NSCIA Chapter Check-In: Madison

Madison: Snow Not an Obstacle

Running a NSCIA chapter and organizing meetings is no easy task under normal circumstances. The task becomes all the more difficult when over 50 inches of snow does its best to keep your wheelchair-using members stuck in their cozy houses and off the icy streets. That’s one of the obstacles facing the Madison chapter, but it’s not one they let stop them.

Chapter organizer Monica Kamal swears the chapter hasn’t figured out a secret to shoveling snow from a wheelchair or pushing over ice. “Nope,” she says. “We just know how to go, ‘Hey dude! I’m stuck.’”

The Madison chapter believes in the transformative powers of adaptive kayaking.

The Madison chapter believes in the transformative powers of adaptive kayaking.

In all seriousness, the Madison chapter has figured out how to build and maintain community despite Mother Nature’s coldest efforts to disrupt it. The chapter puts out informative quarterly newsletters and regular email updates in addition to maintaining a thorough website and Yahoo group. None of that is to replace regular monthly meetings or phone calls. Kamal says that is not the goal.

“We try to identify the best way to keep in touch with each of our members so they can be effective,” she says. That dedication is one manifestation of the commitment and passion that has made the group successful since its 2006 inception. The group joined NSCIA last year.

“My hopes are that joining NSCIA will help us have stronger resources for mentoring and sharing resources for finding products,” says Kamal. “I also want it to help us have a stronger image and a great relationship in the educational arena, the manufacturing arena and in the political arena, because if we can effect change in those three areas it will help us have more successful lives.”

With the executive board finalized and all the paperwork out of the way, the chapter has focused on improving its organization and maximizing participation. The board relies on “action” teams that cover fundraising, meeting planning, adaptive activity and social events, and more. Each team has at least one board member and a handful of chapter members looking to get more involved.

“We really have focused on making sure that our members are part of everything, and that we’re not relying on just volunteers,” says Kamal. That said, the chapter doesn’t hesitate to use volunteers when it makes sense. “Maybe in the winter we can’t go out and do the physical stuff, but we can do the planning stuff from home, and volunteers can go do some of the physical stuff. They feel good for helping us, and we feel good for helping ourselves.”

handcycletrailThe smart use of volunteers is in line with the chapter’s overall focus on maximizing its resources and being realistic about what it can and can’t achieve. “We can’t do everything for everyone, but we can let them know about anything that may help them have a better quality of life or have an opportunity to go beyond where they are today.” That translates into remaining vigilant about community events, recreational opportunities and what other SCI-related groups are doing. She cited the annual Madison Winter Festival, a two-day citywide celebration that includes adaptive events, as an example of how the chapter serves as a connector. “We’re not actually coordinating the event, but we are coordinating the information so people know,” says Kamal.

The chapter does organize its fair share of events, including an annual picnic, handcycling get-togethers and adaptive kayaking sessions. The kayaking events predate the group’s joining NSCIA, but the chapter is now coordinating them. After relying on borrowed kayaks, the chapter recently purchased its first and is looking at buying another. Kamal hopes to find an easily accessible place to store them so members could use them at their leisure. She is a believer in the transformative power of the adaptive kayaking experience.

“People actually feel for the first time, ‘I’m not in a wheelchair anymore!’ It’s like breaking a chain or taking their collar off as they realize they can be out in nature, and don’t have to be in a wheelchair all the time.”

And what if the weather isn’t exactly kayak-friendly? “If there is a halfway decent day we might say, ‘Hey let’s go to a movie,’ or ‘Does anyone want to go for margaritas?’” says Kamal. After all, Madison-SCI is not about to let the weather stop them.


Spotlight: Madison

by Monica Kamal

My Take
If you are home and alone, it is because you choose to be! The variety of people and events in the city is huge. That is what makes Madison tick. Want to go out? Check out the community calendar, select a category of events and a date range and allow yourself to be overwhelmed by everything from sightseeing tours to rooftop tai chi or yoga. We have a multitude of dedicated organizations that work with their members and volunteers to get people with disabilities outdoors with adaptive equipment to hunt, fish, kayak, ski, cycle or just go for a stroll.
For staying home and talking on the phone, we have the Dane County TimeBank and services with United Way that match you up with volunteers for

MadisonSkinny on the City
Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, has one of the top schools in the nation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, but it is known as the City of Four Lakes. Madison is also the home of a world-class farmer’s market; ethnic food galore; wonderful parks; an intrinsic trail system for walking, rolling and cycling; and a bevy of accessible events and performance venues that operate even during the cold winters.

Always Something to Do
Madison is chock full of great, accessible events, including Concerts on the Square, Opera in the Park, Art Fair on the Square and the Waterfront and Orton Park Festivals. Sporting events draw consistent crowds, from UW Badger home games to Madison Mallards baseball. The Paralympic curling team visits annually at the end of October. These are all great opportunities to indulge in two major Wisconsin traditions: cheese curds and beer. Breweries are big here and Ale Asylum is one of the most accessible and newer breweries.

For great people watching, go to the farmer’s market or eat on State Street. Enjoy various musicians playing anything and everything. Visit Memorial Union and relax on the Terrace tasting Babcock ice cream, homemade from the local dairy cows raised through programs at UW Madison. To get closer to nature, check out Picnic Point or Lake Mendota and the trees at the Scenic point on Observatory.

Fish Camp Park is one of my favorite spots. The drive to and from the 99-acre park offers opportunities to see horses, deer, turkeys, sandhill cranes and much more. Lake Kegonsa’s Fish Camp allows fishing from an accessible pier between the lake and an inlet of the Yahara River. The boat launch and accessible picnic area are fun for friends and family. If you decide to meander from the lake and float down the Yahara, it is peaceful beyond words.

Getting Around
Driving around Madison is easy enough, but I do have a few issues with getting around independently. Finding accessible parking can be difficult, especially when snow piles up in accessible spots or access areas. Metered spots are free with disabled plates or placards, but most bus stops are not covered, let alone temperature controlled. Cleared sidewalks and curb cuts are rare in the winter. Bussing to any town outside of Madison can be difficult outside of normal business hours or weekdays, and you can forget about using paratransit unless you are going to fill out the 16-page application and become a local.

Must See, Must Do
Venue: Enjoy the flowers, trees, trails, and wildlife at the UW-M Arboretum. Great for bird watching.
Shopping and More: Olbrich Botanical Gardens has a unique giftshop, gorgeous Thai Pavilion, lotus flower pool and plants galore.
Restaurant: LaBrioche has great food. The homemade coconut macaroons covered with chocolate are big and rich.
Bookstore: Frugal Muse is a popular local business with an eclectic assortment of used and new books, music, movies and magazines.

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  1. Monica says:

    I do not agree with snow is not an obstacle! The rest is good!

    it was supposed to have “We plan, We go, We conquer!”

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