This is part of the Brejcha Personal and Disability Resource Site, and after reading this page you can Click here for a Menu . But for now, Welcome to my:
Copyright: F. Alexander Brejcha
In addition to a selection of fiction stories and some magazine articles on disABILITY issues and my flying lessons in the hand control-equipped sailplane pictured on my home page, I have had a number of disability-related editorial and commentary responses published, as well as a commentary of my own.
My first newspaper publication is a feature article I did for the Pittsburgh Press Sunday paper on March 29, 1989 published under the title of "Well-Laid Plans Best Offense for Disabled", changed from my original "Traveling Despite Physical Disabilities". An updated and considerably expanded rewrite of this will also be a chapter in Powering Past Disabilities. To access a near-final version, click here on Travel to read that article.
The next is from the January 22nd, 1993 issue of the Philadelphia Daily News (sister magazine to The Philadelphia Inquirer - check out their superb website), and it is in response to Pennsylvania State Representative Mark B. Cohen's comment that his "severe physical handicap" of a bad back justifies his flying at tax payer expense between Philadelphia and Harrisburg because he can't tolerate driving or taking the train. While I don't question the fact that a bad back may indeed make other modes of transport less comfortable, I was very bothered by his "severe handicap" statement, and made the following response -- in the heavily edited version which was printed (the disk with the original was virus-fried [and yes, I am now making extra back-ups and practicing safer computing])...
He's not impressed by Rep. Cohen's commute
I always try to find humor and irony in difficult situations, but I have to confess that both escaped me when I read state representative Mark B. Cohen's Guest Opinion on Jan. 7th.
He writes that he "...overcomes [a] severe physical handicap to serve constituents..." by flying (obviously at tax-payer expense, since he is defending his practice) between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. His given reason is that because of back problems he is "...finding it more and more difficult to drive or take Amtrak's somewhat bumpy train." Silly me. I am paralyzed from the waist down, strongly spastic without my medication, have reduced coordination and stamina, and sundry other problems, but I don't consider myself severely handicapped. Why should I? I live independently alone and drive 66 miles a day for a hospital job where, every night, the lives of patients literally depend on my doing my job correctly and quickly. I also volunteer as an executive officer of the West Chester Borough Commission on Disabilities. And I have a freelance career as a writer. And for fun, I'm starting training to be a pilot in a hand-controlled sailplane. I do all this to make a living, to have fun, and to help others -- not to "overcome" my handicaps.
But apparently I have been using the wrong frame of mind and working the wrong job, if a government position and a bad back entitles one to free commuting flights. As it is, I drive a dying 12 year-old van with 175,000 miles on it, which I just can not afford to replace and can barely afford to keep running.. Admittedly, Occupational and Vocational Rehabilitation will help me convert another van if I get one -- and don't get me wrong, I am extremely grateful -- but it won't get me another van. I'm almost tempted to run for government to get more percs. Almost. (Note: As of August, 1993, I found a mint-condition '88 Ford Conversion van with only 24,000 miles on it and with an owner anxious to sell who gave me an excellent price, and with OVR's generous help I had it handicap-converted -- of course, now it's up to over 110,000 miles [though it still looks almost new])
I don't mean to belittle the very real pain a bad back can cause, but Representative Cohen's hyperbolic wording is an insult to a great many people who would happily trade places with him.
Here is where I got to share one of my home page mottos. The next item was a "Dear Abby" letter of mine which was printed (with varying amounts of editing) in newspapers including the Daily Local News of Chester County and the Philadelphia Daily News on April 5th, 1994. My letter was in response to a letter from a thirty-five year-old man who had labeled himself "Loser in Kansas" and complained about how he was unable to get a girlfriend because he was neither rich nor handsome.
"Abby" had rightly counseled him that he was making for a self-fulfilling prophesy by considering himself a loser. It was a perfect opportunity to add my input to that, considering how badly people with disabilities view themselves -- and I got to to reinforce "Abby's" message...
Regarding the letter from "Loser in Kansas", I wanted to add my own input -- just in case he won't take your word for it. I am also an average-looking 35 year-old man who has never been married -- though I too want to meet the right woman. But I am also paralyzed from the waist down, partly incontinent and basically impotent. Just what any woman would go looking for, right?
However, in the past ten years since becoming "disabled" I have not only kept working and living independently, but I have had three wonderful relationships (emotionally and sexually [my motto: "if what you got don't work, you work with what you got!"]), the last one leading to thoughts of an altar, but our inflexibly conflicting work schedules and distance between our homes were unfortunately too much. Maybe next time?
Like you said: "If you label yourself a loser, you will never be a winner." I'm sure not giving up!
Another newspaper item of mine I wanted to share was a commentary essay from the July 27th 1995 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer. My title of "We're also coming out" was changed to "The mainstream is getting used to the disabled", a title which annoyed me as it makes us seem like an annoying component of society which has to be tolerated. But since my essay was left entirely intact -- which is far better than usual -- I can't complain too much. At least I got to express my thoughts on a changing society...
The Mainstream is Getting Used to the Disabled
Philly is changing.
Before my disabilities progressed to the point that I became dependent on a wheelchair, I lived in center city and enjoyed it. I walked to work, took the subway to school, and basically just enjoyed a life uncomplicated by commuting hassles and the expense of car insurance and maintenance (I had access to one of my parents' cars if I needed it).
Then I was diagnosed with M.S. in 1980.
As I was ambulatory the first few years, I did not have to make too many changes immediately, other than to give up walking to work. But walking with a cane changed to using a cane and leg braces, then special crutches, and then a walker. Finally, a wheelchair became the only practical way to get around for more than a few steps. Because of the rapid progression of my M.S., it was clear that my apartment would soon be inaccessible because of the steps in front of the building, and I also realized that I would soon need a van with a wheelchair lift. It was getting more and more difficult to haul my wheelchair in and out of the car I had started using full-time.
That was in 1984.
Faced with the daunting task of finding an accessible apartment as well as insuring and parking a lift-equipped vehicle in the city -- I fled to the suburbs. Fortunately Graduate Hospital was a very accommodating employer --even before the Americans with Disabilities Act -- and my job was secure. But even if I would have been able to find an appropriate apartment in the city, continuing to live there had lost its appeal as I discovered that curb cuts and accessible restaurants and shops were a rarity. And forget about public transportation! But near West Chester I found an affordable first floor apartment in a gorgeous, grassy, and clean complex, with accessible parking right outside the door. And with the blessings of the complex manager, I had a reasonably-priced contractor put in a beautiful ramp right up to my front door and from the sidewalk to the parking lot.
Fast-forward ten years to 1994.
Though I now transfer from a manual to a power wheelchair when I go out due to fatigue problems, my M.S. has since stabilized and I have settled into the standard suburbanite commuting life. Fortunately, I work the night shift and I'm heading West on the Schuylkill when there is an East-bound parking lot, even if I still hate the time and expense of a daily sixty-six mile commute. But as I thread my way through city traffic in the morning to reach the expressway, I see changes happening everywhere I turn.
Street corners that were once impassable barricades (except where sinking sidewalks have leveled them with the streets) are one by one being chopped up and ramped for wheelchair use, and access is being provided -- where possible --to office buildings, restaurants and shops. Yes, the Americans with Disabilities Act, as vague and confusing as it is, mandated these changes, but the result has been an expanding range of opportunities that never fails to excite me. Every day, I see more and more people out on the street and enjoying the varied life around them -- people who not long ago were trapped at home, watching, wishing and dreaming, but never participating. We're 'coming out' all across the country as accommodating disabilities has become 'politically correct' (ugh) and legally mandated. And this increased participation in life extends to recreation. All across the country, countless wheelchair basketball teams enter into fierce competition and there is now Olympic competition for athletes with disabilities. And locally -- just to name a few activities -- there is a rowing program on the Schuylkill river (contact Terry Oliver, 215-677-3668 or Isabel Bohn, 215-222-6277), virtually free sailplane piloting lessons at Van Sant Airport in Bucks County courtesy of Freedom's Wings (contact Ray Temchus at 908-232-6354), and a swimming program at some Y.M.C.A. branches (call your local branch for availability).
There is also another wonderful side benefit of this greater access to life. As it becomes easier for people with disabilities to be socially active --and working professionals since the A.D.A. applies to personnel policies as well as physical access -- the mainstream world is getting used to seeing and interacting with us. And that is important. It is human nature for people to fear, resent, or be uncomfortable with those they do not understand. But with more exposure often comes greater understanding and tolerance.
It is also something I try to promote with the freelance writing I do on the side. A number of my published and pending mainstream fiction stories feature characters with disabilities -- where the character is the focus, not the disability -- and I have also had a couple of disability-related mainstream articles published. By presenting characters with disabilities in settings and publications not known for this, I aim to entertain as well as to educate.
Like all people with disabilities, I have the same range of hopes, fears, dreams and interests as everyone else, and all I want to do is to show this to the world to help break down the remaining non-physical barriers that separate us.
And even if I still make it a habit to ask about accessibility when making dinner reservations or travel plans, it is becoming easier and easier to just be me: "a thirty-six year-professional", not me: "a frustrated man in a wheelchair"
The next piece is from the July 2, 1997 issue of The Philadelphia Daily News. It is not disability-related, but rather an annoyed expression against a disrespectful neglect shown by The Philadelphia Daily News, KYW News Radio (Philadelphia's #1 news radio station), and even CNN Headline News - all respectable news media.
She was Dr. Shabazz
I grew very annoyed when I read two articles about Betty Shabazz's death (June 24 issue) and had to go to the second column in Al Hunter's piece and the second page of Jim Fitzgerald's to see an acknowledgement of her doctorate -- and Elmer Smith's (the editor) column (June 25) did not acknowledge it at all. True, the articles and commentary did speak eloquently of her accomplishments, but I was bothered by repeated "Shabazz this and "Shabazz" that. When merely using a last name, it is common practice to use an honorific if applicable, and I was surprised by the consistent disregard of this. KYW New Radio and CNN News are equally guilty of this, and I've written to them as well (italicized portion not printed in the paper). I am a white suburbanite, and if I found this neglect irritating, surely other readers also did. Perhaps I am overly sensitive because my own mother worked hard to earn her doctorate and occasionally she still has to occasionally remind people of it. But Dr. Shabazz earned her title. Please let her be remembered with it.
And from Provinstidningen Dalsland (Provincial newspaper for the Dalsland province in Sweden, where my home town is located) (November 8, 1997) comes Uppspårad På Internet -- Efter Trettio År ("Discovered on the Internet -- After Thirty Years"), Article about how another article on me (see Biographical Publications) in the same newspaper led to former elementary school classmates finding me and writing me via the internet (I came to the states as a ten year-old in 1968 from the town of Åmål). Click here to read it på svenska or in English, or in a frames version with both languages side to side/med båda språk bredvid varandra.
And finally, from the September 23rd, 1993 issue of the Philadelphia Daily News comes a Guest opinion essay rebutting Donald Kaul's syndicated column "Coming to a screen near you: Mayhem, boredom and depression" (printed in the September 8, 1998 Daily News), where he referred to a questionable Carnegie Mellon University study finding increased loneliness and depression among internet users and stated that the Internet is "...probably not a good thing for society...".
Loneliness: It's not on the Internet
As an individual with disabilities (paraplegic, with M.S.), I am a devout internet user for advocacy, personal, and professional reasons, and I have to take issue with the first half of Donald Kaul's "Coming to a screen near you: Mayhem, boredom, depression" in the September 8 Daily News.
I am aware of the Carnegie Mellon University study finding increased levels of depression and loneliness in some internet users, but along with questioning the study's design, I disagree with Mr. Kaul's statement that the internet is "...probably not a good thing for society...". From my personal perspective, I can state unequivocally that the internet has been an incredible equalizing and empowering tool for many people -- in particular, people with disabilities. I am fortunate to have an excellent full-time "regular" job as well as a sideline as a professional writer, and I can cite one personal experience which will become more and more common, and which should give hope to many.
In 1995 I had a freelance assignment from a major publisher to do technical editing and fact checking on Joseph J. Lazzaro's Adapting PCs for Disabilities (Addison Wesley, Reading, MA, 1996). The entire book was e-mailed to me so I could go through the technical details and verify all the vendors and products listed (via phone and internet), after which I returned the corrected book electronically to the publisher along with my invoice. Work such as this will make it possible for many people who otherwise are unable to commute to a "normal" job to be gainfully employed to the betterment of both society and themselves.
And the benefits of the internet are not just in terms of potential employment opportunities. Other immediate benefits are already -- and overwhelmingly -- here. The internet has made it possible for people who would otherwise be isolated and alone to reach out to a worldwide community of compatible souls for empowerment and emotional support.
I have personally made some fascinating contacts through my disability resource web site (reviewed by Melanie Redmond in the July 9, 1998 Daily News "Cyberia"). Thanks to my site at http://www.netreach.net/~abrejcha (since this is hard to read, the symbol after the single / is the tilde [the single squiggly line on the upper left of keyboard]), I am now corresponding with people all over the world and the U.S., all of whom have written to thank me for my resources and/or to suggest more.
This is fascinating, fun, and social! Not depressing or lonely.
or, back to my Bibliography