South Carolina: A Convention to Remember
The start of 2014 for the South Carolina Spinal Cord Injury Association has been “crazy” busy with planning for this month’s Wheeling In New Directions (WIND ) conference. Between lining up vendors, speakers, sessions and registrants, there is a seemingly never-ending stream of work to be done before the all-day event May 10. Thankfully, any time chapter executive director Diane Epperly, or any of the other event planners, start to feel overwhelmed, they can look back to the hugely successful 2012 conference for countless reminders of why all the hard work is worth it.
The event that stands out for Epperly happened at a local department store when the models for the conference’s wheelchair fashion show were picking outfits. A longtime chapter member who had given up on high fashion post-injury had her eyes opened and her world expanded.
“She picked out this really sparkly, glittery top and every time I’ve seen this woman the only thing she ever wore was tennis shoes,” says Epperly. “So I said to her, you cannot wear tennis shoes with that glittery top. It’s not gonna work.” One of the other models helped the woman pick out some “really cute” shoes. “It was like this light bulb went off. She had just given up trying to find cute, attractive shoes,” says Epperly. “That’s the whole thing that WIND is trying to do — letting you see what is still possible, showing you different ways you can do the things you want to do.”
In 2012, the conference drew around 100 attendees to Columbia’s Saluda Shoals Park for a mix of speakers, sessions and events that covered relationships, travel, research and fashion. This year’s lineup includes a keynote speaker, a dance exhibition and sessions on relationships, kayaking and pain management. Over 25 vendors are already committed, not to mention 11 corporate and individual sponsors.
Epperly and crew are building off lessons learned to make sure that the conference’s second iteration surpasses the first in all the right ways. Attendees this year can expect a greater focus on creating conversations and social interactions between attendees.
“We learned that it wasn’t always what the content was, that sometimes just the fact that people were there meeting other people with spinal cord injuries was just as important as the session,” she says. “We got feedback that people wanted more time with each other. This year, in response to that, we’re doing two things. One is called ‘What’s your bag?’ Each lunch table will have a sign on it indicating an interest, so you can go sit with people who share an interest with you. We’re hoping it helps people start up conversations and get to meet new people. The other thing we’re doing is having an informal dinner after the event to encourage people to continue conversations and build relationships they started earlier.”
After watching last year’s attendees crowd into some spaces, the organizers have also focused on ensuring the event is fully accessible. They plan to cap attendance at 130. “When you have that many wheelchair users in one place you really have to stop and think about having enough room,” she says. “We’re bringing in accessible Porta Potties because while there were enough bathrooms at the conference center, there weren’t enough accessible bathrooms. We’re making it comfortable and that’s why we’re not taking any more people.”
This year’s WIND will also serve as an unofficial debut for members of the South Carolina chapter’s new Stonemark Station. Named after the street where the chapter’s headquarters reside, Stonemark Station is a listing of businesses run by people with spinal cord injuries on the SCSCIA website. “If you have a spinal cord injury and you have any kind of self-employment, as long as the person with the spinal cord injury, not their family member, is the person that runs the business, we’ll put you on our website,” explains Epperly. “So many people are not working, or are working part-time or just are not where they want to be income-wise. We knew a couple of people who had types of self-employment and I thought, wouldn’t it be neat to be able to promote what they are doing and help these people bring in more money.” Stonemark Station vendors will receive special IDs at WIND, in addition to being announced to attendees.
Spotlight: Charleston, S.C.
by Alex Jackson
Charleston is known for its nice weather, beautiful beaches and coastal cuisine. The city and surrounding areas provide a nice mix of urban and suburban living.
As a native Charlestonian, I’ve learned how to get around the town in my power wheelchair after attending the College of Charleston, which is located downtown and has many historic buildings. Some of the sidewalks are inlayed with brick, making for a bumpy ride. The positive quality about being downtown is that you’re close to many stores and restaurants. King Street is known for great places to shop and eat.
The city hosts “restaurant week” twice a year, allowing tourists and locals to taste the food of the Lowcountry. I also enjoy going to the Charleston Farmers Market at Marion Square. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are available every Saturday from April to November.
Many people visit Charleston to partake in a number of world-class events, like the Cooper River Bridge Run, Family Circle Cup tennis tournament and Spoleto Arts Festival — all accessible.
Favorite Places and Activities:
I’m an avid photographer and enjoy going to some of the parks to take pictures. Waterfront Park downtown has a good vantage point of boats and ships coming into the Charleston Harbor. Fleet Landing Restaurant, a few feet away from the park, has some of the best, local seafood in town.
Another favorite scenic spot is Brittlebank Park. It’s on the banks of the Ashley River and has a wooden wheelchair-accessible fishing pier. After spending an afternoon at Brittlebank, I enjoy going next door to the Charleston RiverDogs baseball games. The stadium has great seating options for people in wheelchairs.
If you like to put your feet in the sand, check out some of Charleston’s beaches. Folly Beach has a beach wheelchair available at the Folly Pier. Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission also provides beach wheelchairs at Kiawah Island and Isle of Palms at no charge, allowing everyone to have fun in the sun!
When you need to travel outside of the downtown area, it can be difficult to find accessible transportation. The public bus system has accessible vehicles, but often it’s hard to get to the bus stops. People with disabilities can use the paratransit system, Tel-A-Ride, but you have to be registered in their system and schedule your rides at least two days in advance.
Finding accessible parking downtown can be challenging. However, the city parking garages and metered parking spaces are free to those with a valid accessible parking placard or license plate.
For nearly five years, I’ve had the opportunity to drive a van with a joystick hand-control system. It wasn’t until I started driving that I realized how limited accessible transportation is in Charleston. To provide more options, I’m planning to create a wheelchair transportation company to cater to individuals with disabilities.
For more of Alex Jackson’s perspective on living with SCI, check out his blog, Tuesday Talk With Alex (www.tuesdaytalkwithalex.wordpress.com).
Bonus: Specialized Health Care
The Medical University of South Carolina is one of the leading hospitals for specialty care. Medical professionals at this teaching hospital are on the cutting edge of the latest discoveries and technology. The Longevity After Injury Project at MUSC conducts research studies to assess employment opportunities and improve quality of life after an injury.
Roper Rehabilitation Hospital has a spinal cord injury clinic that provides people with services such as wheelchair seating evaluations, proper management for bowel and bladder care and peer networking opportunities with others who are living with SCI. Both hospitals are located in downtown Charleston.