Eating With Oven Mitts For Accessible Housing!

July 27, 2015   Opinion

Jon Bateman, Blogger | Source

Guests at the 2014 Dinner For Doors event in the lineup for the buffet!

Guests at the 2014 Dinner For Doors event in the lineup for the buffet!

A pair of oven mitts changed what I thought I knew about accessibility. You might think that strange but that’s exactly why the idea behind the Dinner for Doors events hosted by the Accessible Housing Society in Calgary is so unique and so personal to everyone who is fortunate enough to go.

This year the second annual Dinner for Doors event will be on November 12, 2015. The event is designed to raise money for affordable and accessible housing for those with mobility challenges in Calgary. Attendees have to work on enjoying a delicious buffet dinner while using a wheelchair, a cane, a walker or in my case a pair of oven mitts to simulate what it would be like to have a condition like arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, or a spinal cord injury. Check out some of the insights people shared at last year’s event.

The concept is simple. Everyone gets to experience what it might be like to have a physical disability and to look at life from a different perspective. After all every one of us eats but few people ever experience what it’s like when eating isn’t easy or when someone else may need to feed you.  For me, I was going to be a guest with a physical disability and a simulated disability too because I was born with Spina Bifida and have gotten around using forearm crutches on a daily basis for nearly 35 years. I’ve also served as a volunteer board member with the Accessible Housing Society for more than six years and while I thought I knew a lot about accessibility issues I realized things that night that changed how I looked at physical disabilities, even my own.

The biggest realization I was that I’d been taking my own slightly reduced mobility for granted. I use my arms for everything. I’ve perfected how to carry things and walk using crutches and I pride myself on being able to move very smoothly and quickly to get where I need to go. In fact before I came to the dinner that night at the Executive Royal Inn with my wife Lisa I was thinking it was going to be a bit of a breeze for me. But, that was before I knew the simulated disability I was assigned would make it more difficult for me to grasp my crutch handles, to hold my eating utensils and to really carry anything at all. What surprised me even more was the tight knot of internal frustration that was growing in the pit of my stomach.

Thankfully my wife Lisa was given the mobility challenge of using a walker so she could use her free hands to help load our plates. Once that task was done we carefully placed the plates on the shelf of her walker while she pushed them slowly along to our table. I understood this challenge well from the familiarity of my own disability and I found myself actually wishing I had my hands free to carry my own plate in one hand while stabilizing myself with my other crutch. I couldn’t keep a firm enough grip on my plate with the oven mitts and it frustrated me that I had to rely on my wife’s ability to maneuver her walker smoothly enough to keep our food from being pushed onto the floor.

Lisa made it and for a minute I thought I might finally be in the clear to enjoy my meal. But, then the oven mitts did their job. I couldn’t hold the utensils well enough to keep food from slipping away before I could get it to my mouth. I spent the rest of the meal asking Lisa to feed me a few bites, grabbing a few bites successfully with my oven mitts (I got better with practice) and admittedly slipping off my mitts occasionally to steal food.

Cheating filled me with a certain amount of guilt because I know the permanence of disability and I know how I’ve felt when people have done things in three seconds that take me much longer to do. I know disability is a 365 day a year job with no breaks or vacations and I respect that in a very real way. Still, I cut myself a little slack because I also know every frustration and challenge needs time and patience for anyone to be able to adapt and I wasn’t going to be able to do that over one dinner.

The point of the evening was really about disability awareness, physical accessibility and the courage it takes to exist in a world where it’s easy to be overlooked by everyday people who don’t have a full understanding of the barriers. The ignorance isn’t personal but I hope it became personal to everyone who attended the event that night because I know we all can do more.

That’s why I hope you’ll all consider being part of this year’s Dinner for Doors event. Last year I was thrilled as an employee of the Bank of Montreal to have them step forward as a lead sponsor and they once again have committed support for this year’s event but we still need much more support. Here’s how you can help:

  • Commit financially to one of the sponsorship packages
  • Donate In-kind with services, refreshments, prizes or products
  • Purchase tickets or tables for the event. Tickets will be on sale in September 2015.
  • Review the full details of our 2015 Dinner for Doors Sponsorship Package. Sponsorships at multiple levels are available and benefits include a range of opportunities including podium time for your representative, logo placements, event tickets, social media mentions and more.