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Adaptive Permaculture: How do we integrate folks with disabilities?  RSS feed

 
Alan McGill
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I am interested in integrating folks with disabilities into permaculture communities. What sorts of design twists can we make to allow folks with various disabilities to participate in permaculture projects, and long term, in communities. As we're all aging, this will apply to us all eventually, if we haven't run over ourselves with our solar tractors before we get old and unable to avoid the falling fruit.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Alan McGill wrote:I am interested in integrating folks with disabilities into permaculture communities. What sorts of design twists can we make to allow folks with various disabilities to participate in permaculture projects, and long term, in communities. As we're all aging, this will apply to us all eventually, if we haven't run over ourselves with our solar tractors before we get old and unable to avoid the falling fruit.


Thanks for the morning giggle, Alan. I, too, have this interest as I am slowly losing my vision. I am currently legally blind in my right eye and have "low vision" in the left eye. I am already redoing parts of my property to reduce trip hazards, trim my thorny tree overstory up so it doesn't stab me as I pass by and planting highly aromatic plants in critical areas to mark the intersections of paths or warn me of areas where I must approach with caution.
 
brandon gross
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Jeniffer that's increadbly neat
 
Alan McGill
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Jennifer, I love the use of the olfactory sense to make up for the diminishing of the visual - smell to replace sight. That's brilliant.

I lost my leg due to a breakdown in my dendritic pattern - a clogged artery. So, I'm more focused on mobility issues. Pushing a wheelbarrow with one leg is a total comedy. And my shoveling skills have degraded, as well. : ) I've gotten some very light folding camp stools I can easily carry around on my back when I'm on crutches. Then I can plop down and use short handled tools for planting and such. I find resting spots such as a smooth rock placed where it's easy to get down and back up on the one leg I have really helps. A discrete place to pee helps so I don't have to trek back to a formal pee spot helps. More to come...
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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In a somewhat perverse way, I feel I am lucky that I get to try out alt permaculture applications. Weird but true. I'm sure there are other blind-ish permies out there. And I know for a fact that there are MANY with physical and emotional issues. Really - we need to pull everyone together and find out what adaptations are being made. It could be really interesting.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Alan McGill wrote: Pushing a wheelbarrow with one leg is a total comedy. And my shoveling skills have degraded, as well. : ) I've gotten some very light folding camp stools I can easily carry around on my back when I'm on crutches. Then I can plop down and use short handled tools for planting and such. I find resting spots such as a smooth rock placed where it's easy to get down and back up on the one leg I have really helps. A discrete place to pee helps so I don't have to trek back to a formal pee spot helps. More to come...


Ah, Alan, the picture you paint! Seriously we need a video of this.
 
Matu Collins
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I've been mulling this topic over for a while myself. My stepson is on the autism spectrum and the design of the world in general and school in particular is sorely lacking for his needs. I have a dream, shared by some other parents I know, of a farm based outdoor classroom specifically designed for people/children on the autism spectrum.
Currently they get lumped in with other disabilities which is really not ideal. Autistic people have a different set of special needs.

Some of the things that I envision in my design are balance beam/obstacle course type areas. Repetitive motion is soothing. Exposure to lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is an important part of the design of course, ASD usually includes different types of mental rigidity and food is a common area for rigidity.

People with autism spectrum disorder have to learn social skills with a lot of effort, they don't just absorb them as most people do so social interaction can be exhausting. Particularly eye contact. Yet, they can end up lonely and isolated because their need for social interaction is normal, just not their skills. So another design idea I have is creating visual blockages with plant/tree guilds around activity areas like the obstacle courses/balance beams. This would spare them the eye contact and give a chance to relax, and perhaps speak to others without eye contact. ASD often cooccurs with anxiety, and lessening anxiety leads tomuch more of the individual's energy being available for learning.

I have lots of ideas, this is just a beginning.
 
brandon gross
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I'm glad this topic was moved to a new thread. Wonderful ideas and stories. I too would like o see the one legged wheel barrel push that's impressive.
 
Valerie Poulin
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Hi Matu

Being myself on the autistic spectrum and having a very strong specific interest in permaculture, I certainely agree with the idea of integrating autistic people to the permaculture community. A farm based outdoor classroom would be a good way to start, but I must warn you, if those kids get realy interested in permaculture, you will need to let them a lot of space to experiment, because they will have very strange ideas and that's the main strength of autistic people : they see things from a different perspective and the problem is that nobody is listening because it doesn't fit in their culturally altered way of thinking. I have a lot of ideas myself on this subject .
 
Matu Collins
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Valerie Poulin wrote:Hi Matu

Being myself on the autistic spectrum and having a very strong specific interest in permaculture, I certainely agree with the idea of integrating autistic people to the permaculture community. A farm based outdoor classroom would be a good way to start, but I must warn you, if those kids get realy interested in permaculture, you will need to let them a lot of space to experiment, because they will have very strange ideas and that's the main strength of autistic people : they see things from a different perspective and the problem is that nobody is listening because it doesn't fit in their culturally altered way of thinking. I have a lot of ideas myself on this subject .


Great! This topic is big and important enough to deserve its own thread
 
Phillip Arundell
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Be more compassionate to those with invisible wheel chairs, not drive them away while living the perfect image.
We be jumping with joy at a chance to help you as well.
Everyone need an autistic friend.
 
Jen Shrock
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Thanks for starting this thread. Such a much needed discussion.
 
Alan McGill
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Jennifer and Brandon, I don't have video of the one-legged wheel barrowing. If I did, it would surely land on one of those YouTube "Fail" compilations. Here's the one I'd like video of: A few weeks after my surgery, I tried my hand (or leg) at running a power washer to wash floor mats from a community kitchen. My right leg is the one gone missing. I was doing alright leaning on both crutches, but it was awkward, so I dropped my right crutch, and freed up the right arm for really getting the job done. I pulled the trigger and the water surged and spun me around like a kid's pool toy. I spun around and landed straight on my butt. There was a small crowd around. I looked up at everyone holding back their laughter, cause it's not ok to laugh at a cripple. I burst out laughing, and so did all around me. I won't ever live that down.

 
Alan McGill
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Matu and Valerie, my thinking on disability has been mostly around physical disabilities, things like mobility, vision, hearing. I hadn't thought about autism. It's another very interesting design challenge. I'd love to learn more about ways you adapt, and your ideas for integrating folks on the spectrum into community.


 
brandon gross
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Alan you seem to have a load of great stories and a positive atttitude. I like it thanks
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Here's what I think is a really solvable problem but hasn't been solved yet that I knwo of.

You have people who are low energy, not healthy enough to push into the ratrace but well enough to work out in nature. Nature is healing. It's the Secret Garden effect. So, if you can just get people like us started we'll get stronger in time.

I applied to live and work at a Steiner community where they take care of elderly people. It's an awesome place, beautiful, biodyanmic farm, woods, a stream, gorgeous as f---. And I loved the people there and the conversastions I had with the farmers, learning that only 15% of the world's arable soil is really healthy (well hopefully it's gone up a bit since then, that was like 2007). Feeling connected, like I could relax, I'd be safe, I would be supported by the Earth rather than by the stress of a job and impressing someone else and pushing harder to be someone I'm not. Feeling abundant and like heck, the Earth doesn't care who I am, it's supporting me unconditionally. Really beautiful feeling. And the fact that they said that the "from each according to his ability to each according to his need" principle was how they did things there made it really feel manageable.

So I applied to be a co-worker there (that's the term they use for the people who do the work and take care of the farm or elderly persons) and they said they needed able-bodied people only. I was really disappointed, and I thought maybe I should apply again and lie and tell them I'm well and jsut tough it out. But my second application I never heard back from, and it seems they could be a bit disorganized. I gave up at the time, though I still think about applying again. I got more into my own gardening and learning at that point though, which was an amazing experience and continues to be. I still think though wouldn't it be great if I could pool resources? wouldn't it be great if I could just work on a farm and get my strength back? and even better if the effort was being intelligently applied, like using permaculture brilliance rather than excessive amounts of brawn. That would be so satisfying.

I really really feel a strong sense that I could get my health all the way back if I could work in nature--work hard, some of the time, be able to rest when I need to but push my body again. I'm thirsty for it. I just don't think it'd be good to promise someone and not fully deliver.

But to get back to the quesiton at hand--I'd say a way of integrating folks wtih chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia and so on is to give us an opportunity to work and also be able to rest as needed while getting our health back. The social inclusion and opportunity to do meaningful work and connection to nature is a huge help for many a disabled/chronically ill person.
 
Stevie Sun
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I'm neurologically atypical, having specific learning difficulties and with it some difficulties in social settings. That is part of the reason I love gardens so much. Earlier in the year I had to attend a wedding and reception which was all day, middle of nowhere so no chance to escape, only when I got there I learnt it had lovely gardens which I could escape from people within whenever I got too stressed out being with people. Made a world of difference. It was a great distraction spotting all the edible and useful plants growing in the formal garden.

I'm interested in permaculture fitting in with those less typical. I love the disabled garden at Rosemoor the Royal Horticultural Society garden in Devon. It has careful paths, with different height beds of lots of types of herbs and a raised pond. Yeah it's not terribly permaculture, being quite formal, but I still think it has lessons to share.

The introduction sign for the disabled area.

Shows some of the garden

This is a bit of a rubbish photo showing the path in their forest garden. It's immature at the moment but as you can see the path is wide enough for wheelchair or crutches.

And not to forget that gardening is good for mental health and health in general.

This photo is of an article in the gardening magazine I get from the RHS as part of my membership.

So I have some ideas of stuff to do, but would love to hear more ideas.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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For my health, I recently decided to do permaculture a bit worse. Lower my standards. Yes, there's probably a more efficient way of doing such-and-so, but instead of taking the time to look it up, I'll just go for it and get busy and active, and then go look it up later. It's more fun that way. It's more energizing. Gives me more exercise and feeling of invigoration. So, this thread helped me connect with a sense of my direction, what lifts me up.
 
Alan McGill
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henry stevenson wrote:I'm neurologically atypical, having specific learning difficulties and with it some difficulties in social settings. That is part of the reason I love gardens so much. Earlier in the year I had to attend a wedding and reception which was all day, middle of nowhere so no chance to escape, only when I got there I learnt it had lovely gardens which I could escape from people within whenever I got too stressed out being with people. Made a world of difference. It was a great distraction spotting all the edible and useful plants growing in the formal garden.

I'm interested in permaculture fitting in with those less typical. I love the disabled garden at Rosemoor the Royal Horticultural Society garden in Devon. It has careful paths, with different height beds of lots of types of herbs and a raised pond. Yeah it's not terribly permaculture, being quite formal, but I still think it has lessons to share

So I have some ideas of stuff to do, but would love to hear more ideas.


Henry, thanks for sharing this resource. Here's the link to the Rosemoor page "Gardening with a Disability": https://www.rhs.org.uk/Advice/Profile?PID=812

There is also a list of resources at the bottom of the page which looks promising. I'll be checking them out.

While the formal gardens aren't especially permie, the concern for accessibility sure counts as care for people.
 
Jessica Gorton
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The community garden in Brunswick, Maine is situated next to a rehabilitation center, and there is a section of the garden with higher (like 3 feet or so) raised beds so that those in wheelchairs can easily reach in and tend to the beds.

I've always loved the idea that in community, the elders are in charge of childcare, freeing up the time of the younger adults to do more of the heavy work. I think that living as a community, with a division of labor that benefits the whole, is a vital step towards living in a sustainable way. My homestead has so many kinds of jobs (some of which I'm suited for more than others) - jobs that need strength, jobs that need a particular kind of attention to detail, jobs done on ladders and jobs that I do best while lying flat on the ground. There's a place for what each of us brings to the table.
 
allen lumley
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Heres a wild way out there thought ! "


from each, according of their ability! To each according to their needs ! Big AL
 
Alan McGill
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allen lumley wrote:Heres a wild way out there thought ! "


from each, according of their ability! To each according to their needs ! Big AL


Allen, that sounds good, providing there is a community that is large enough and generous enough and able enough and wealthy enough to carry those who aren't able.

How can we design systems that enable the less able to contribute as much as possible, while not adding great expense to the system. What can we put in place for the possibility that the currently abled become disabled?

As we can see from the variety of challenges people have brought up in this conversation, disabilities come in lots of different forms. The more I look at this, it all comes back to permaculture. Providing for disabled people is certainly people care. And if we take the approach that "the problem is the solution" where will that lead? In all sorts of directions depending on the skills and inclinations of those involved. (I guess the answer is "It depends.")

For the mobility impaired there are assistive devices, like wheel chairs and crutches. Will our design allow access for those?

We all need to do an honest assessment of our abilities and do what we can to allow ourselves to be as productive and useful as possible. What beneficial relationships can we establish that will enhance the permaculture systems we're designing, enabling all in the community to produce and benefit to the maximum.

This all leads me to the notion that I formulated a while back and will pronounce here for the first time on the internet:

"Community is the single most important accessibility element in any permaculture design."
 
Kat Green
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I am grateful for this forum as I care for my deceased friend's disabled daughter. She is a senior herself and developmentally handicapped as well as wheelchair bound. Jessica, I too thought of beds raised to wheelchair level. My little friend cant move her own wheelchair due to considerable arthritic damage and is unable to control an electric chair but she can grasp a rail mounted on the top of a raised bed and pull herself around. I thought of using clay pipe under the soil that can be filled from the top to avoid overwatering since she is somewhat OCD. She loves to garden. I hope that she will eat more variety of vegetables if she can take credit for growing them. I am always looking for ways to make her feel independent and accomplished as well as getting much needed exercise. I will be watching for more suggestions. Thank you everyone who posts here.
 
C. Hunter
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I think it depends so, so much on the individual that it's hard to say 'universally, these things are disability friendly'. I'm on the autism spectrum myself, along with a few other things, and I can tell you what works for ME, but it really does vary hugely.

I think it's also worth mentioning that I wish there was more close-captioned stuff in all the videos and transcripts of podcasts available.
 
Kat Green
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That is what I want to know. What works for you can be shared here so it can work for someone else! Though disability is unique to each person, some ideas can make life easier. I am hoping that together we can find some solutions that can lead to fuller lives. Let's not give up! Keep posting!
 
C. Hunter
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The point that I didn't make very well (I shouldn't try and post fast, LOL) is that the two biggest things, I think, to accessible design are:

1. Ask the disabled people who are already involved in your project what areas they would find useful.
2. Make it clear that accessability is important to you and that you actively want input on how to make access more universal.

WisCon (a scifi con in Wisconsin) does this REALLY well - here's their Accessability page. http://www.wiscon.info/access.php

It's not so much that I think they do access perfectly as that they've deliberately built a con culture that doesn't say "You're a nuisance, you are welcome to come and have these accomodations but only if you jump through these hoops/contact us privately and beg for the info". SO MANY groups will provide access accomodations if asked (with an attitude ranging from "Sure, we'd be happy to!" to sort of a grudging "well if you need it). (Others will be "We need a doctor's note than I guess we can do something" to the "it's too expensive/no one ELSE needed that/we never had it before and it was always fine" grumps). But making the point up front that you WANT to be accessible so that people know there is a starting place is vitally important, and a very good place to start a dialogue.

Permaculture has the potential to be really, really transformative, not because of anything mystical 'dirt is good for disabled people', but because a lot of the whole concept of systems design, of making nature work for you, means that lower labor inputs open farming/homesteading/sustainable living up to people with disabilities. My little dream intentional community is kind of a goal with the idea of being both accessible to individuals with disabilities but also of providing community support from a self-advocate POV, rather than an imposed top-down theraputic structure.

I'd also really, really, really suggest getting more input from people in the community (and people outside the community who do not believe they are welcome, because I am virtually certain they exist) who are disabled. Input from parents and friends is not a BAD thing, but input from PWD themselves is VITAL, because well, their experience is the one that matters. I don't want to hurt anyone who is a parent or friend who chimed in above for putting in their opinion, but it's really, really important to prioritize the experiences of disabled people themselves and an area where it's important to check your privilege about whether you are representing their interests or talking for them without their input. I am VERY sorry if this offends anyone, but as someone active in the autism self advocacy movement, this frequently comes up in group settings which can easily end up dominated by the parents of autistic kids and made unfriendly to autistic adults.

I would REALLY like to see an accessible homesteading/permaculture subforum, and I would pimp the heck out of that thing on my disability communities.

(I'd also be willing to write up an FAQ for said subforum discussing some of the pitfalls and stuff that I'd like to see in discussion about this topic, including a brief discussion of ableism, 'nothing about us, without us' (and the history of disability rights and self advocacy), inspiration porn, and paternalism and how these things can inadvertantly send groups down some rabbitholes that aren't actually useful.)
 
elle sagenev
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I have thought about this issue from the side of someone who wants to open a permaculture U-pick. I have decided to set aside an area where the trees are chopped to be super dwarf and the spacing is quite far apart. It's also the flattest part of my area. It won't be extremely large but I plan to build it nicely with a nice fountain and several benches. It is right next to what will be the parking area so I think it should work quite well for the elderly and disabled. I haven't planted it yet but I will soon! I think I might do the 3 tree planting method with 3 different tree species planted directly next to each other and kept super trimmed. Here is hoping!
 
Stevie Sun
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I agree on "nothing about us without us".
Im not autistic but do have specific learning difficulties (which people tend to overlook because in their mind you cant be smart and have learning difficulties). I have also been disabled through poor mental health but I am much recovered now the causes have been addressed. We can never assume the person we're communicating with isnt disabled in some way, but I get your point about carers and friends. Sometimes they're needed as advocates and sometimes not.

One "problem" when designing access that I know about and also read from a couple of comments above mine is that different disabilities and different people need different types of access and the only way to know is to ask. Are we on the same page/understanding things similarly?
 
C. Hunter
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henry stevenson wrote:I agree on "nothing about us without us".
Im not autistic but do have specific learning difficulties (which people tend to overlook because in their mind you cant be smart and have learning difficulties). I have also been disabled through poor mental health but I am much recovered now the causes have been addressed. We can never assume the person we're communicating with isnt disabled in some way, but I get your point about carers and friends. Sometimes they're needed as advocates and sometimes not.

One "problem" when designing access that I know about and also read from a couple of comments above mine is that different disabilities and different people need different types of access and the only way to know is to ask. Are we on the same page/understanding things similarly?


Yes, very much.

Asking is good. Letting people know that you WANT to be asked (not "if you need accommodations, please ask" but "we want to be accessible, this is what we currently offer (loosely divided into sections like WisCon does, or organized in some other reasonable manner), and we are always updating/adding accommodations and appreciate suggestions" (that's unwieldy grammatically but I think makes the point?) WisCon sticks it RIGHT OUT on the front page as a priority, they don't bury it somewhere under "Guest Services" deep in an FAQ. They lay out the accommodations they have available and people can use the ones they need without having to justify what can often be complex needs. It's not about "What's your diagnosis?" it's about "What are your needs to fully participate and contribute to this thing?" Additionally, while you don't need to accomodate EVERYONE that way for the entire future, making a list of accomodations made/offered in the past is really useful because it lets people see not just that you are passively willing to accomodate ("Sure, we'll let you come in the back way so you can avoid those three steps into the ballroom where all the events are if you ask us every time you want to go in or out" but actively ("We've picked a site with zero stairs between the elevator and content/activity areas. There are steps in X, Y, and Z non-essential locations, however, but these are the alternatives to those accomdations at C, D, and E.")

One thing that comes up a lot with accommodations is the "What if people ask for something they don't need and are LYING about their needs to do less work/be difficult/get attention?" and well.. I won't say it doesn't happen, because it probably does. But I think it's generally pretty rare, and I think the benefits of accommodating people and then ousting fakers if need be (rather than making people who need it jump through hoops) are significant.
 
Stevie Sun
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Yeah, working with disabled people as I do in my day job I presume people tell the truth or undef describe their needs. If I thought otherwise it would, well I couldnt do my job. Also having experienced temporary mobility issues (am now for example) I know it's stupid to ask of proof of disability (although in the uk we have the blue badge scheme currently it can take a year of limited mobility before a person qualifies).

I think it's a very good idea to describe adjustment options and state openness and willing to accommodate other needs. As I'm involved with a garden which is collectively worked by the community im going to raise with the community doing something along those lines.
 
Alan McGill
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Kat Green wrote:I am grateful for this forum as I care for my deceased friend's disabled daughter. She is a senior herself and developmentally handicapped as well as wheelchair bound. Jessica, I too thought of beds raised to wheelchair level. My little friend cant move her own wheelchair due to considerable arthritic damage and is unable to control an electric chair but she can grasp a rail mounted on the top of a raised bed and pull herself around. I thought of using clay pipe under the soil that can be filled from the top to avoid overwatering since she is somewhat OCD. She loves to garden. I hope that she will eat more variety of vegetables if she can take credit for growing them. I am always looking for ways to make her feel independent and accomplished as well as getting much needed exercise. I will be watching for more suggestions. Thank you everyone who posts here.


Hi Kat. The mounted rail sounds like a good solution. Do you have pictures?

I think your friend is blessed to have you in her life. Designing a way for her to contribute is a real gift.
 
Alan McGill
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Y'all have given me a lot to think about. I've been reading and thinking, in between actually doing things. Thanks to all who have contributed to this thread. I wish you all a joyfull holiday.
 
Alan McGill
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I've had a little time to think and read more about accessibility and found this article called "Deep Accessibility" which provides a useful framework for looking at and measuring accessibility. http://ianology.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/deep-accessibility/

Here's a quote:

A problem with looking at individual disability is that people are in complex systems and isolating out one so-called disability is likely to be impossible or a wrong guess. For example if a person gets anxious in a certain space, you could say they have an anxiety disorder or autism, but so what? Applying the framework of deep accessibility to the space itself, rather than focusing on fixing people avoids the nearly impossible task of understanding the complex causes of the response in that one person, and you would be helping a lot more people.


I'd be really interested to read responses from others who've read this article.
 
C. Hunter
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I think it's an interesting article- I thought the blogger(not sure of pronoun, sorry) had some VERY good points, especially about 'disability professionals', but I do think the paper itself sounds really interesting, and the concept of moving the 'accessible by design' bar to the right to include more people who are automatically, systemically accommodated - is an excellent goal in general.

I'd also like to invite some of the folks who are caretakers and caregivers posting repeatedly on this thread to get the PWDs they assist on this forum. Their input would be really valuable!
 
Alan McGill
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C. Hunter said
Permaculture has the potential to be really, really transformative, not because of anything mystical 'dirt is good for disabled people', but because a lot of the whole concept of systems design, of making nature work for you, means that lower labor inputs open farming/homesteading/sustainable living up to people with disabilities. My little dream intentional community is kind of a goal with the idea of being both accessible to individuals with disabilities but also of providing community support from a self-advocate POV, rather than an imposed top-down theraputic structure.


Hey, C. Hunter, Thanks so much for sharing your thinking on this. I really get your message about incorporating the individuals (PWD's - I had to think a minute to get what that is - People with disabilities, right?) who'll be participating in your project in the planning phases. It's so important. But, what if you don't know who they are, yet? I'd love to hear more about your
little dream intentional community


As with any permaculture design, things will look really different depending on the designer, and the needs of the participants. I'm really looking for something that will begin to show some options, some examples of what accessibility might look like in a permaculture designed landscape. How will a one-legged guy be any use? Or a blind person? or someone on the spectrum?

Back in the late 70's I lived in a housing co-op which included a deaf man. As part of our agreement for living there, we agreed to participate in sign language classes. It was clearly stated up front that we were committing to this. And it was by and large a good experience for all.



 
Pallas Athene
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Hello everyone. This is my first post. I've lurked for a while, but I thought it would be nice to contribute to this thread.

There are a lot of good thoughts here! I've been interested in accessibility since getting involved in the autism self-advocacy movement when I was 14, so it's become very ingrained in how I look at the world. Especially as I got older and developed even more accessibility needs- around 16-18, my mental health began to decline, and it has only gotten worse; I have severe anxiety and depression, and now PTSD too, as well as things I have had since being a kid- a somewhat rare eating disorder, for example. Around 19, my physical health, which had never been great, began to worsen, and it has continued to decline for unknown, undiagnosed reasons ever since. I'm 23 now (my birthday is Saturday!) and still mostly undiagnosed, because healthcare in the US sucks, but I have worked hard to learn about adaptations and accommodations for chronic illness. Even with very different illnesses, many of us have similar needs. These needs can be quite different from those of people with mental or physical disabilities from other sources, and are often overlooked in discussions about accommodation.

I was pleased to see Joshua mention this: "You have people who are low energy, not healthy enough to push into the ratrace but well enough to work out in nature." This perfectly describes many of us folks with chronic illness! We are capable of doing much of the same work as anyone able bodied, but in much, much smaller increments, and frustratingly, often we are told that it isn't good enough. I lost many jobs because I had to take such frequent breaks- at the worst of it, about one 10-minute break per 15 minutes of work! No employer will tolerate that. But permaculturists really have no reason not to be ok with it! I may have to build my hugel beds in bits and pieces over several days, but who cares? It still gets done. That is one thing about permaculture that is automatically accessible.

Unfortunately though, if you work with people you may run into issues of people wanting you to move at their pace. I haven't applied to any courses or joined any real-life groups for this reason: I don't know if my lessened ability will be tolerated. I would love to help install a permie garden on public land, for example, but don't know if my tiny contribution of labor will be accepted. So that is one thing I'd like to see from permies: Up front, saying we will take all comers, it's ok if you have to work slowly and take breaks.

I have some slightly unusual conditions that bring unique accommodation challenges as well. I have a fairly mild case of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), which is a fancy name for saying "when I stand up my heart beats too fast". In extreme cases, POTS sufferers have to stay lying down most of the time. I can stand and walk for up to about an hour, after which I need a long rest, which makes me lucky. The longer I stay up, the more sick I feel, and the higher I raise my heart, the worse I feel- so I can only stay up a ladder about 20 minutes! Raising my hands above my head and working like that is even worse, I can only take about 10 minutes. Going up and down rapidly is also a no-no. I don't have fruit trees yet, but when I do, I plan to 1. keep them small and 2. use picking-devices to help me avoid craning my neck, raising my arms too high, etc. In a group setting, there would be a few tasks I would simply have to sit out on.

I also have a blood sugar regulation problem, called reactive hypoglycemia, which I control by dramatically controlling my diet, and this causes one accessibility problem: I have to eat about every two hours. I either don't stray too far from house lest I be away when I need to eat, or I bring food with me. It's easy to get around, but the biggest problem happens when I'm with a group and they either 1. neglect to tell me we're going to be out and about for hours or 2. they assure me there will be food I can eat but in reality, the only food is something I can't eat. Of course no one can plan for every possible diet restriction (nowadays mine has become SO restricted I no longer even bother trying to eat things I haven't made myself) but I will say this- the more diverse your food offerings, the more likely it is that everyone can find something they can eat. The worst events are always the ones where literally only one food option exists. If you diversify, the chances I can find something go way, way up! Sure, I might end up with a plate of cantaloupe, cheese, and ice cream but it's better than nothing.

Diet also affects what I plant, so many suggestions people make end up involving a food crop I can't utilize, like tomatoes, or sunchokes. This is annoying, but I simply let people know I can't grow it. No way around that. If it has other non-food uses I might still grow it- I filled my ornamental bed with various alliums this year to deter deer and attract pollinators, even though I can't eat the tiniest bit of any allium without getting sick.

One last thing. Low energy brings with it one consideration people might not usually make. Typically a permaculture homestead has a series of "zones" and the further from the house you go, the less often you work the area. For me, a hypothetical homestead would have fewer, smaller zones, because by necessity, any task I do is probably going to take more than one trip! For example, thinning trees in zone 5 might be something I do every day for a whole month, because I can spend only a half hour to an hour on it at a time (including travel time). It therefore makes sense to have a smaller property and plan to manage everything a little more frequently, while still aiming for high-energy-efficiency design.
 
Dean Howard
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SLEEP APNEA... I needed to get out of the noisy town I lived in and decided 10 acres of country was just what I needed. My particular type of sleep apnea (mixed obstructive and central) demands I get up and huff, and puff to be well, whether that's aerobic exercise, hikes, cutting tree limbs. I have limited energy, but if I lie down and do nothing, it's a death sentence. Permaculture is just what I need to get excited, devoted, involved, and frankly, healthy...and what a generous payback from Mother Earth and Friends.
 
C. Hunter
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Alan McGill wrote:C. Hunter said
Permaculture has the potential to be really, really transformative, not because of anything mystical 'dirt is good for disabled people', but because a lot of the whole concept of systems design, of making nature work for you, means that lower labor inputs open farming/homesteading/sustainable living up to people with disabilities. My little dream intentional community is kind of a goal with the idea of being both accessible to individuals with disabilities but also of providing community support from a self-advocate POV, rather than an imposed top-down theraputic structure.


Hey, C. Hunter, Thanks so much for sharing your thinking on this. I really get your message about incorporating the individuals (PWD's - I had to think a minute to get what that is - People with disabilities, right?) who'll be participating in your project in the planning phases. It's so important. But, what if you don't know who they are, yet? I'd love to hear more about your
little dream intentional community


As with any permaculture design, things will look really different depending on the designer, and the needs of the participants. I'm really looking for something that will begin to show some options, some examples of what accessibility might look like in a permaculture designed landscape. How will a one-legged guy be any use? Or a blind person? or someone on the spectrum?

Back in the late 70's I lived in a housing co-op which included a deaf man. As part of our agreement for living there, we agreed to participate in sign language classes. It was clearly stated up front that we were committing to this. And it was by and large a good experience for all.





Hey, sorry I'm so slow on this! I wanted to give it a long response

Yup, PWD is People (or person) with disability. (Or Portugese Water Dogs, but they're not entitled to any special accommodations under the ADA, even if there ARE two of them living in the White House. )

My dream IC is still not even really in the planning stages, honestly- it exists on my head and in a google doc. At some point, I'd like to put it out on the web with the intention of meeting people who might find it a fit for their needs, but.. yeah.

I think it is REALLY hard to make something absolutely 100% accessible by design to everyone- if not impossible. My goal for my IC is to make something that is accessible and awesome for myself and hopefully some other folks with similar needs. I also do think there's a difference between public and private accessibility, too. Most of my thinking has been about the private type, frankly. I've read a lot of the transcripts of WisCon discussions and followed the decisionmaking process for how they've implemented accessability at their convention over the years because I have friends on the concom and I find it really interesting, so that's kind of what some of my thinking has been influenced by.

Anyway, you asked about how to design for accessibility when you don't know what the challenges are... it just depends on the project. *I* think (and mind you, I have no formal education on this, this is me coming at this from having watched the Wiscon discussions) the most logical way to do it is to figure out what ways most people use your project. (For example, in the PYO orchard/garden mentioned earlier in this thread- people come in, get in amongst the plants, and pick things. In my IC example, people live there. In say, a community garden that leased out plots to folks, people would come there to garden. In a classroom/learning center, people come there to gain information and maybe some practical experience.) Once you have the core of what people do in that place, you look at ways you can make that thing be do-able by people with different abilities.
 
Jen Shrock
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Joshua Myrvaagnes - But to get back to the quesiton at hand--I'd say a way of integrating folks wtih chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia and so on is to give us an opportunity to work and also be able to rest as needed while getting our health back.


I have fibromyalgia and have been thinking increasingly more about accessibility. It is something that I have been diagnosed with for 14 years, but it seems to have started to get much more problematic and difficult in the last 2 years or so and I can tell that things keep progressing. Permaculture has particularly interested me from the healing aspect of the body. Nutritionally and mentally, it all makes sense. Physically getting things done comes and goes. Having been used to being able to go, go, go, it has been an adjustment (and frustrating one at that) to find how tired I am. Muscles don't always cooperate or I know that I will be paying for my activites later. Weather fluctuations have brought on more bad days than good. Fibro-fog as they reference it some days has me feeling like I have memory issues, as I just sometimes cannot find the right word and just have to pause and wait and wait for it to come to mind or have others chime in with it. People don't understand. They see you on a good day and think that you are faking it when a bad day comes about. That can be frustrating. Luckily work has accomodated the doctor ordered longer lunches to allow me to rest so that I can manage the long , stressful workdays. Financially it has hurt (they now just skip performance reviews) but it has allowed me to continue to work and support myself while managing my condition.

I have drawn up a very ambitious plan for my semi-urban lot. The implementation itself is my area of concern. I want to have a large portion in raised beds (area of approximately 50 foot x 125 foot), at a height that is comfortable enough for me to sit on the edges and work (thinking 15 inches). I keep thinking about where this Fibro might physically take me in time, so I want to be sure the beds aren't very wide. They need to be easily worked at arms length from each side without reaching, just in case mobility changes significantly. This will be a lot more beds to put in, but easier to put in up front than trying to adjust after installation. Materials to make the beds structure are a sticking point because I want cost effective, durable and aesthetic. The cost effective and durable tend to be in complete opposite realms. I am tossing around something that is inexpensive but not as durable (breaking apart heat treated pallets and using the planking vertically - I have continual access to pallets and would screen them to be sure they are heat treated and not chemically treated) but would be able to be changed out piece by piece easily as needed, without breaking down the entire bed and starting over. Living in an area that has long winters and the potential for frost heaves, I mull around if I really need to dig down and secure the corners in the ground. I know that I should...it is just the thought of the work and what it will do to my body. I also have been thinking a lot about the paths between. I would like something like wood chips that could break down and then be recycled into the beds in later years, but the reality of the work associated with that makes me wonder at the sanity of that thought for myself. The paths would be an easier "later" adjustment if it was too much to maintain in time. In all of these beds I want to grow my health...nourish my body, heal it medicinally, delight it visually and fragrantly. Experiencing nature with my full senses fills me with life. Fruit tree installation in the far part of the yard was done last year.

Breaking the implementation into bite size pieces will be key. I do feel urgency behind it, though, because of how things have quickly started to change in the past several years. Managing my own expectations is key. My mind still has the healthy, conquer the world in a day mentality, while my body seems more focused on the leisurely stroll pace of things idea.
 
Alan McGill
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Hi Jen,

Thanks for sharing some of the challenges you're facing on your permaculture path. I can relate to the urgency you feel to get your systems in place before your condition degrades even more.

Do you have partners in this project? Are there friends or colleagues who can help you with the installation?

Have you considered bartering?

There are so many tasks to be done, it seems likely we can come up with ways to get the help we need while leaving everyone involved better off for the effort. Isn't this the basis of permaculture - establishing beneficial relationships.

If we do that between plants and soil and sun and wind, why not between humans as well?

Good luck with this.

I'd love to see your plans. I'll bet we can come up with ways to help get what you need done.

Cheers,
Alan
 
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