Walk (or Roll) A Mile in Their Shoes

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Over the last several weeks I have been using crutches or a knee-scooter; I am not allowed to bear weight on my left leg until next week.

It has been a challenge, but thank goodness, only a temporary one. I must admit that while I am proud that the USA has the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I really did not understand what a difference it makes.

This is surprising since since my son, Rami Ungar, works on a US Defense Dept. Installation in the Equal Employment Opportunity office and part of his responsibilities is to ensure that workers on the base who need accommodations due to a disability receive what they need. The ADA is a big deal for those with disabilities–and for society in general.

In the short time that I have been “disabled,” I have been frustrated by the following: how difficult it is to navigate in many stores, how far disabled parking spaces are from entrances, how few parking spaces there actually are, and how ramps are sometimes so steep that it is difficult to ascend and dangerous to descend. I won’t even get into the poor shape of many sidewalks and parking lots, or the people who say that my scooter “looks like fun;” I have not been honest with them about where I’d like to put that scooter. (I must admit that I have thought about adding some modifications a la Wiley Coyote…that would be fun!)

I remember in High School doing experiential exercises where we were blindfolded or had to navigate in a wheelchair. For most of the participants in these experiments, it was fun. There was a lot of laughing. It didn’t really hit the mark in terms of showing us just how challenging a disability can be; it may be fun for a few minutes, but try doing it day after day for several weeks…or even for the rest of your life.

My point? Do not for one moment feel that those with disabilities get some kind of special treatment or perks. There is nothing fun about a disability–although it has the potential to “build character.” The accommodations put in place by the ADA do not give the differently-abled an advantage; all it does is help to level the playing field. I’m proud that the USA has this act and look forward to a day when those with disabilities will find that the barriers to their full participation in society no longer exist.

Another reason why Seniors should be Weight Training

In all my courses, we have been taught that working out–and especially weight training–is good for individuals at any age. Current trends are aimed at getting the 50+ crowd to understand the importance of resistance work along with cardio exercise.

I am currently recovering from foot surgery and will be unable to walk for four weeks. I have a scooter and crutches; they are tools, but they cannot perform all the functions necessary to get around. Thank goodness I have been working on building muscle strength over the years. I have found that I can balance on one foot for a while (thanks yoga!), push and pull myself up, hop around my car to get to the scooter in the trunk. It is the difference between having some independence and none at all.

This is an argument that should be made to seniors. Weight training isn’t necessarily about have a killer beach body; we need the strength to help us navigate the Activities of Daily Living. And when we do find ourselves with an injury, hopefully the hard work of resistance training we have put in will allow us to compensate for our deficits (in the long- or short-term).

As someone who has never had to rely on devices to help me ambulate, I have learned a lot in the last few days. I get why we have extra-wide handicap spaces. I get why we have ramps. The ADA has gone a long way to making public places accessible. If, however, we lack the basic strength to make use of these accommodations, what is the use?

We are never too old to lift weights. Muscle degradation does not need to be in our future. Seniors: get off of those treadmills a few times a week and get to the dumbbells! You’ll be glad you did.