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Column: Temporary disability opened my eyes

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For almost five weeks I found myself in a unique and challenging position: I was without the use of my right foot.

Prior to Christmas, I underwent surgery to repair damage to the foot from an accident that happened more than 27 years ago. This surgery was extensive and left me trying to navigate my day on crutches. I wasn’t able to drive, walk or get activities accomplished without some very creative thinking. My mobility was extremely limited.

I still remember how my heart sank hearing I would need to modify my lifestyle and overall expectations for the five weeks following surgery. Once the pain of the surgery wore off, I needed to figure out how to make the situation work for me. Stairs were a challenge, so instead of avoiding the stairs I decided to embrace them as part of my rigorous daily workout routine.

Pulling myself up and carrying myself down the stairs helped to tone my biceps and triceps. I did a great deal of hopping and balancing on one foot, which gave me the opportunity to strengthen my left leg. Every day I challenged myself and tried to incorporate one more flight of stairs or one more balance routine into my daily routine.

I discovered one of the most essential items when you’re down a limb is a backpack. It allowed me to carry items from one location to another with ease. And an old desk chair we had planned to get rid of became my link to moving around the house. To make our home accessible for a person with a temporary disability, we picked up rugs and other items, allowing me to move with ease. Soon, I was zipping through the house on my desk chair.

There were all sorts of logistical issues and thoughtful planning I needed to undertake prior to venturing out of the house. Scoping out which stores have mobilized shopping carts became a critical activity. Parking the vehicle within close proximity of the store became another concern. I remember on one shopping trip, there were no parking spaces within close proximity, so I decided to embrace the challenge.

As I moved closer to the store on my crutches, a man driving a truck pulled into the only remaining handicap space . He didn’t have a handicap sticker and he wasn’t handicapped. This was one of those moments that infuriated and frustrated me. He was a capable individual who showed his lack of respect for people with disabilities by taking the last spot designated for those with handicaps.

What I have taken away from this experience is a deeper understanding of the struggles people with disabilities face every day.

I am walking again with some limitations, but these are not permanent, and soon I will back to my daily brisk walks, snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and any number of other activities I enjoy. But something has changed. Now when I venture into a store, my attention immediately focuses on folks who need extra assistance, who struggle to reach the items on the top shelf and who try to maneuver through the aisles clogged with obstacles.

Living with a disability, albeit temporarily, was transformational. I am thankful I was able to experience firsthand the difficulties individuals with disabilities face on a daily basis. I have great admiration and appreciation for their struggles, and I hope in sharing my experience others will, too.

Judy Tomlinson lives in Dublin. She is a sales representative for the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript in Peterborough.

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