Tuesday, July 27, 2021

2020 Summer Paralympic Games


Did you know that the word “Paralympic” is derived from the Greek preposition “para,” meaning “beside” or “alongside?” The Paralympics take place alongside, or parallel to, the prestigious Olympic games. There are six broad Paralympics categories, based on diagnosis, including: amputee, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, wheelchair, vision impairment, and "others."


Athletes are competing in the following summer sports, which will be located at different venues in and around Tokyo, Japan: Archery, Athletics, Badminton, Boccia, Canoe, Cycling, Equestrian, Football 5-a-side, Goalball, Judo, Powerlifting, Rowing, Shooting Para sport, Sitting volleyball, Swimming, Table tennis, Taekwondo, Triathlon, Wheelchair basketball, Wheelchair fencing, Wheelchair rugby, and Wheelchair tennis.


August 24 – September 5, 2021


4,400 athletes are expected to compete, hailing from roughly 170 countries, with a total of 539 medals on the line. This year's Paralympic Games will set a participation record for the event. Because so many athletes have signed up, it shows that Japan's government and the International Paralympic Committee are accepting of diversity and inclusion.

How Many?

A total of 22 sports are on the schedule for this year’s Paralympic games, featuring the debut of Badminton and Taekwondo.

Where To Watch?

NBCUniversal will air a record 1,200 hours of coverage from the Tokyo Paralympic Games, including the first NBC primetime broadcasts in history. Presented by Toyota, it will air for more than 200 TV hours across NBC, NBCSN, and the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. Debut streaming coverage will happen on Peacock, and comprehensive live streaming on NBC Sports digital platforms such as the NBC Sports app. Across these platforms, coverage of every event will total more than 1,000 hours. And if you’re worried that your favorite event isn’t televised, try watching on one of the aforementioned streaming services.

NBC’s primetime coverage will feature top stories and moments from the competition. You can also look forward to individual profiles, and interviews with Team USA athletes.

NBCSN airs the Opening and Closing Ceremonies live. The station features daily content from Tokyo, during the local time of 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. Keep in mind that, in Florida (Eastern Standard Time), we are 13 hours ahead of Japan Standard Time. To accommodate those of us in the U.S., the Paralympic Games are both airing live, and are being replayed.

Peacock will stream medal round competition, including men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball, and women’s sitting volleyball. In Particular, the U.S. won these events in the 2016 Paralympic games hosted in Rio. Click here to learn more from NBC Sports PR.

What Is Classification?

For those who might not know, Paralympic athletes are grouped together, based on their physical abilities. These classifications are used to decide where individual athletes are eligible to compete for each sport. By grouping athletes into classes, based on their ability to perform certain activities, these classifications aim to create a level playing field across teams.

What Is The History Of The Paralympics?

In 1944, at the request of the British Government, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann opened a spinal injuries centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Great Britain. Patients of this institution engaged in what was called “rehabilitation sport,” which helped to improve their physical and mental health. In time, these rehabilitation sports evolved to recreational sports, before finally becoming competitive in nature. On 29 July 1948, the day of the Opening Ceremony of the London 1948 Olympic Games, Dr. Guttmann organised the first competition for wheelchair athletes. He named this event the “Stoke Mandeville Games,” which were a milestone in Paralympic history. They involved 16 injured servicemen and women, who competed in archery. The Stoke Mandeville Games eventually turned into the Paralympic Games, which first took place in 1960, in Rome, Italy. This competition featured 400 athletes, who hailed from 23 countries. Since then, they’ve been held every fourth year.

Who Is The Paralympic Mascot?

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic mascot's name is Someity. Pronounced “soh-may-tee,” it comes from someiyoshino, a popular cherry blossom variety. Additionally, it echoes the English phrase, “so mighty.”

Are The Paralympic Medals Different Than Their Olympic Counterparts?

For the first time in Paralympic history, a series of circular indentations were made on the side of each medal. This choice was made for competitors with visual impairments, and was designed so that individuals can recognize these medals by touch. One indentation represents gold, two indentations distinguish silver, and three indentations identify bronze. Braille letters also spell out “Tokyo 2020” on the medals’ faces.

The medals were manufactured from recycled, precious metals. This unique material was extracted from mobile phones, as well as other small electronic devices, which werew donated by the public.

The medal ribbons, which are decorated in the Games’ colors of indigo and crimson, employ traditional Japanese design motifs of harmonized checkered emblems (kumiichi matsumon). This design expresses both the festive spirit of the Games, and the principle of “Unity Diversity.”

What About The Torch?

“Share Your Light'' is one of the major themes behind the Paralympic Games. Uniting tradition and modern technology, the shape of the torch resembles that of a traditional, Japanese “Sakuramon'' cherry blossom emblem. Someity, the aforementioned Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games mascot, and its design are also based on the cherry blossom. It was shaped into its current form from the aluminium extrusion technology, which was used in the manufacture of Shinkansen bullet trains. It forms a seamless, single piece, in a form that symbolizes the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Torch Relay. Continuing with the theme, it was created by fusing Japanese tradition and modern technology.

What Is The Meaning Behind The Torch And Japan’s Overall Message?

The manufacturing of the torch embodies the spirit of recovery, and consideration for sustainability. Aluminium construction waste was used to create the torch, which came from the temporary housing built in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. This process transformed this destruction into a symbol of peace, and will convey the extent to which the affected areas are recovering, one piece at a time.


When Is the Paralympic Torch Relay?

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Torch Relay will take place between August 13-25, during the transition period between the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games. It will be separated into three parts:

Part 1: Flame Festivals

A Heritage Flame Celebration will be held in Great Britain’s Stoke Mandeville, the spiritual birthplace of the Paralympic Movement. Flame-lighting festivals will take place at several locations across Japan, between August 13-17.

Part 2: Paralympic Torch Relay

In addition to the flame-lighting festival and flame visits, torch relays will be held in these three prefectures, each hosting Paralympic events. Teams of three torchbearers will transport the flame, boosting public interest and support, ahead of the Paralympic Games.

Part 3: Nationwide relays arrive in Tokyo

The flames from each lighting festival, as well as the torch relays, will be brought together in Tokyo on August 21. Here, the official Paralympic Flame will be lit. The final four days of the Paralympic Torch Relay will then commence in Tokyo.

More Info      http://aroundtherings.com/site/A__103740/Title__Team-USA-Para-Athletes-Show-the-World-the-Paralympic-Games-are-Impossible-to-Miss-with-New-Campaign/292/Articles




Mary Carol Peterson

Edited by:
Kyle Romano

Monday, June 21, 2021

Andy Brettner: The Man With The Million Dollar Smile

It might seem like actors, actresses, and models just have to stand there and look pretty, but their jobs require a lot of hard work, passion, and sacrifice. I was lucky enough to sit down with wheelchair user Andy Brettner, an up-and-coming model who had his first photoshoot not long ago. Andy loves the camera, and it was easy to see that it loves him back.

As with most professional careers, modeling is all about who you know. It turns out that Ethan Holt, a friend of Andy’s, had landed a modelling gig through an organization called Help Us Gather (HUG). They connected Ethan with local shop Surf Style, which has since featured him on their website and in their stores. After learning about Ethan’s experience, Andy knew that this was his opportunity. After speaking with HUG, the organization connected Andy with Surf Style, and the rest is history.

“Andy has always liked to have his picture taken,” said his mom Marilyn, “but I’m not sure that being a model was always something that he strived for.” Regardless of his initial thoughts, and even though he stumbled into his first gig by accident, this first photoshoot sparked something within Andy.

Before moving forward, I want to make a very important point: getting a call back on your first attempt is very rare. So, when Andy heard that Surf Style wanted to use him to market their brand, everything felt like it just started clicking into place. But why did they pick him? “They loved my smile,” Andy told me. Marilyn said that they called it his “money maker,” one that gives him a Tom Cruise via Top Gun kind of vibe.

Remember when I said that modeling is hard work? While Andy’s natural handsomeness shines through, his Cruise-like looks certainly take some effort to maintain. Since his skin is dry in certain areas but oily in others, this model uses Ulta products to make sure that he stays camera-ready. And even though he proclaims to be high maintenance, Andy's photoshoot went rather smoothly. From start to finish, it took a mere three hours.

As a wheelchair user myself, Andy’s natural talent is refreshing to me, but it also draws attention to an extremely important topic: there need to be more actors, actresses, and models with disabilities. After his photoshoot with Surf Style, Andy has since appeared on ABC Action News, Fox 13, and has a couple more in the pipeline. He will even be featured on a billboard outside of Surf Style’s Treasure Island location. 

Naturally, this made me start to wonder: why should a company pick Andy for a photoshoot, or anybody else with a disability, instead of somebody that is able-bodied? Jokingly, he told me because he smiles more. But his drive to succeed reaches much deeper than his jovial facade, perfect smile, and sense of humor. Beneath all of that lies Andy’s passion for the art, which he wants to, “...keep doing for the rest of [his] life.” This drive to work, to create, to contribute to something bigger than ourselves is a feeling that is shared amongst a large number of people with disabilities, myself included.

You may be wondering: what’s next for Andy? Well, his current bucket list includes landing modelling jobs for Publix or a variety of shoe companies. And since his first shoot went so well, these goals are certainly in the realm of possibilities. For agencies interested in hiring Andy for modeling gigs, send me an email at: kdr@custom-mobility.com.

Kyle Romano

Friday, March 12, 2021

John Kenefick & ReggieRoo: A Robot With A Heart Of... Cardboard?

At first glance, John Kenefick may appear more “outside-of-the-box street performer,” and less “conventional artist.” Using recycled paper products (did we mention that he’s unconventional?), this passionate people-person uses his artistic talents to create what he calls “Companion Robots.” Animated and life-sized, John’s cardboard companions are easy to spot as they hitch a ride on the back of his power wheelchair. Together, they bring joy to the people of St. Pete. And in a life before COVID-19, they could usually be found around the country, frequenting John’s favorite music festivals.

Creating these robots has helped John to learn more about himself, and to become more comfortable with his spinal cord injury. Now his favorite form of “therapy,” John describes that these Companion Robots have changed his own perspective on life, as well as his notions of disability, “These creations are helping me adapt, in a positive and uplifting way, to my spinal cord injuries. They help me to feel safe and protected because they stand up right behind me and protect my head and shoulders. And it’s a fun way to interact with people!”

In 2002, after sustaining multiple injuries to his spinal cord, John was new to the world of disability. At first, he had a difficult time coping with his injuries, which included: chronic pain, loss of mobility, and mental health strain. All of this changed when a random event transformed his life. In 2017, he saw a puppeteer who was accompanied by a Cardboard Companion that was sticking out of her backpack. This puppet’s name was Reggie, and it was at least fifteen feet tall. Seeing this stranger gave John a strong desire to have a Reggie of his own. After a bit of tinkering, he figured out how to carry the creation on the back of his manual wheelchair. The next year, his Reggie accompanied him to the Bonnaroo Music Festival, gaining some popularity and the nickname ReggieRoo. Every year after that, John, ReggieRoo, as well as several other Cardboard Companion Robots, frequented both Bonnaroo (www.bonnaroo.com) and Coachella (https://coachella.com/ada). 

In 2017, John started this journey by volunteering, working, and attending music festivals with his daughter. While he began this work to help others and make them smile, access to backstage passes certainly sweetened the deal. But how did John intend to brighten the day of his fellow concert-goers? For starters, he worked with Bonnaroo’s Accessibility Department, where he helped those with disabilities by providing sign-language interpreters, coordinating ADA shuttle service to each stage, and helping to arrange accessible camping spots for attendees with disabilities. These locations were located just a few yards from the festival’s entrance.

Before he began toting around his cardboard buddies, John felt slightly disconnected from people. Even though he began building these Cardboard Companion Robots for himself, John quickly realized that they were much more than that. In fact, they started gaining attention from people outside of his frequented music festivals. When strangers would see him on the street, John noticed a significant change in the way that they interacted with him. Instead of giving a quick nod or wave before moving on, more people actually started to approach him. Before John knew it, strangers were taking pictures, smiling, talking, and laughing with him. To him, the importance of his robots lies in their ability to create a “connection” and “pathway” between himself and the general public. In an irony that hasn’t eluded us, John believes that his robots help others to see him as a “fellow human being.”

Whenever he isn’t working on his Cardboard Companion Robots, John spends his time helping to coordinate music festivals. Before he began working with Laura Grunfeld, the founder of "Everyone's Invited" and leader of Bonnaroo's Access Department, John hadn’t thought too much about the effort that goes into creating accessible, outdoor spaces. He quickly learned that the “Everyone’s Invited” team has a deep understanding and passion for inclusion and accessibility. Their dedication has helped them to find creative solutions, which has helped to greatly improve access for their patrons with disabilities. In addition, Laura has also worked with a number of prestigious events and festivals, including: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Bonnaroo, The Governor’s Ball, Outside Lands, Electric Forest, TomorrowWold, and Firefly. Needless to say: John is in good company.

Currently, Bonnaroo is set to take place September 2-5, 2021. Unfortunately, these dates may change because of COVID-19, so make sure to check the status of the festival as September gets closer. John has extended an open invitation for our WheelieGoodLifers to attend with him. If you’d like to learn more about Bonnarroo, or Laura Grunfeld’s “Everyone’s Invited, LLC,” please click here. You can also email Laura at: access@bonnaroo.com. And if you are interested in attending Bonnaroo, please make sure to arrange your Accessible Camping Accommodations as soon as possible.

Lastly, if you’d like to create a Reggie of your own, John has provided us with everything that you’ll need. You can easily create your Cardboard Companion from recycled cardboard, toilet paper rolls, tissue paper, and yarn. All you need is some paint, glue, and a bit of imagination. When you create your Cardboard Companion, please share it with us! Email us pictures of yourself and your robot. We just may feature you on our Facebook Page or website.

Materials Needed to Make Your Own “Cardboard Companion RooBot” or “Mini-Bot” (Note that the “Mini-Bot” is quicker and easier to make)

  1. At least one (1) Toilet Paper Roll (without any toilet paper on the roll)

  2. Several sheets of Tissue Paper or Decorative Paper, which will be used to paper mache/decorate your “Mini-Bot”

  3. Wheat Paste

  4. Paint Brushes

  5. Masking Tape

  6. Uncooked Rice

  7. Acrylic paint set

Step-By-Step Instructions:

  • One Toilet Paper Roll makes 2 Mini-Bots

1) Take your Toilet Paper Roll and cut it into 2 halves.
2) Change the round tubes into square tubes.
    • First, make crease marks (see photo) on top and bottom of the rolls by slightly flattening the tubes. Flatten just enough to see where the creases for the two corners are (mark those two creases). Do this on the Top and the Bottom of the Toilet Paper Roll.

    • Second, make the other creases needed for the two other corners (mark those two creases). Just like before, flatten only enough to see where the creases are for the two new corners that you’ve made. Do this on the Top and the Bottom of the Toilet Paper Roll. Now, we have a TP Roll that’s Square not Round.

3) Next you will make identical size/length cuts on each of the creases.
    • Make four, identical-sized cuts on the top and bottom or your Toilet Paper Rolls, which are now in the shape of squares. What you’ve created is a miniature sized cardboard box.

4) Now, fold your Box Top and Bottom
5) Before you seal them shut with masking tape, put uncooked rice inside your boxes. Then, seal it shut.
6) Cut your decorating paper into manageable sizes.
7) Take your paint brush and dip it in the wheat paste. Use a light coat of it on the Mini-Bot and the paper. Apply the paper to the Mini-Bot. Repeat this process as many times as you’d like.
8) Allow it to air dry. To make the drying process quicker, use a hairdryer.
9) The final touch is painting.

Mary Carol Peterson

Kyle Romano

Edited by:
Kyle Romano

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Caregiver Spotlight: Are Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles THAT Great?

A grey minivan is parked in a disabled parking spot. A little girl is seated in a transfer seat, which is extended outside of the rear passenger door. Her mother reaches down to unbuckle her seatbelt. The girl's wheelchair is positioned right next to her.
As a caregiver, you’ve spent countless hours both stowing and retrieving mobility equipment from your vehicle. You’ve also performed hundreds, if not thousands, of transfers. But one day, let’s say that you help a wheelchair user transfer into a vehicle, and hurt your back in the process. At first, you think it isn’t a big deal. However, after constantly repeating this process, your injury only gets worse. What now?

Unfortunately, we hear stories like this all the time. When assisting people with disabilities, you can’t forget to pay attention to your own health and safety. After all, if you injure yourself, you can’t help anybody. So let’s put a stop to this mess before it even begins. A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) makes it easier to be a better caregiver, and can certainly save you from hurting yourself. It goes without saying that life would also become less stressful for the wheelchair users in your life. So secure your wheelchairs, put on your seatbelts, and grab some snacks for the road! We’re about to take a trip down Caregiver Lane.
A silver minivan is in a disabled parking spot at a park. A woman is shown pushing a boy in a manual wheelchair. They are walking down a BraunAbility foldout ramp. A woman and a friend greet the two.

I know exactly what you’re thinking: “Where do I begin?” Though most people are only worried about their vehicle’s color or the size of its engine, you have a lot more to think about. Creating an action plan is a great way to ease some of your stress, while saving you a lot of time and money. While our WAV specialists can help you create a more detailed list, you can start by asking yourself a few important questions, including:
  • Is the inside of the vehicle tall enough for a wheelchair user?
  • Are both the ramp and door wide enough?
  • How and where should you secure the wheelchair?
This process can seem very stressful, especially for new wheelchair users. The reality is that life doesn’t stop just because you have a disability. If you insist on doing all of the research and finding a vehicle on your own, it’s likely that you could make a costly mistake. If you are a wheelchair user, you know how important tiny details can be. For example, if you have to park your vehicle in a garage, you have to purchase a WAV that will fit in that space. A good dealer will work with you, and point out some things that you should consider before making any decisions. They’ll help you cover every detail, and may ask questions like:
  • Do you need to park your WAV in a garage?
  • Is there enough space to load and unload your wheelchair?
  • Can you fasten your wheelchair on your own, or do you need assistance?
  • Can you transfer into another seat within your vehicle?
A family is shown in front of their conversion van. A few children are wheelchair users, one of which is positioned on the vehicle's power lift.
Each caregiver and wheelchair user has a unique set of challenges, which is why it’s important that you receive individualized service. Remember that your vehicle is made to specifically work for you. Because of this, there’s a good chance that your WAV will have different features than others you’ve checked out. While it might be difficult to picture the final product, try and keep an open mind about the modifications that you may require. During the process, you can absolutely make suggestions and ask for clarification about anything.

A man is pointing to a foldout ramp of a BraunAbility minivan. He is talking to a girl and her father, as they both look up the ramp and into the vehicle.
We know that your life as a caregiver is extremely busy. If you want to check out a vehicle in person, but don’t have the time to visit our Largo facility, our team can even bring it to you. Our goal is to provide caregivers and wheelchair users with a hassle-free experience, which is why we also have a large inventory. On the off chance that we don’t have your dream vehicle in stock, we can specifically order it for you. We can even modify commercial WAVs, which are specifically designed for drivers that work in the ridesharing industry. Click here if you’d like to learn more about commercial WAV options.

Lastly, as a caregiver, you know that independence is extremely important for people with disabilities. If your client, son, or daughter is interested in learning to drive, Grace Adaptive Driving can train them. Since adaptive controls have a bit of a learning curve, these professionals can teach individuals with disabilities to drive on their own, and become that much more independent. For more information about Grace Adaptive Driving, click here.

Whether you have a disability or not, transportation is an important part of everybody’s lives. While it might seem overwhelming to research WAVs, the payoff will be well worth it in the end. Having more control over your transportation will help you to be a better caregiver, and help your clients to live happier and healthier lives. And who wouldn’t want that?

Kyle Romano

Mary Carol Peterson

Edited by:
Kyle Romano

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Florida Accessible Beaches and Outdoor Spaces

A beach wheelchair with balloon tires is shown sitting atop gravel, parked underneath a "handicapped parking" sign, with shrubbery in the background.Recently, many people have begun to rediscover their love for nature. As Floridians, we are lucky to have access to beautiful beaches, parks, and other, wheelchair accessible spaces. These places are perfect for having fun, while continuing to practice social distancing. So pack your PPE masks, umbrellas, sunscreen, and phones! Here are some accessibility tips to help you make the most out of Florida’s great outdoors.

When most people think of our subtropical state, they likely imagine picturesque palm trees, beaches, and the open ocean. Let’s begin by exploring some of these natural treasures, and take a closer look at some amenities that are accessible for wheelchair users.  

You’ll notice that some locations offer accessible mats. Once thought impossible, Mobimats allow wheelchair users to roll themselves onto the beach! Click here to learn more about these incredible mats. If you are a wheelchair user who’s itching to get shoreside, need, here’s a pro tip: before making the trek out to your favorite, accessible beach, give your city/county a call to make sure that Mobimats are available. Accessible beach mats are rolled up during sea turtle nesting season, which may affect your beachly adventures.

A boardwalk ramp is shown, leading down to the beach. Bright skies and white sand are in the backgroundHave you ever seen one of those wheelchairs that sport big, balloon tires? If you want to feel the salt on your skin, these beach wheelchairs can be a great way to cruise the dunes. There are several locations in Pinellas County, including Fort DeSoto Beach, where you can rent a tropical chariot. The best part is that you can usually borrow these at the low price of... free! These chairs make it easy for wheelchair users to glide over pesky sand with ease. 

Though Gulfport Beach is missing from the aforementioned list, a Mobimat was installed 2019. 
Treasure Island Beach also boasts a Mobimat, which you can learn more about by clicking here. But what else does Pinellas County have to offer? Click here to explore some more Florida beaches, learn more about St. Petersburg’s accessibility.

St. Pete Pier is shown, with calm water below, and blue skies filled with white clouds above

More Outdoor Spaces To Explore 
Since the St. Pete Pier was recently remodeled, it is very accessible, and features lots of room for social distancing. From there, you can even enjoy the beautiful views of Tampa Bay and Downtown St. Pete. Thanks to its flat terrain, the entire pier is easy for wheelchair users to explore. The ramped area makes it easy to get closer views of the water, and who wouldn’t want that? It is a pier, after all. While seeking out St. Pete’s secrets, you can check out a variety of local art projects and learning centers, including the murals, the Bending Arc, and the Discovery Center!

A black & white picture of Bok Tower, with palm trees in the background.If you’ve been searching for a National Historic Landmark, look no further than Bok Tower Gardens. Located in Lake Wales, Florida, this beautiful attraction was originally founded as a bird sanctuary by Edward and Marie Bock. It boasts over 100 species of birds and encompasses more than 200 acres. The “Singing Tower” Looms a whopping 205 feet tall. Almost all of the area is wheelchair accessible, including handicapped parking and restrooms. It’s is open to the public year-round, so make sure that you don’t miss out!

If you are a person who likes variety, Florida’s state parks offer some of the most diverse environments. Whether you need to cool off in our natural springs, or want to venture along scenic trails in search of wildlife, there’s a little something for everybody. Wheelchair users should keep in mind that clear, paved, or gravel-covered paths are the easiest to tread. And if you have a cognitive disability, some parks provide literature that will tell you everything you need to know about high-traffic areas, as well as the sights and sound that you can expect. 

Click here to learn more about the accessibility of Florida state parks.
Click here for another great resource, covering the 5 most accessible
parks in Florida.
Click here for a map, which can help you find more accessible, Florida State parks.

A couple sits on on a bench, in a park, with green grass surrounding them and a lake in front of them.
Myakka River State Park is near Sarasota, and offers some unique experiences for wheelchair users. In addition to experiencing their Birdwalk, you can even take a tour of the park by an accessible tram or boat. This river is Florida’s first state-designated, wild and scenic river. It flows through a vast expanse of unspoiled wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and pinelands that make up Myakka River State Park. Click here to learn more.

Sea birds perch on rocks protruding from the ocean.If you are a fan of wildlife viewing, the Little Manatee River State Park is famous for it! The park protects over 2,400 acres of habitat for hundreds of common, Florida species, in addition to dozens of rare and listed species. Make sure to venture into this park at sunrise or sunset, when it’s best for wildlife viewing. Don't forget to bring a pair of binoculars, a camera, and a trail map!

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is located about 2 hours north of Tampa, and has accessible walkways for viewing different breeds of Florida birds, in their natural habitat! There’s also a manatee viewing area. Click here to learn more.

If you are searching for an accessible park near Gainesville, the Ochlockonee River State Park is just north. Sporting a renovated boat launch area, it provides access to the Ochlockonee River, as well as surrounding creeks and waterways. Paved sidewalks lead to a floating boat dock, paved ramp, and even a separate kayak launch that’s wheelchair accessible! Sidewalks lead from the parking lot of the day-use area to a number of fun areas, including: two picnic pavilions, the swimming beach, playground, river shoreline, as well as an accessible outdoor shower and drinking fountain. Click here to learn more.

A man in a blue shirt sits next to his wheelchair, on the beach, as he looks at the ocean.

With all of these wonderful parks at our disposal, what are we all still doing inside? Let’s get out there and enjoy all of the accessible activities that Florida has to offer!

Mary Carol Peterson
A profile picture of Mary Carol Peterson, holding a clipboard and tape measure as she smiles for the camera.

Kyle Romano

Edited by:
Kyle Romano

Monday, September 28, 2020

Olivia Babis, Political Advocate For Disability Rights

Profile of Olivia Babis. She's wearing a blue top and smiling for the camera

Oliva Babis, a public policy analyst for Disability Rights Florida and one-time candidate for the Florida Senate, has often faced a variety of barriers and
discrimination. You see, she was born an amputee. Because she dealt with these obstacles at an early age, Olivia's experiences taught her to battle for herself and other people with disabilities. And that was just the beginning. By overcoming these challenges, Olivia steeled her resolve and became the incredible disability advocate that she is today.

Olivia went on to become a public policy analyst for Disability Rights Florida, and later a Democratic Candidate for the Florida Senate. But what set her on this path? Like most people with disabilities, Olivia has faced her fair share of barriers and discrimination. And like many others, her journey began in the public school system. She began by attending a Polk County elementary school, where she was placed in a Special Education class. Though Olivia neither had a learning nor an intellectual disability, it was difficult for her family to convince the county to mainstream her into a "typical" classroom. On top of that, accessible transportation was an issue. If Olivia had to take a wheelchair accessible bus to school, she would've missed an hour of class... Every day... By chance, her grandmother worked in the school system, and was able to help Olivia get to and from school.

After a drastic amount of effort and time, Olivia was partially mainstreamed in the third grade. There, she spend part of her day with the Special Ed. class, and the rest with a "typical" class. At this time, there weren't many public schools that were wheelchair accessible. As a result, Olivia had to attend specific schools that could accommodate her needs and was often separated from her friends. If you ever had to change schools as a kid in elementary school, you can imagine how it made her feel. And since she was forced to attend different schools because of her disability, we can only imagine how much more uncomfortable that made her feel.

During her time in Special Education, Olivia became friends with other kids that had a wide range of disabilities. What Olivia began to notice, was that each person had their own set of needs, unique to themselves. After graduating with her Bachelor’s in History, Olivia became passionate about advocating for disability rights. What she learned encouraged her to fight against injustices related to people with disabilities. Olivia set her sights on politics, using that platform to raise awareness for the disability community, which doesn’t get much attention in the mainstream media.

Since starting her career in politics, Olivia has worked on a number of prestigious campaigns, and has continued to fight for her people. The first piece of legislation that she was assigned, through Disability Rights Florida, was related to a statewide straw ban. Olivia wanted to show that a ban on straws wouldn’t just affect the environment, but that it would harm disabled people. And while the bill passed through Florida legislation, it was unfortunately vetoed by the governor. This campaign was still important because it did succeed in raising awareness about disability rights.

In 2018, Olivia decided to check off a bucket list item: she was going to run for office. After Greg Steube resigned from the Florida State Senate District 23, the opportunity finally presented itself. During her campaign, Olivia shed light on a number of disability-related issues. One of her main goals was to reach people who were federally recognized as "disabled," even though they didn't consider themselves to be. As a result, many of these individuals couldn't receive the government assistance that they needed to stay healthy. By also addressing issues such as abuse and neglect, she wanted to create solutions to benefit the lives of people with disabilities and the elderly.

Unfortunately, though not by much, Olivia came up short in the election. Despite this minor setback, this portion of her political career has been extremely important for all people, and put a face to this civil rights issue. Since this topic doesn't often get the spotlight, Olivia’s campaign was important because it served as an important teaching moment for our community.

Olivia’s determination, ingenuity, and tireless work ethic continues to  propel her career and advocacy efforts forward. Her actions show the unlimited potential of people with disabilities, and demonstrate the importance that they play in their communities. Olivia is an invaluable resource for our local community, who will continue to fight for the rights of people with disabilities.

Kyle Romano

2020 Summer Paralympic Games

What? Did you know that the word “Paralympic” is derived from the Greek preposition “para,” meaning “beside” or “alongside?” The Paralympics...