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Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant – Women Who Inspire

As a sponsor of the 2018 Ms. Wheelchair America pageant, we were fortunate to be present as Sheri Melander-Smith was crowned Ms. Wheelchair America 2018.  Her platform of “Living Forward” inspires all of us to be the best vision of what we dream our lives to be.  Sheri believes that the most important achievement is to serve others.

For one week in August, constants from 25 states competed for the crown of Ms. Wheelchair America 2018 in Erie, Pennsylvania. Participants had a full week packed with activities including interviews, workshops and appearances; culminating with the presentation of their platform speeches. For Sheri Melander-Smith, the media attention was nothing new, as she is no stranger to the spotlight! At the age of 18, Sheri won the Midwest title for the “Face of the 80’s” as part of the Ford Agency’s competition in New York City. For the next six years, she traveled the world for photo shoots, commercials and was even on the pilot episode of the longstanding soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful”.

At the age of 25 Sheri suffered a spinal aneurysm and chose to end her modeling career. She enrolled at UCLA, and upon graduation returned to Minnesota where she earned an MBA and master’s in psychology. Almost 15 years later her spinal aneurysm returned, and upon waking up from surgery Sheri had lost the use of her legs. Melander-Smith did not let the diagnosis hold her back as she quickly became a spokeswoman and advocate for the wheelchair community. Sheri returned to television with a cable program called ‘Living Forward’ and began writing for local publications and newspapers. Now that she is Ms. Wheelchair America, Sheri will be very busy over the next year sharing her message “Living Forward”.

One of her first scheduled appearances was earlier this month at the Boston Abilities Expo, where Sheri met with attendees and exhibitors displaying the latest in adaptive technology. As Ms. Wheelchair America, Melander-Smith will be in attendance at all of the Abilities Expos in the United States over the next year. Sheri also just returned from Hawaii where she visited several hospitals and was also able to enjoy the beautiful views from Waikiki beach.

Over the next year, she is most excited for her several trips to Washington D.C. “I look forward to meeting with National organizations and influencers who can help make a difference” Sheri stated “Past winners have had the opportunity to meet the president and I am currently working on scheduling a meeting with President Trump”. Sheri will also get the opportunity to watch her son play basketball on these trips. Oliver is a 6’10  Sophomore Center for the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Sheri is just one of the many women we met at this year’s pageant that inspired us. Throughout the next several months we will be sharing with you the women, their advocacy and why they inspire all of us.  Follow us on Facebook to ensure you don’t miss their stories.

To learn more about the pageant you may visit www.mswheelchairamerica.org or click here  to be added to their weekly email list “Wheel Wednesday News” for the latest updates including state pageant contests and news from Sheri and past winners.

10 Accessible Travel Tips

We all know that traveling can be difficult, especially when needing to make accessible accommodations. Whether you are traveling by plane, or with your own or rented accessible vehicle, there are several additional factors to consider. Since the busiest travel season of the year is quickly approaching, here are 10 helpful tips to consider:

1) Plan and Research – Before you depart, research some top accessible destinations to visit including parks, museums and restaurants. Use online tools like Google and Yelp to help you with your research. Also, look for companies that offer wheelchair accessible tours.

2) Know your Equipment – It is always helpful to know the make and model of your wheelchair as well as the height, width and weight when you are seated in it. This information can all be found in your owners manual or on the manufacturer’s website, and by having someone help take a few measurements. Writing this information along with the phone number of your wheelchair manufacturer can come in handy if you are in need of parts or service.

3) Read Travel Blogs & Join Online Communities – There are several amazing accessible travel blogs online. A few of our favorites are www.curbfreewithcorylee.com, www.spintheglobe.net and www.pantou.org. You can also join the MobilityWorks Community Forum and ask questions to our experienced staff or interact with other forum members.

4) Be Safe – One of the biggest concerns when traveling to an unknown place is safety. Here are a few helpful tips:

  • Make sure to give a friend or family member an itinerary of your trip and plan a time to check in with them every so often
  • Check out safety apps such as “Companion” or “Watch Over Me” especially if you will be traveling at night
  • Wearable alarms, tactical flashlights and whistles are great to carry along as well.

5) Have a Backup Plan – Before you depart make a list of other hotels, tours and transportation options in case something falls through. It’s also a good idea to locate wheelchair repair shops in the area and bring their phone numbers and addresses with you.

6) Take Pictures for Proof – Before allowing an airline or anyone to handle your wheelchair or accessible equipment make sure to take recent pictures or video. This way, you are covered in case any of your belongings are mishandled or damaged.

7) Bring Important Documents – In addition to your identification there are a few documents that will be helpful to bring along:

  • Proof of Ownership of Wheelchair
  • Instructions for Assembly on any Equipment
  • Copy of the Air Carrier Access Act
  • Copies of any Prescriptions

8) Carry a Safety Kit – If you are driving, having a few things in the event of an emergency can be a life-saver. Items such as a blanket, road flares, basic tools and car chargers are always a good idea to keep with you. You should also have your vehicle and accessible equipment inspected by a NMEDA certified technician prior to any road trip. MobilityWorks offers ProtectionWorks, an emergency roadside protection program that includes wheelchair passenger transportation.

9) Alert the Airport in Advance – Most airports require at least a 48-hour notice and an early check-in time for anyone requiring additional accessible accommodations. The airline you are traveling should also have a disability services contact in the event that any issues arise.

10) Rent Equipment from a Trusted Company – If you are traveling somewhere there is not a MobilityWorks location and need to rent an accessible vehicle, check out Accessible Vans of America. When renting an accessible vehicle, you should always be given a safety demonstration before pulling away. Make sure to inspect the four safety tie-downs for signs of defects, fraying or malfunctions.

We hope these tips will help guide you during any adventures you plan to take this fall and in the future. We wish you a safe, fun and hassle-free trip.

Canine Partners for Life and MobilityWorks Team Up: Help Us Name a Puppy

Photo from Canine Partners for Life https://www.facebook.com/CaninePartnersforLife

For over 25 years Canine Partners for Life has been dedicated to training service dogs to assist individuals all over the country. MobilityWorks General Manager Jerald Ochsner has worked with their organization for years, and with a new group of puppies arriving soon they have asked for our help to pick a name!

Canine Partners for Life owns a 45-acre property in Cochranville, PA that houses a state-of-the-art training facility. They have placed over 650 service and companion dogs in homes where they help bring independence and a better quality of life to their owners. The total cost to raise, train, place and provide lifetime support for a service dog can be incredibly expensive. As a non-profit organization, Canine Partners for Life only asks that a fraction of this cost be donated by recipients of their service dogs.

In addition to traditional service dogs that help people with physical limitations, Canine Partners for Life also trains seizure and cardiac alert dogs that can warn their owner if they are in danger. They are one of the few organizations worldwide that train seizure alert dogs. The majority of the service dogs they train are Labrador retrievers, but they sometimes work with golden retrievers, poodles and labradoodles.  Poodles are a popular breed of service dog because they are hypo-allergenic.  

At any given time, Canine Partners for Life has 50 to 60 puppies being raised by volunteers. Caregivers raise the puppy for 8-10 months and are responsible for providing basic obedience training and exposure to public environments. Around the time of the puppies 1st birthday they return back to the training facility where they perfect their obedience skills and start to learn the very specialized tasks they will be required to perform.

One very important step to begin this training process is picking the service dog’s name. Canine Partners for Life has asked Mobilityworks for assistance in this process.  The employees at MobilityWorks have narrowed it down to 5 names and now we need your help by voting for your favorite name below.
Voting ends October 25th.

Mary’s Magical Place

Photo from Mary’s Magical Place: https://www.facebook.com/Marys-Magical-Place-819307848185951/

Mary Elizabeth McAuley was a very special young woman who touched the lives of many in the town of Hendersonville, Tennessee. People all over the Northeast suburb of Nashville knew Mary for her radiant smile and positive attitude that was so strong, it was practically contagious. Due to complications at birth, Mary was born with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Unfortunately, Mary passed away in 2015, but in honor of her memory her family is raising funds to construct a state-of-the-art inclusive playground where all of Mary’s friends can play.

Mary’s parents Tommy and Rachel have been very creative when it comes to fundraising by hosting several events and working with local businesses. They have partnered with Middle Tennessee Audiology, who is donating $5 from every hearing test towards the playground. In addition, the family has organized a half-marathon, started a memorial brick drive and have secured sponsorship from several local companies. One of their biggest contributions for the playground came from winning the USA Today’s “A Community Thrives” grant contest. The $50,000 award helped put Mary’s Magical Place fundraising above their initial goal.

The playground will feature several wheelchair accessible pieces of equipment including a swing that doesn’t require children to transfer from their manual or power wheelchair, a roundabout style “Ability Whril” and a “Sway Fun Glider”. Other thoughtful inclusive features at Mary’s Magical Place include a musical instrument display, sign language mural, braille boards and sensory items for children with autism.

The city of Hendersonville has already set aside several acres of land in Veterans Park for the inclusive playground and has agreed to keep up with maintenance after construction is completed. The city will bid out the project later this year and hope to have the playground completed by May of 2018.

If you are interested in learning more about Mary’s Magical Place and keeping up-to-date with their progress please visit www.marysmagicalplace.org They are also still accepting memorial brick donations starting at $125.

Top 10 Wheelchair Halloween Costumes

For the past several years, we have noticed there have been some incredibly creative costumes that have been designed and constructed by people using wheelchairs. We have seen everything from scary to silly, and some that are absolutely stunning! With a few weeks left before Halloween, we decided to put
together a list of our ten favorite costumes from past years, and we look forward to seeing what everyone dreams up later this month.

Mini Bulldozer Bobcat – Not only is this idea creative, but look at all the room he has for carrying candy!

DJ Booth – You are definitely going to be the life of the party if you come dressed as a DJ

Anything Star Wars – There are plenty of options for Star Wars fanatics from R2D2 to any of the space ships

Game of Thrones – We expect to see several “Iron Thrones” this year inspired by the popular HBO series and top-selling fiction series

Drummer – This could be a great cheap costume, or you could really go over the top

Cinderella’s Carriage – The perfect costume for your princess

Back to The Future – The Delorean will always be a cool costume

Wheel of Fortune – Here is a good costume if you’re looking to put something together last minute

UFO – A great idea if you are looking for something a little scary

Hot Air Balloon –This was made from burlap, rope, a beach ball, and lots of glue and tape