Don’t underestimate the finely tuned Problem Solving Skills of Persons with a Disability

Transport, assistive devices and reliable support are all key elements of a Person with a Disabilities’ independence. Very often, the disability related barriers faced in our day to day lives make those daily ‘curveballs’ that everyone faces just a little more difficult to solve. As a businesswoman who uses a wheelchair, I consider myself to be fairly adept at tackling those curveballs with “MacGyver-like” skills, and often find myself wondering whether my problem solving skills are perhaps just a little better honed than many in my journey towards independence.

So I thought I would share with you a short synopsis of my month, as a way of showcasing just a few of the challenges and solutions which persons with a disability overcome on a regular basis.

I have 4 major assistive devices in my life which enable me to live as an independent mother, business person, fiancé and friend. These are : my adapted vehicle which has a hoist that allows me to get into my car and drive from my electric wheelchair, a motorised wheelchair which allows me to get around, a hoist which lifts me in and out of bed, and a social network that is there to support me if all else fails.

In the past month, I experienced a systems failure in 3 out of 4 of these elements, with my car hoist ‘blowing a valve’, the gearing on my electric wheelchair failing (resulting in me driving in circles), and the remote which operates my bed hoist getting ‘stuck’ in the “raise to the ceiling” mode. As you can imagine, getting from A – B to fulfil my daily responsibilities became somewhat of a challenge.

Enter the problem solving skills! With the car hoist failing me on the night before an important business engagement, I was stuck with the challenge of transport. My electric wheelchair does not fold up, so the only option is an adapted car. Resolution:

  • Step 1 : Panic, regain control, logically explore networks of companies who provide accessible transport, dig out the saved contacts in my ‘emergency intervention’ file – enter QASA (QuadPara Association of SA) – my  heros. QASA operate from Kloof and have an accessible, chauffer driven vehicle which you can book to transport you. At 5pm, I was able to get hold of the team, and book my transport for the next day. Problem solved.
  • Step 2 :  Contact the wonderful individual who adapted my vehicle to explain the mechanical failing, and arrange logistics for the car to be repaired on site.

Within the same week, I arrived home and was cooking dinner when out of the blue, my wheelchair started driving in circles only! Resolution:

  • Fortunately my domestic worker had only just left, and I managed to catch her on her cell to return to help me into my spare wheelchair.
  • 2 important things to note here : the invention of the cell phone is a God-send for persons with a disability, and having a plan B wheelchair is of upmost importance

Early the next week, I was strapping myself to the hoist which lifts me into bed from the ceiling … it was late at night, the kids were all out at friends, and I was alone. I pushed the ‘up’ button on the remote, quivering with the anticipation of getting into a warm bed after a long and busy day, to discover that the ‘up’ button was stuck and I was fast heading towards being plastered to the ceiling for the night! Resolution:

  • Laugh hysterically at the thought of being found in the proverbial ‘spider man’ position
  • Feel comforted that I had my cell phone with me as I dangled from the ceiling – I never move without having it with me when I am alone
  • Frantically smack the remote and repeatedly push the down button which eventually engaged and lowered me back onto the chair, much to my relief
  • Go to the garage, haul out the soldering kit I have as back up, unscrew the remote, and resolder the wire which had come loose and lost connection. I learned long ago how to be a master at this, given the number of remotes which exist in my world.
  • Contact a remote specialist the next day to order a back up remote to minimise risk of a repeat problem

So there it is – 2 weeks to showcase the resolute problem solving and disaster recovery competence which many persons with a disability have honed into a finely tuned skill. Never underestimate the determination, calm resolution, and abilities of persons with a disability in the workplace – the journey to get to and from work is often the practice ground for such attributes which contribute to performance, team work, and emotional resilience.