Eye care

‘Wheelie Women’ provide mobility devices to Bloomington community – The Herald-Times

During a 24-month trip to India in 1993, Susan Seizer almost completely lost vision in one eye overnight.

“When something happens with your eyes, you kind of take it seriously,” she said. “You go to the doctor. It’s one of those kinds of things that you don’t ignore.”

Seizer left her trip, where she was working on dissertation fieldwork in anthropology as a graduate student from the University of Chicago, two months early. As soon as possible, she went to see a neurologist in the United States, where she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. 

“The MS diagnosis was really scary because it’s a degenerative disease, and there’s no cure,” she said. 

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Seizer is one of the “Wheelie Women” — four local women with physical disabilities who have launched a program in conjunction with the Monroe County Public Library and the City of Bloomington Council for Community Accessibility to provide mobility devices to those in need, free of charge.

The Mobility Aids Lending Library will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. on the last Sunday of every month, at least through the end of the year, in Room 2B of the public library, 303 E. Kirkwood Ave. The organization can be contacted at [email protected]

Seizer said most of the mobility devices will come from community donations. Some people need mobility aid for temporary reasons, others may need permanent or additional aids. Many community members are willing to donate, Seizer said.

“A lot of people have a mobility aid that they needed at the time and no longer need,” she said. “They’re just filling up storage rooms and basements. So we figured, let’s get them out. Let’s have them. Reuse, recycle and be a community resource.”

Sharing resources that are no longer needed

Greene County resident Melissa Larimer said she and her husband took care of her mother-in-law from 2019 until May 2022. After her mother-in-law had a stroke in 2012, she had limited mobility and a need a cane and walker. Larimer said she wanted to help her mother-in-law be as healthy and mobile as possible.

Recently, Larimer’s mother-in-law transitioned to a new walker, so Larimer donated the cane on a Facebook page. She said she’s considering donating the walker to the Wheelie Women to distribute. Sharing resources is beneficial because it cuts costs for the community, she said.

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People need to treat the elderly and those with limited mobility with patience and kindness, Larimer said, which starts with a shift in mindset as a community and nation.

“We need our community to be patient with our elders, or with people who have limited mobility,” she said.

Anyone can come to the lending library to borrow a mobility aid for a few weeks or to have permanently, Seizer said.

“It’s a lending library,” she said. “But it’s also you can keep it if you need it.”

Creating a community of support

The Wheelie Women started as a group of six women who worked at IU and had a disability. Seizer said they came together as a support group for one another.

“We share tips, and they’re so helpful,” she said.

For example, Seizer said she and Coleman Kavigan, another Wheelie Woman, have the same type of wheelchair and give each other advice on how to use it. They swim at the YMCA and discuss how to receive assistance, if necessary.

Emotional support, especially, is huge, Seizer said. She’s given Susanne Even, another Wheelie Woman, advice on asking for accommodations with her department at Indiana University, because she had to do it herself.

Seizer wrote to her department to request she teach only three courses a year instead of the required four, as the regular load was too stressful. They approved the request and that experience allowed her to help Even, she said.

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Chris Jackson, outreach services manager for MCPL, volunteered the library as a location for the monthly lending library. Jackson also stores smaller items such as crutches and canes in his office. People are encouraged to contact one of the organizers to arrange drop-offs or pick-ups. Anderson’s Medical Products is where larger items such as scooters and wheelchairs are stored.

“We like the idea of a monthly event where people could come and talk to experienced users of wearable medical equipment, to get advice on what their experience has been and how to use a particular device,” Jackson said.

Distribution of the mobility devices doesn’t necessarily have to happen at the monthly meeting, Jackson said. People can pick up or drop off items at the library or Anderson’s Medical Products at any time. Recipients are asked to sign a release form that protects the women and library from liability if there’s an issue with a device.

Area 10 also offers mobility aids

Chris Myers, executive director at Area 10 Agency on Aging, said the private, nonprofit organization is designed to help support older adults and individuals with physical disabilities so they can live at home. The agency also has a mobility device lending program, like the Wheelie Women.

Most devices are given away and not expected to be returned, Myers said, as people typically use them for the rest of their lives. Some devices donated and given include canes, toilet risers, wheelchairs, grabbers, walkers and more. Anyone can call the agency and organize receiving a device.

In the United States, where 13.7% of adults with functional disabilities have mobility disabilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessibility still has a long way to go, the Wheelie Women agreed. The first step to improve this lack of accessibility is changing people’s attitudes surrounding disabilities.

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Jackson, a member of the CCA, said when they visit local businesses, they almost always find something not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

“We may be doing better than some places, but we still have a long ways to go and that awareness just isn’t always there,” he said.

At some point in our lives, we all may have accessibility challenges, Jackson said.

“It’s not people with disabilities and people without disabilities,” he said “There’s this spectrum. Where we are on that spectrum is different for all of us.”

Seizer said she’s seen how her dad, who is 91, resists the idea that he needs help getting around.

“He thinks of himself as an able-bodied person and he can’t understand why he can’t get up,” she said. “It’s so hard to change the mindset.”

Living with mobility challenges

It can be frustrating to travel because of that lack of awareness. Seizer said on an airplane trip, workers accidentally broke the lever that allows her wheelchair to brake. She filed a claim and her wheelchair was fixed later.

“But it’s really a problem for wheelchair users,” she said. “It’s effectively like your legs have been cut off.”

Most people with disabilities who use a wheelchair have one for home and one for travel, Seizer said, and the Wheelie Women were inspired to start the lending library by all the mobility aid devices that had piled up.

Even said she and the others have been fortunate enough to afford their devices, but a lot of people aren’t.

“These things cost a lot,” she said. “They’re not getting any better by sitting in the closet. So we might as well give them to some people who cannot afford it.”

Even said the Wheelie Women have also provided emotional support to her. It’s comforting to not have to explain things to one another, she said.

“If you’re the only family member with a disability, you might be quite isolated,” she said. “So the idea is that it could also turn into an unofficial forum of people who are just kind of in the same situation.”

Reach Luzane Draughon at [email protected] or @luzdraughon on Twitter.

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