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Shopping with David.

Whether it's cruising the mall with friends on a Friday night, buying the required weekly groceries for the family or stopping by the corner delicatessen for a loaf of bread and a quart of milk, shopping is undoubtedly a part of our everyday life. For the average person or family, these execusions seldom require a great deal of planning or preparation; however, this is not the case when shopping with a child who has a diability.

When I shop with my son David, who has spina bifida, there is a definite, if rarely noticed, six-step process which must be followed. Reviewing this process, which is ingrained into the daily lives of families who have children with disabilities, can benefit others so that they may better understand the trials and tribulations of those with physical diabilities.

Step 1. Finding a Parking Space.

This step is never quite as easy as it may appear. Initially, the search begins by locating the reserved "handicapped spaces," strategically positioned near the entrance of the store. These spaces are not only convinient, but in order to accommodate wheelchairs, they are also wider than standard parking spaces. It is disappointing when these spaces are already in use, but it is extremely frustrating when they are filled with cars whose occupants are ambulatory. Finally, after a complete review of the parking situation, a spot at the end of an aisle is chosen because it permits easy access to all doors.

Step 2. Assembling the Wheelchair.

The second step is to prepare the wheelchair for David's use. Since the disassembled wheelchair is stored in the trunk, it is necessary to remove and position all of the parts before beginning construction. To the casual observer, the assembly procedure looks rather complex, but to the seasoned veteran, it is nearly as simple as tying one's shoe. The wheels, seat, back and footrest must all be connected to the frame in sequential order. One minor mistake results in immediate disassembly and the procedure must be restarted from the beginning. After only a few brief minutes of seemingly effortless twisting, turning and snapping of pieces together, the wheelchair is assembled and ready for David.

Step 3. Positioning the Child.

Properly positioning David into the chair is the third step and is almost as complicated as the assembly of the wheelchair itself. Even though he fits perfectly into the custom-designed seat, David must be secured with a belt and harness to prevent potential mishaps. The seat belt snaps quickly into place; however, the shoulder harness always requires additional adjustments. The bright blue backpack containing toys, diapers and other essential items fits neatly onto the handlebars behind his seat.

The last accesory, a clear acrylic tray, clamps firmly to the armrests. This action always yields a smile from David because he knows that he is now ready to "roll."

Step 4. Finding an Entrance Ramp.

Moving along over the smooth asphalt surface is usually not a problem until the search for the entrance ramps begins. Inevitably, the ramp is blocked by a delivery truck or some unknowing husband, illegally parked in the fire lane while waiting for his wife's return. Fortunately, the sidewalk curb is low enough that by tilting the wheelchair backwards like a bicycle rider performing a "wheelie," the front guide wheels clear the concrete step with less than a fraction of an inch to spare. Once on the straight and level walkway, the next barrier to overcome is entering the store.

Step 5. Entering the Store.

Unless there are automatic doors which activate as customer approach, the fifth step can be one of the most difficult in the process. Gaining entry is always made easier when a kind and considerate customer holds the door open, allowing David and his wheelchair to enter. However, it never fails that when no one else is around to assist, the doors open outwardly. This requires a backwards approach to the heavy glass doors. Pushing the wheelchair with one hand and opening the door with the other is a skill which requires much patience and a lot of practice. While pivoting on its large inflatable wheels, the wheelchair barely clears the archway as the doors slam shut behind it.

Step 6. Maneuvering in the Store.

Navigating the cramped and narrow aisles inside the store is the final challenge. At least David enjoys himself amidst the obstacle course of racks and displays. As he examines each item and tosses it to the floor, his trail is marked by the articles left strewn behind him. Gathering the desired items to be purchased is not difficult; paying for them at the cash register is a different story. Individually, a wheelchair or a shopping cart can be guided fairly easily through a checkout line. Together, the two are unmanageable. Because the checkout aisles seem to be designed for the passage of average-sized persons, either or both vehicles end up playing bumper cars with the surrounding shelving.

Finally, the shopping day is almost over. All that remains is the journey home, which is the overwhelming reversal of the above six steps. Because the amount of time and effort required is always the same, there are no "quick" stops at the dry cleaner, post office or drug store along the way. In spite of this tiring and somewhat tedious process, the reward of the child's smile and laughter are well any amount of aggravation or inconvenience.

Daniel Lee Mickinac, a Navy veteran, is a fulltime mechanical engineering student at Pennsylvania State University. He lives in Aliquippa, Penn., with his wife, Lynn, and sons David, 4, who has spina biffida, and Matthew, 1, who has Down syndrome and was adopted in May 1991. Mickinac's first story, Everyone is Special, appeared in the January/February 1992 issue of Exceptional Parent. Mickinac is a member of the Pennsylvania Development Disabilities Planning Council.
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Title Annotation:Annual Mobility Guide for Parents of Children and Adolescents; managing shopping trips with disabled children
Author:Mickinac, Daniel Lee
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:A new beginning.
Next Article:Families and America 2000.

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