Being physically disabled presents its own challenge and limitations. Living in a small town or rural area has made me feel isolated from the community.
Going from a large community to a small rural area
The summer of 2006 my wife Kimberly and I packed up nearly everything we owned and moved from Modesto California to Webb City Missouri,
Besides the change in climate, time zones and culture, there are some very noticeable differences between the community we left and the one we had moved to.
The most noticeable difference between the two communities were the sizes of each community.
Modesto California had an estimated population of more the 202,000 residents when we left and Webb City Missouri estimated population was over 11,000 when we arrived.
The biggest thing I had to adapt to when I first arrived here was a drastic difference in the public transportation system.
Modesto had a very large bus system with more than 20 routes. There were three routes and four busses that passed within scooter distance of my apartment every hour from about 6 in the morning until about 7 in the evening.
Modesto’s public transportation connected nicely with Greyhound, Amtrak and with the BART system in the Bay Area.
While getting out and about was quite easy for me on Modesto, the extreme opposite was true in my new home.
Modesto, and for that matter, most of the state of California that I ever visited, is very disabled friendly. Almost everywhere has sidewalks that meet current ADA requirements including curb cuts so a disabled person can easily and safely cross a street.
In my new neighborhood in Webb City, not only are there not any curb cuts, but there isn’t even a sidewalk!
In Webb City, even if our neighborhood had sidewalks and curb cuts, as soon as I got out of the neighborhood, I would be on a two-lane highway that doesn’t even have a shoulder.
If I want to go anywhere on my own, I must use the paratransit system.
This next line sounds like a setup for a joke, but it is not. Webb City is so small, that it doesn’t even have its own transit system.
Fortunately, Joplin (the largest community near my new home) with a population of roughly 48000 people in 2006 is south of Webb City and has a paratransit system that will come up to my home and take me into Joplin.
Unfortunately, MAPS – the paratransit system, required passengers to call and schedule a ride at least one week in advance. (so much for quickly fulfilling a craving for a bacon cheeseburger from Burger King).
My best bet to get out of the house is to bum a ride.
If I wanted to get into town without a week’s notice, I had to bum a ride from one of my parents and that is humiliating to me.
My parents were accommodating, but I was a grown adult and having to have my “Mommy or Daddy” drive me somewhere was a blow to my self-esteem.
Being independent is important to the disabled
I have fought all my life to be independent – just like my non-disabled peers. When we moved from St. Louis to Modesto in 1985 I learned how to use the city bus system within a year. That knowledge allowed me to get from point A to point B almost as independently as anyone with a car.
And when a bus wasn’t amiable, and of course before my ischemic store to the spinal cord, I would walk.
But since my stroke, walking across town is no longer an option – living in a small town is not a good fit for a disabled person.
Ten years later, transportation has improved some but I still feel isolated.
When we first moved here, Joplin only had a paratransit system. In 2009 the launched a bus system called the Sunshine Lamp Trolley. No kidding, one of the buses looks like a trolley. Sure, there are only three routes and each route stops by any one stop only once an hour, but it is better than nothing.
Granted, I still need either to schedule a ride on MAPS a week in advance or bum a ride form my mother or my wife to get into Joplin then I can ride the bus system, but at least now it is easier to move around town than it was before.
How I keep from becoming depressed and feeling like a shut in.
The best thing I do to keep my sanity in this small town/rural area is to get out of the house as often as I can.
During the school year I volunteer as a lunch buddy at a local school. (A lunch buddy is like a mentor and a friend to a school aged student who has lunch with the student once a week).
All year round I ride into town with my wife weekly and volunteer at Freeman Health System’s ICU answering the phone and checking in visitors.
This fall I will begin volunteering (as needed) at the new Kansas City University of Medicine Joplin Campus as a simulated patient.
Some days, when I am home all day, are harder than others.
I try to stay busy by writing, blogging, interacting on social media and finding reasons to get out of the house as much as I can to keep myself from feeling trapped.
However, there are times that I sit on the front porch, dreaming of a day I will once again live in a big community and in a area that will return to me my independence. When that day comes I will be happy to be able to travel when I want and to wherever I want – on my own!