On Living With A Disability in Taiwan

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Somehow, over the
years I’ve become sort of ancient.  I
don’t know when it happened but in fact, my once boyish good looks have been
obscured by the gray hair, wrinkles and bifocals.  I’m sure they’re still there someplace, but they haven’t been
seen in quite a while.
I remember stuff
like party lines, cars that were actually made of metal, The Beatles first
visit to the Ed Sullivan Show, (just knowing who Ed Sullivan is marks you as
ancient), Herman’s Hermits, Batman on TV, (Holy Old Guy, Batman).  I remember when transistor radios first
became available.  I remember pre-color
TV.  Gadzooks, I even remember saying
What I don’t
remember is why I walked into a room.  I
forget what I’m looking for.  I blank
out on people’s names; I lose a thought in the middle of a sentence.
There is one other
way that I can tell that I’ve reached my dotage.  Everything hurts a little more than it used to.  I used to laugh when Curly on the Three Stooges would say, “Oh my aching sacroiliac.”  I didn’t know what a sacroiliac was; now mine is aching.
But aging isn’t
really the issue here.  It only
exacerbates the real issue.  Because I’m
aging the problems that I have are just a little harder to deal with.  I have Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy.  The disease began to make it’s presence felt
twenty-six years ago, but in the last ten or so years, life has become more of
a challenge.  There has been a gradual
weakening of the muscles in my thighs and arms for all of that time.  I find that as I age my stamina and physical
abilities have decreased.  My ability to
tolerate pain has also decreased.  So
age and disability has combined to make my life a challenge.
The question is, “What
do you do about it?”  I think there are
a number of approaches one can take.
The first is to just give up.  It’s
hard and it’s painful, and it isn’t going to go away, so why bother.  The second approach is to curtail your
activities, and only do what is easy.
The third is to continue with life, doing what you’re doing, and keep
doing it until you no longer can.
The third approach
has always been my philosophy.  I just
keep doing what I’m doing looking for ways to adapt to the changes taking place
in my life, continuing to press on.  I
made a decision a few years ago, to move to Taiwan and continue on in life,
rather than stay comfortable in the place I was.  I don’t regret that decision.
But moving to Taiwan has led to some obstacles that I need to address in
order to live here.
In the US there is
a law called, The Americans with Disabilities Act.  The law requires handicap accessible features to be built into
every business and public facility in America.
I recently read that the Justice Department is working on making all
public swimming pools wheelchair accessible.
The act is wide ranging and designed to protect disabled people from
workplace discrimination and other things, but what I want to focus on here is
The law requires
accessibility.  There are requirements
for wheelchair ramps, access to sidewalks, sidewalk width and specially
designed parking spaces for wheelchair accessible vehicles within a specified
distance from the door to a business or government office.  Because of this law many disabled people are
better able to function independently within society.
Taiwan makes some
provisions for disabled people.  You are
able to get a Disability placard and book that describes your rights as a
disabled person.  There are some
provisions made for discounts in vehicle registration costs.  The placards that can be used to have
access to special parking in places where these parking spaces exist.  But the laws are not nearly as comprehensive
in terms of access as in the US.  I’m
not saying this as criticism; there are reasons why US style access would be
difficult to implement here.
So what kind of
difficulties exist for disabled people?
One difficulty is parking.
Everything is built close together.
Everything is built up rather than out.
There is no requirement for off-street parking.  The reason for this simply is:  Taiwanese cities are crowded and there often
isn’t any room for off-street parking.
Cars have to park anywhere they can.
If you have difficulty walking, a two-block hike may be a problem.  There is little, if any, special parking for wheelchair
vehicles that provides room for safely getting into or out of your wheelchair
without being in the traffic lane.  Once
you do get to the business there may be stairs that you must get past to enter
the building.  Often the steps have no
handrail, so for a person who walks and climbs with difficulty this is another
Look at the wide clear sidewalk, this is unusual for Taiwan
Many times
sidewalks are uneven.  The front of one
building may be lower or higher that the one next to it.  Non-disabled people are often tripped up by
the unevenness of the sidewalks.  This
is even more of a hazard for unsteady walkers and may be a real difficulty for
wheelchairs.  Finally, there are
barricades that have been set up to keep scooters from in front of a business;
they also keep wheelchairs from passing as well.
When I go to a
place I have to plan how I will get up the curb, often very high curbs, up any
steps and into the business.  I have to
think about parking.  In some instances
there is just no way I can access a business, so I have to find an alternate
place.  It may be farther away and
present it’s own access problems.
There are ways to
mitigate many of the problems.  I bought
a handicapped scooter.  It’s a scooter
with two extra wheels on the side for stability. This easily mitigates parking and
walking problems, because I can usually pull right up to the door of the
business. Steps are much more difficult.
What I have found, though, is that if you can make yourself known to the
business owner or employee they will happily help you climb the steps, get the merchandise for you or handle the transaction right where you are.
A scooter designed for disabled people.
The two approaches
to accessibility are interesting.  The
US approach is to legislate that businesses and public facilities build in
access at their own expense.  The Taiwanese
approach has to do with business owners and public facilities providing human
The legislative approach
has advantages because accessibility is guaranteed under the law.
The human approach
also has advantages, one of them being, interaction and compassion between
individuals.  I always look for
relationship over legislation.
Disabilities are
always a challenge.  I think it is a
part of the human spirit to meet and overcome challenges.  What’s powerful, in my mind, is that people
will reach out and provide help and concern for each other without being
legislated into it.  This is what makes
Taiwan such a wonder for me.  Most
people are willing to be help and care for their neighbors, coworkers and often
strangers without government intervention.
I want to close
with two brief stories.  One takes place
in Southern California and one in Taiwan:
In Southern
California, I visited a Walmart on a very hot day.  I got out of my truck and started walking toward the store, and
fell in the middle of the parking lot.
The temperature was 108 F (42 C).
Because I wasn’t able to stand up, I had to crawl back to my car in
order to get up.  Even though there were
a number of people in the lot no one was able to help.  I ended up with burns on my palms and tears
in my blue jeans.
In Taiwan, I walked
out of building and tripped over a small ledge and fell.  Before I could even start to stand up I was
surrounded by people who reached down and helped me get to my feet.  Two men actually reached under my arms and
lifted me to my feet.
I’m not saying that
people in Southern California are bad or evil, and that Taiwanese people are
better.  But I think it points something
out.  In a place where everything is legislated,
and laws are put in place and people are afraid of breaking some law or being
sued, people are less willing to intervene in another person’s suffering.  That’s why I say I would rather have
relationship over legislation.

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