doable and easy way to get an individual out in nature, up flights of stairs, or inaccessible paths. Another example: There is a National Forest that my boyfriend and his family like to visit every year. It’s tradition that his brothers and sister meet him there with all their kids and hike down a trail to a small river with smooth rocks to slide on. The PiggyBackPack made that trail accessible for me. Someone carried a camping chair and once we arrived at our destination I was able to sit and enjoy the river. I would have been able to do that without the PiggyBackPack but we would have had to take MANY breaks along the way to rest my arms and his back. 

Picture of man carrying woman with the piggybackpack on a hiking trail

Using the PIggyBackPack to access hiking trails.

You can learn more about the PiggyBackPack at,, and on twitter #piggybackpack

Houston Hoffman: What’s the Difference?

As we have lost another contributor to the world I can’t help but ask, What is the difference?

Yesterday I was waiting to hear all the awful things about Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Waiting to see horrible pictures, cartoons, comments about his addiction.  Waiting to be completely disgusted by the lack of empathy and the judgements of others.  Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, I didn’t see anything like that.

When Whitney Houston died from an addiction in 2012 all I saw were horrible awful things about her.  What is the difference??

Both made outstanding, award winning contributions in their fields.

Both left behind children.

Both had been to rehab.

Hoffman was 46 and Houston was 48.

Both died in February.

Both died from addiction.

Both died in a way no one wishes to die with Houston in the bathtub and Hoffman with a needle in his arm.

So again, What is the difference?

Houston’s addiction was always in the headlines while Hoffman’s addiction was more private?

Houston was a woman/mother while Hoffman was a man/father?

Houston was a black woman while Hoffman was a white man?

Houston had to live up to a certain beauty concept for women while Hoffman was accepted just the way he was?

Does it have to do with their significant others?

Has society gone through some sort of enlightenment in the last 2 years… have we become more accepting of people’s circumstances?

What is the difference?

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

I just found out May 9, 2012 is the first annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day.  I have to say I was surprised this is the first annual and I am so grateful for those who got it all together.

Some of their suggestions to become more aware about accessible technology: (

Go Mouseless for an hour

Surf the web with a screen reader for an hour

Learn and use other OS/Mobile Accessibility Features

Try other Adaptive Software Tools

Contribute directly to the Digital Accessibility Efforts

A suggestion I have is to check out the Adaptive Use Musical Instruments (AUMI) Software Interface.  I work as the Project Manager on this project thru the Deep Listening Institute.  It is FREE to download and use and is for Mac and PC.  It uses video tracking so people with limited movement can improvise music.  Below is a tutorial I did with the last update of the software.  Wednesdays is what I call Music Making Wednesday because we bring AUMI to a school for children with special needs and have an amazing drum circle.  The students who can play the drums do just that and the ones who can not play the drums independently play AUMI.  Everyone in our group are independent music makers.  We are proud of our Play the Drum Band.  You can also check out AUMI on Facebook for the most up to date information.

Music by Prudence

Seems like this week I am in the film mood.

Music by Prudence is a definite must see if you have not seen yet.  Also if this band ever comes your way I hear it is amazing!

The film follows singer/songwriter Prudence Mabhena who leads the band Liyana from Zimbawe.  Liyana is a band made up of musicians with disabilities.

It won an academy award for best documentary short in 2010.

Here is the trailer below but you can watch more video clips on the Music by Prudence website.

A Child is Waiting

I am a HUGE Judy Garland fan and last year around this time I came across the film A Child is Waiting (1963).  Judy Garland is a music teacher just starting a job at a mental hospital and trying to help one of the clients at the hospital.  Burt Lancaster is also in the film as the director of the hospital  You can read more about it on Wiki.

This film really surprised me as to the thoughts of people with disabilities, that some of the cast were children with disabilities and the way children with disabilities were treated in education.  You can watch this film on Netflix 

There is a scene mid way thru or so where there was some sort of board meeting or funding meeting and the director of the hospital was explaining the importance of funding the hospital and the education of the children there.  The funders or whoever they were kept implying they would rather fund children who were able to ‘make a difference’ in the world so to speak… have jobs, lead ‘normal’ lives.  This seen was amazing to me and spoke loud and clear that today we are still lacking in the funding for education of children with developmental disabilities and the words in that scene still ring true in my opinion.  I was hoping I could show you that clip but the film has been removed from youtube.  I definitely recommend taking the time to watch this video.  It will make you go hmmm.

Here is the trailer

Long time no post

Hi all,

So sorry I have been a slacker.  Been in a bit of a cloud for the last couple months but I am back to being me… or as close as I can be to me for now.  So I will be posting some thoughts I have had for the last few months.  Thanks for stopping by.


Accessible Grieving

As I have been reading and watching the after effects of Whitney Houston’s death I can’t help but be sadden and just ashamed of the way people talk about a human being.  It isn’t just her death but so many who die from addiction or mental illness.

I can’t say I am a Whitney Houston fan… I knew very little about her.  I had no idea she had a daughter or that she had an album in the last decade… but again I don’t listen to the radio, read magazines or watch much of any TV… it doesn’t mean that I did not grieve for her death.  I have to say I am probably a little more sensitive to death and I grieve for anyone who has died… but mainly grieving for the people who lost someone they loved.

Whitney’s songs do bring up memories for me.  Her music came about while I was growing up… going to school dances, having crushes and a time where it felt like a song was written just for me.  I remember watching The Bodyguard and thought how strange it was for a white man and black woman to fall in love… how eye opening that was for me.  I was a freshman in high school maybe.. and came from a small Nebraska town so that wasn’t something I ever saw.  So to me it is more grieving of the memories than the actual person.

The way society focuses in on the ‘bad’ about a person who dies from addiction or mental illness is very disheartening to me.  When I was 9 years old my grandmother killed herself… living in a small town of about 6000 people the word travels fast.  My parents sent me to school the day after she died and because she committed suicide I was not consoled or even a hug from my teachers or friends… instead my teacher laughed at what my grandmother did and told me she was stupid, my friends told me she was going to hell.  I felt I could not grieve but had to put on an armor to protect her memory and myself.  Unfortunately, there is no armor strong enough to withstand negative comments about someone you loved who left way too soon.   To me my grandma was a good person who went to church on Sunday and loved me… and I loved her… so it was confusing and life changing to me that people would see her as anything different.

So when I see and hear all of these negative comments about anyone who has died, I grieve… I grieve for people who I have known who died from something society doesn’t think is ‘right’, I grieve for my grandmother, I remember the wonderful things about people whose demons were overpowering.  I remember their strengths, what they meant to me or to someone they loved.  I realize my own demons and the power I can have to shrink those demons and those times where the demons overpowered me.

As my grandmother was a great woman I believe Whitney was a great woman.  I think of her loved ones… I think of all who have lost someone from addiction or mental illness.  I hope for peace for myself and all who have been thru something similar.

I could not imagine what Whitney’s loved ones are feeling at this moment when every where you look is something negative about her.  I am thankful I only had to deal with a small town of people and it wasn’t plastered on the front page of every magazine and paper and all over the internet.. but to me that small town was all I knew so I guess it was the same for me… except I could move away and escape and it is everywhere for them… but does it really matter?  Why would anyone say something negative about someone who died?  where is the respect for human life?  all human life?  Everyone means something to someone so who are we to say anything different?  Who are we to judge another?… no one knows all the facts… or in someone else’s head… so how can we judge?

I guess a little empathy and compassion goes a long way.  Addiction and mental illness are not something to judge but something to help and to send a little compassion.  Everyone has demons… everyone has their issues… everyone deserves a bit of compassion and respect.

Thank you Whitney for paving the way for Women who want to be or who are artists.  You made a difference and you are FABULOUS!


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