Wheelchair Users at the NC State Fair
Wheelchairs, they are a fact of life for many of us. Some are born with cerebral palsy, some come down with multiple sclerosis, some have heart conditions or a myriad of other conditions that prevent them from being able to breath well enough to walk far or stand long. That last statement describes me. I’ve been using a wheelchair to go further than 20 to 40 feet, for almost 12 years now. Additionally, due to a bout of myopathy from my statin drug, I went 8 months this year unable to go 2 or 3 feet without falling! At the Fair this year, with this new position of “Street Team 2012”, I decided I should pay attention to handicapped accessibility conditions, and meet some of the other disabled, wheelchair users at the Fair. Its been very interesting!
I’ve been coming to the Fair using a wheelchair for like I said, almost 12 years now. I can honestly say, that I ‘ve had pretty much no trouble with accessibility, only getting in trouble due to my own poor planning. like not watching the power level of my chair, so that I ran out of power and got stranded somewhere on the Fairgrounds! While that was frightening the first time, I soon learned how friendly everybody is when you’re in trouble, and I always had my family, or a police officer, or a food booth owner offer to help in any way they could. Sometimes we’ve gone to dinner and plugged my chair up to recharge, while we ate and rested, having enough power afterwards to either get to the car and go home, or get to one of the places that rent chairs! I’ve done both actually. Its kind of like running out of gas in your car, and having somebody give you a ride to where you can buy some. This year I had some different adventures, its always something.
First however, I’d like to tell you about some of the services the Fair has to help those of us who need wheelchairs, or strollers, etc. for that matter.
At gates 1, 8,9, and 10 there are wheelchair/stroller rental tents, like the Fun Rider Rentals tent pictured above.
This is Thomas Cook,
who rented an electric scooter from Fun Rider Rentals. We met in the “It’s Got to be N.C.” tent in front of the Kerr Scott building. Thomas is from Garner, the hometown of Scotty McCreery! 🙂 Thomas likes the scooter, says it is comfortable, runs well, and turns easily. He says that without it he would not be able to go all around the Fair and is grateful for the service.
On Thursday night, October 11, 2012 Ali, Annie, and I attended the Varsity Vocal Showcase, in the handicapped section of Dorton Arena, where I sat in my chair with no fanfare, and no problems. I met a friendly woman, also using a scooter. Her name was Catherine Noblitt and she was there from Asheville,NC. Her two daughters were with her, as were mine. Furthermore, we got along and chatted like old friends, even though her two daughters went to Carolina, and mine went to State and ASU ! All of our daughters sang in
a capella groups at their own schools also! We were comfortable and enjoyed the great view, one plus for being handicapped.
One late night, just after fireworks, your Deep Fried Grits Street Team, was wandering the streets of the Fair talking to people and hunting for hot chocolate! We found the BEST hot chocolate along with gigantic eclairs and cream puffs at the Gingerbread House, down the midway towards gate 9! Gracious! While ordering our hot chocolate 🙂 another day we got the eclairs!) we met another wonderfully friendly lady named Burline Thompson.
We chatted and met her daughters also! Burline was riding what appeared to be a scooter, but so much more. She disclosed to us that she had Lou Gerig’s disease, ALS, and that the chair she was riding in had a lot of special support features and cost $33,000! Since my power wheelchair cost about $8,000, I was very interested in the cost and design! Wow, getting sick is expensive, can take your house, your job, and your family sometimes! She explained how they would have to add more support items to her chair as she needed them. She could not have been friendlier! I felt I’d met a kindred soul, when she said that she’d wanted to come to the Fair to have fun with her family everyday that she could! I was so proud of her, and so happy for her!
I did ask Burline if she had had any trouble getting around the Fair, and she said honestly there was only one place she’d been worried about her safety. She went on to explain that it was on a fairly steep hill on the road outside of the Village of Yesteryear, leading down to Heritage Circle. She said she was very afraid she would fall, and I remembered feeling that very same way there. In fact, I had slowed down my speed, and had one daughter hold the back of my chair just to put some extra weight back there. I really don’t know how the route could be fixed unless a criss/cross ramp were installed somewhere for wheelchairs to descend at the recommended 5 degree angles! Otherwise, wheelchair users must travel at their own risk, and be aware of how to handle their own chairs or scooters. I know that the instructions for my own chair say to steer directly down a steep incline, not to try to go sideways, as this leads to turning over too easily. The directions say to go straight down, not at a diagonal or anything,just straight. It can be scary, and I have turned over! Not at the Fair, and I was not hurt, but was thrown off! Now, that’s embarrassing!
I rode my own power chair all over the Fairgrounds and almost everything and everyone was wonderful, easy to access, and very accommodating! I loved the gardens, and for the first time, this year I went all the way to the bottom and back up the steep incline in the back of the garden. Even though the garden paths are paved, and there are handrails throughout most of it, I probably shouldn’t have gone so far, the trails are really steep, and although I was enjoying the beautiful gardens and fanciful decorations, the inclines going up and down were steeper than a lone wheelchair user should have attempted probably. But I have a bit of daredevil in me, only a bit, and the beauty of the gardens was too much to resist! I did talk to one couple where a woman of 83 was pushing her husband of 86 in a push wheelchair in the garden, but on the flat part. Since I was worried about the lady’s exertion, I asked them if they knew about the rental place, and they said they did. We also discussed purchase issues, and I found them well informed.
One of the worst things about being handicapped is the lack of independence! Most of us want to be self sufficient, and we hate being so dependant on our loved ones,who work extra hard to go anywhere…loading and unloading chairs, helping in one million different ways! Lord bless them for helping us live our lives as fully as possible like having fun at the NC State Fair! When you see us tooling around, you might say an encouraging word to the caretaker: husband, wife, child, or friend! They need to know you know how hard they work to help us!
These last seven days, I’ve eaten in tents and in buildings. There were rarely any problems negotiating the terrain. One time however, some friends we’d met bought their food first and meandered over to a tent behind the vendor under those old beautiful oak trees, behind the “pig butt on a stick” booth! I thought there was probably an entrance for handicapped folks on the other side, so I bought my scrumptious potato soup, and found myself riding around and around, there was no way to get a wheelchair up to that tent! So I used my cell phone to call, and my friends and daughter came to meet me and we went elsewhere to eat. Of course we felt we had to buy that fantastic peach cobbler from the Shriners on the corner who sheltered us so comfortably! A great sacrifice! 🙂
In that same area were the “deep fried girl scout cookies”, yum!, and the wonderful cheerwine slushies as well as other flavors! There was only one trouble! The booths were set up on the median, so that there was a hefty ledge above the curb for patrons to step up on to order. Of course that meant no independence for us wheelchair users! We couldnt’ just roll up and get what we wanted, we had to have our helper do it for us, or the kindest vendors watched for us and left their booths to come to us, take our orders and deliver the goods! That’s a lot to ask in a crowed State Fair! Right below the curb in front of the Girl Scout Cookie booth, was a huge drainage hole with a grate covering it that had space between the bars big enough for a wheelchair tire to slip right into, or a two or three year old’s leg to slip right through! the vendor said he’d made a temporary cover for it, being afraid someone would fall, but it was removed overnight. I reported it, and maybe there will be some improvement by next year, but I saw it as a great danger zone right in front of one of the most popular new featured food items!
The biggest problem I ran into this year due to my using a wheelchair, was attending Scotty McCreery’s concert in Dorton Arena! Don’t get me wrong! Scotty McCreery did an awesome job! The concert was great!
Furthermore, I have been in Dorton Arena many, many times for concerts and other things! So, I never considered that there might be a problem. Part of the problem, was the weather this Monday night, October 15. It stormed off and on, poured rain, and about 20 minutes before the concert it looked like it was going to pour again any minute! We rushed to the arena to get inside before the storm broke and arrived at the North Entrance just as the rain started. We had our tickets out, ones we’d purchased almost a year earlier! We’d been told that they didn’t sell handicapped seats, but that when we arrived we’d be shown to a handicapped area, where one family member could sit with me, unless there were more seats available when the show started then more family could join us. There were four of us there that night. The officials at the door, took a look at our tickets,saw they were for section”apple”on the floor, and wouldn’t let us in! They said that since our tickets were on the floor, that I had to sit on the floor, and that meant we had to go around to the dock entrance, the large doors where trucks enter I believe. The lady pointed towards our right so we went out in the rain to find the dock entrance! We were routed towards the Waterfall Stage, and I had loved the group that played there, the Reality Show Band, but had already discovered it was not handicapped accessible, at least not friendly. I knew the rain would make the grounds soft and my wheelchair would get stuck easily. It was dark, I was wet, because my rain coat had lost its rain resistance or something! Poor Annie my daughter was trying her best to find our way when we didn’t know where we were going. We made our way to a curb on the west side of the Arena, but it was too steep for us to navigate. The only choice was to retrace our path, hope not to get stuck,and go around the east side! Hopefully my power would hold up! I was feeling sorry for myself, and Annie, and kind of mad at the ladies who wouldn’t let me in out of the rain, and sent me on this wild goose chase in search of the docking entrance! Well, like a guardian angel, who should appear, but our new friend, Marc Dobson, the One Man Band himself!
He was trying to get out of the storm himself when he saw us! He offered to help us get down the steep curb and I stood unsteadily, while he and Annie backed and lifted the 225 lb. chair down the embankment! Then they both had to take me by the arms and help me get down the same steep embankment! Another person came up to help, and we made it! What a precious thing they did, how embarrassing to me, but how thankful I was. So, after saying goodbye and thanks,Annie and I hurried through the rain and dark to the docking station . We could see it lighted and open,but when we got to the path, a closed gate blocked our way, as well as a truck! Annie simply went to the other end and moved the gate so that we could squeeze in! At the entrance we met four or five policemen, who seemed surprised to see us, but said come on it! We hurried to where our seats were to find the rest of our family! I knew I couldn’t stay in the aisle, but I wanted to talk to them about where we’d be and see if anyone wanted to come with me. I was soaking wet, and cold! Annie went to be with media folks taking pictures, and after the third person, a female fire marshall, named Robin, who was extremely considerate, came to tell me I had to move, I said goodbye and went to sit alone against the wall and feel lonely, cold and offended again! LOL But Robin heard my tale of woe, and was determined to improve our situation, bless her!
She could see that the upper level handicapped seats were not full, and said if they were not full after the concert started, she would move us up there herself and she did! The rain had slowed thank heavens, and some of our group could go up the stairs inside the arena, I on the other hand, had to go outside and around to the south entrance! But Robin the firefighter and Lisa Geist who had met Annie before, walked us all the way to the entrance, made sure we had no trouble getting in, and found chairs for my family to join me! They were remarkably kind and talk about hospitality, they embodied the spirit of it! I feel very thankful to them! The concert was great, a highlight of my year! Thanks Robin, Lisa, Marc the One Man Band, Annie, Ali, Max, Lisa, and all who help make my life so fulfilling! God bless you all. It takes a village!