Category Archives: Accessibility Review

From Bowl to Belly: The Obi eating device guide to food

Find out What Works and What Doesn’t

Welcome to readers of the New Mobility review of the Obi eating device. While pricey, the Obi does an excellent job of restoring independence at mealtime. It can handle most types of foods, although you have to experiment because some dishes work better than others. After three years using Obi, these are the foods that work with the robot the best and worst:

– To fit in the spoon, you want chunks smaller than an inch.

– Long potato skins and stringy spaghettis are not so good, nor thick, glutinous masses like sticky mashed potatoes.

– Leafy salads and the Obi exist in different dimensions: the Obi scoops and scoops like Where’s my date? – while the salad sits there wondering if he’s ever going to show up.

– Thin soups, ironically, work great, while thicker ones like stews can get messy. It’s quicker to shoot the broth with a straw and then Obi and I go in to wipe out the surviving chunks.

– Applesauce works great after I throw in a handful of chia seeds to absorb some water. The same with one of my wife’s homemade chilis that sometimes turns out a little soupy: in goes Chia seeds or nutritional yeast, or even better, stir in a handful of crumbled tortilla chips to absorb liquid.

– Some meals go perfectly, while others you end up wearing on your sleeve quite literally. Don’t fill the first bowl to capacity, or it may flick your cornflakes back at you. In any case, you have to wear a dinner napkin. None of this is to scare you off though, because the Obi gets the job done. A couple of dropped bits on your lap napkin is nothing for what you get here.

About that price, I’ve not yet found the case where Medicare covers it, but Medicaid has covered at least one unit, in Missoula, Montana. Obi is listed with a federal GSA contract, to help get it to veterans. The manufacturer, Desin LLC, offers rental and lease-to-buy options, as well as other funding alternatives. My hope is that the more popular this quality device becomes, the more likely it gets picked up by Medicare, and once Medicare covers it, everyone will.

In the meantime, putting out the money for a relatively recent device is scary; it was for me. That’s why I wrote this review, to say that I took the step and found it worthwhile. I have no connection to the company, other than as happy customer.

This column is dedicated to the late, great David Hare, and his wonderful wife. I first saw the Obi at the 2016 Chicago Abilities Expo. It was also the day I met David, who passed away from ALS in 2017. Without use of his arms, David controlled the Obi with his feet. He showed me around the device, and assured me that if I did go ahead with the purchase, I would not regret it. We bonded as skydivers, but he’d accomplished so much more than me. He felt like a kindred spirit, though we only got to speak twice. I didn’t purchase the Obi until many months later, when my back was up against the wall, but you were right, David. Thanks, man.

Twice, the Hares journeyed quite a ways to Chicago and back, because they believed this was truly a device to help people. In their spirit, I write this review for you.

Article about Obi, featuring the late David Hare.

Hoyer-friendly hotels: Comfort Inn, Stanton, Texas (West Texas)

Comfort Inn, 800 W. Interstate 20, Stanton, Texas, 432-756-1100, $135-172.

Very accessible Hoyer-friendly room in West Texas, a real stroke of luck because we were deposited here by tow truck. First the dude pulls us off a treacherous desert highway in 100°, free of charge (I told him, Who’da thunk our guardian angel has a bushy mustache?), but then he lets us off at a hotel where we were actually comfortable. There were only three in town to choose from. The cherry on the cake was that he set down the van in a disability space! From now on I’m going to have Dale pick all our hotels.

The room is called an ADA suite, but is a single newly updated and super-roomy space. The bed sits on a platform, but there is a pullout sofa bed that was good for the Hoyer. It is a little bit short for my 6 feet 2 inches but worked for me. I’ve got to point out too that I don’t have back problems and this thing was not the most supportive frame and mattress: my wife sat on one of the corners and almost fell through. Also, the pressed carpet was not easy rolling for the lift. But, bottom line, I slept soundly here and was ever so glad to get this room. It was the Garden of Eden after what we’d been through. They even gave us a room discount on the first night, owing to our circumstances.

Good-sized bathroom. The best cutout sink we’ve ever had: I could roll right underneath. Maneuvering around the sink to the toilet could be difficult with some Hoyer-type lifts. Standard bathtub with a bench. Probably not an issue for most, but the bathroom has a small speedbump type of entry.

Finally, the automatic doors at the hotel entrance were not recognizing me in my wheelchair. They adjusted them for me, but I still had to play around out there until they popped open.

Man do those air conditioners work! Maybe a little too much… But we weren’t complaining, not after being dragged off of a scorching desert road.

New Hotel List: beds without platforms, low beds, adjustable-height beds

Hotel List: beds without platforms, low beds, adjustable-height beds

There are ADA rooms, and there are accessible rooms – and often those are two different things.

27 years after the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act, most hotel rooms are completely unusable to many disabled Americans. Hoyer lift users are shut out by box platforms beneath beds, i.e., almost all hotel beds. Independent travelers in chairs are shut out by beds too high to transfer. Beds and sinks are too cramped for use. So while some barriers have been ironed out, others still render travel stressful if not impossible.

This link is a list of those special ADA rooms you rarely come across: beds with no platforms, low beds and adjustable-height beds, super-accommodating staff, the ones you need. Use it. Contribute to it. Promote it. I’ve looked for a database like this for a long time, so here it is.

Travelers, Hoyer users, please contribute as many specifics as you can: hotel name, address, phone, room no., manager name, bed height, setup of toilet, shower, sinks above (faucet type, reach) and below (clearance, pipes), etc.

Please promote this link far and wide.

Call to confirm info before booking.

Get out there!

Soldier Field & Bears show the way to do ADA services

This week I went to the Bears game with my brother, and the streak is unbroken: every day at Soldier Field is a blast. You can quibble about how they run the team, but in the accessibility game the Chicago Bears organization is top-notch. I’ve been to several stadiums and rank the Bears as the easiest, most welcoming operation to fans with disabilities, ensuring that fans get to where they’re going and can spend their efforts on simply enjoying being at the game. Here’s what they provide you:

• Fast, no-hassle and typically very generous pre-game ticket exchanges. (That is, exchanging regular seats for ADA seats. The photo is three rows closer than what we were given, only we were on the 50!) Call ahead or arrange in-person at gate 10.

• Patient and attentive staff who ask questions and really listen to what you need.

• An escort to your seats and back out of the stadium again, leading the way for you through the crowd like fullbacks do on the field.

• Personalized emergency preparedness. A staffer visits you with a clipboard to learn your specific needs.

• Assigned to every disability section, an usher who actively guards the space from those trying to crash the empty spaces throughout the game. They are also there to assist you during the game. Candace was sweet and petite but I would not cross her on the street. I’m a big fan of Candace.

• Finally, a fan base that time and again shows they’re looking out for you and greets you like another Grabowski. Of course it helps that the team is good again, with everybody floating around the stadium all-smiles like they’re on Prozac.

I don’t spell out these things to advertise for the Bears. But these are the things that are out there, and if you don’t have these services available where you attend, then let that front office know. By the same token, don’t be a bogart either: if you received a helpful service not listed here, please share the knowledge. Don’t forget that a lot of these owners tap public subsidies to build their stadiums. We can’t be shy about pressing for what we need, which will also help others.

Seriously, I recommend that every football and sports operation visit Soldier Field to see how it’s done, and also those fans who get the chance to, so they can see the way it should be in their hometowns. With its focus on tourism, the city of Chicago excels in accessibility, and Soldier Field is Exhibit A in that regard.

Soldier Field is not only home of the men and women of the armed forces (it says so right there on the side of the box), but also of those with disabilities. Come out see da Bears.

Accessibility Review: Hollywood Casino Amphitheater, Tinley Park, IL

Hollywood Casino Amphitheater (19100 Ridgeland Ave., Tinley Park, IL, has been around some 28 years, and the cracked parking lot shows it. But once you thread your way between the parked cars to reach the end of the parking lot, the rest of your evening will be smooth sailing. After attending a couple of shows this summer, I still don’t know if there are actually disability parking area or not. I mean, there’s a disability parking lot entrance, but you’ll find an awful lot of people parking there, rows and rows of them, many in wheelchairs and many not. We ended up parking several rows back. There weren’t any pedestrian aisles that I saw, and the space between cars you have to navigate through is tight.

It’s about 100 yards to the gate. There’s a disability entrance that takes you past the lines, very nice. Once inside, you’ll find a smooth concrete mall area with food and alcohol stands as well as restrooms. Everything is spread out and clean, and there are several choices of different food stands and booze. It’s all pretty laid-back atmosphere to get set for the show. We talked to several people, including this sweet gal who worked at the Ford plant on Torrance. Sounds like good days over there, which made for good days for us because she was feeling generous and lubricated enough to spring for our drinks and a couple of shots. (She definitely had a head start.) It would have been an even crazier evening hanging out with this one and her boyfriend. This way lies danger. Dodged that bullet!

It’s another 100 yards to the courtesy table where you exchange your tickets. I think we exchanged lawn seats for disability seating. It took about 10 minutes. At Lynyrd Skynyrd / 38 Special / Marshall Tucker Band, it all went pretty smooth. For Def Leppard / Poison / Tesla, things were closer to a madhouse. We had the same woman handling our tickets at both shows. At the first one she was relaxed, all in order. At Def Leppard, her face was all veins and stress, people coming at her and her staff from all directions. Everyone demanding, bargaining, carping, wheedling for better, different, closer, now now now tickets. Watching it all, I started feeling like I was in a Bosch painting: People are scammers, aren’t they, scammers everywhere, busy as rats, turning out of the woodwork. It was funny watching them connive – but not for the woman! Get me hence.
Next they lead you along the wide main aisle that stretches the width of the pavilion from one side to the other. The whole thing is sheltered underneath the pavilion and about two-thirds of the way back toward the lawn. Disability seating is the first row behind this main aisle. For the Def Leppard show our section was on the closer side of the pavilion, at the most 30 yards from the courtesy table. For Skynyrd we were on the far side of the pavilion, maybe 70 yards from the courtesy table. (I probably sound like Rainman with all of these distances, but I’m trying to give a good picture to those who could use it, right?)

Now I could be wrong, but it seems like the farther disability section was higher up and roomier. Sitting in the section that was closer to the courtesy table, I was more wedged in to a tight space, with people trying to squeeze behind me. (There were a lot more people at that Def Leppard show. The place was pretty much swamped.) But even more important, people’s heads were blocking my view of the stage as they walked the aisle in front of me. And there were a lot of walking heads! In fact, based on this, I gave a pass to Paul McCartney, who is on my rock ‘n roll Mount Rushmore and was playing at Hollywood a couple weeks later, because I could only imagine the madhouse that would be: even more walking heads! Definitely disappointing. And definitely a mistake, because going to Skynyrd, when the turnout was still strong (it was supposed to be their farewell tour), I sat in the accessible section that was farther away and everything was so much better. We had much more room, and we seem to be sitting higher. Same distance from the stage, same busy aisle of people in front of me, but no walking heads. This time I had a perfect view and a fun evening. So the next time I go, this is the section where I want to be.

At Hollywood Casino Amphitheater, if you get there early you’ll have a better time. You’ll get a closer space in an older lot, with fewer cars to squeeze through. You’ll probably spend less time waiting at the courtesy table (and the drinky lines). Then you can ask the woman, with fewer stress lines on her face, to seat you in the accessibility section on the far side of the pavilion. Rock on, dude.

So come back, Walrus, come back.

From Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre’s website: Accessible seating can be purchased online. Please inform the representative that you require accessible seating at time of purchase.

Accessibility Review: Huntington Bank at Northerly Island – a smooth, perfect night on the lake

This is a small outdoor concert arena. There is lawn seating which I didn’t even notice because we hurried in as the show was starting. The whole setup is very easy access. Part of that is because it’s a lot smaller, more intimate scale than Tinley Park (I’ll date myself by including the old Poplar Creek) or maybe it helps that we were seeing an older act attracting not quite capacity crowd. At any rate, I recommend heading straight to VIP parking just outside the venue. It is $35 and you are right there, rather than saving $5 for Soldier Field parking (checked online) several blocks away with traffic swirling all about. You can purchase VIP parking on-site or online.

In VIP there weren’t rows of handicapped spaces, but we had no problem finding one. That could be because it wasn’t a capacity crowd. The beauty part is that it was not even 100 yards to our seats. Everything is flat, from lot to check-in to seating. No turnstiles or threshold bumps to navigate. All smooth. Inside, it was only a short jog to the actual arena. The place was so relaxed then we could have stayed right where we entered to watch the whole concert with a perfect view. But right there was a big, roomy platform reserved for nothing but wheelchair seating, and it was empty. I don’t know if we had the right tickets, but we helped ourselves since nobody else was. They were beautiful seats, high up and only 30-40 yards from the stage. The sound was great, but judging by reviews, that may have to do with whatever act you are seeing.

Besides the easy access to make you happy, this has to be one of the most beautiful places anywhere to see an outdoor concert. It is the former Meig’s Field, the old private airport on a small peninsula on the lake. Your stage background is the Chicago skyline, the big shoulders of the City of Big Shoulders. The lights of the Prudential towers winking at you. The antennas of the Sears Tower changing colors, red, white and blue, and Jupiter joining the party overhead. The summer night on the lake was perfect, and onstage was Styx, favorite sons in front of a large and enthusiastic hometown crowd. The guys come from my old neighborhood of Roseland, and it was great to see founding member Chuck Panozzo slinging the bass on the biggest, rowdiest numbers. It was a night I won’t forget.

ADA Sports Venues Facebook group

Reviews, field reports, discussion and activism about getting you in to see the game.

Accessibility Review: Roll Right up to the Houston Art Car Parade

This year we finally made it to the Houston Art Car Parade, a homegrown event featuring hundreds of vehicles of all shapes and sizes, decorated all crazy-like. They’re not parade floats, they’re funkier.

Artists and groups, even grade school classes, decorate the vehicles, mostly cars, in 280 quirky ways, which was about the number of entries. Its raucous and imaginative, but still family-friendly: It’s not Carnival, it’s not Burning Man, but it is unique and huge fun.

There was a sky-blue VW Bug like my uncle used to drive, all blown up like a tick about 15 feet tall: We couldn’t even tell what we were looking at, but it was huge and gleaming, and had no front or rear, but on it rolled down the road. Hard to describe! Then there was the obligatory swipe at Trump, a truck pasted with his tweets, with a live Trump, grotesque and clownish (I know, redundant), tweeting on the hood. Everyone was either flicking him off (there went the G rating) or laughing, including my Republican Mabster. Anyway, there were almost 300 other entries like those. Combined with nice springtime weather and good parking karma, you’ve got good times.

Is it accessible? If you like to scope out your accessibility first from home, you won’t find many reassuring details online. What I did find said that if you don’t show up in hour early you won’t find parking and you’ll be at the back of the crowd. Not so. We arrived an hour early but ended up driving around the parade route of Allen Parkway, in search of parking nearby. We got lucky and hit the jackpot.

The tower at 2727 Allen Parkway has a free lot on the east side of the building, including about 10 handicapped spots, although there looked to be plenty of other spaces available as well. From there, drive your wheelchair along Allen 100 yards east to the intersection with Montrose. There’s no wheelchair cutout to cross Allen here, so cross Montrose to a cutout, cross Allen and then cross back over Montrose again.

Now, since Allen is the parade route, it is closed to traffic, and that is key. You can take your wheelchair onto Allen. Go 100 yards west and park it where lower Allen ramps up to upper Allen. (Think of Chicago where lower Wacker ramps up to join upper Wacker, on the west side of the Loop.) Here you’ll be only a few feet from the parade. (Below, sitting on Allen looking east to Montrose, then looking west.)

Bring water, sunblock, a hat or umbrella for shade, and a chair or blanket. For being such a nice day, the crowds weren’t bad at all. You can see from the pictures that there was plenty of room to sit on the grass. There are food trucks and porta-potties about a block away. (I didn’t get any great pictures of the cars, google them yourself, but our view was right on top of it. Second picture, my man was wearing a blue coat with the Houston traffic grid. Not quite as cool as my serape or I would have traded him.)

A bonus was that, right behind us was an entrance to Buffalo Bayou, one of the waterways crossing the city. It is a recreation area with bike and jogger paths and playgrounds. It’s being renovated but is open to the public. The park entrance is a gentle concrete slope that was perfect for wheelchairs and strollers.

Homestretch: Counterculture vegan & *#@&! hotel in Austin, Street art in Caldwell

Day 8

Changing terrain Is exciting. You know you’re going places, to another region. We drove down the scrubby foothills of the West Texas mountains into the green, rolling Hill Country. I didn’t realize our route would take us through Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg has old town charm, German restaurants, beer gardens and weinkellars, lots of tourists, and more vineyards than this Midwesterner has ever seen, all packed in a small town (well, 28,000). Next door is Johnson City, with a lot of old, well-kept buildings that Lyndon Johnson no doubt knew all about, it being his hometown. We are definitely returning.

I love Austin, but on this Sunday it was traffic jams and headaches. Check-in at the Peers Hotel took an hour, even with reservations. The entrance was terrible, but more on this later. It was the end of the day, we needed some grub. Then to add insult to injury, there were asses illegally parked in the handicapped spaces at the couple of places we stopped. No, Austin, this time I ain’t feeling you.

Counterculture was the best part of our stay, and even that… OK, Counterculture serves up what they call vegan comfort food. Handicapped parking was sketchy: one handicapped space surrounded by potholes and no easy path to the entrance. I wanted to blow out of there but it was getting late and we were hungry, so carry-out it was. Mab ordered the jerk seitan sandwich with french onion soup. I got a Reuben with side spinach citrus salad. All good, and the jerk sandwich was the champ. We were tasting flavors that were new to us here, so we were happy – if what you’ve got is a tofu scramble or veggie chili, I can get much better at home, thanks. For us, Counterculture met that standard. For the entire trip, though, the golden cup goes to Viva Vegeria in San Antonio. A thousand miles later, I’m still thinking of those nachos and sauces.

Day 9

Can’t recommend Peers Hotel in Austin for disabled travelers. (My accessibility review with pictures is here.) They offered nice modern rooms for cheap, especially considering the location, but it’s probably temporary because of ongoing construction. This was the worst entrance I’ve ever seen: In our lowered-floor minivan we bottomed out (scraping chassis on concrete) twice for every time we entered or exited. (6 entrances or exits X 2 = 12 blows to the vehicle. Like the narrow doorways in Terlingua, it limits your comings and goings.) If that were all, I might write it off as a mulligan. After all, it sucks for the proprietor as well as the guests. But this ain’t all, oh no.

These accommodations might work well for some, but if you need any type of special consideration or information, i.e., you are disabled, then gird your loins. After three separate calls with the owner or manager about whether or not the bed was on a platform, we still had no idea what we’d find checking in. Sure enough, check-in took an hour. It turned out that the new weekend desk person, who was genuinely trying, wasn’t even told which was the accessible room. Eventually we needed two men to help the Mab lift the bed up onto our blocks, and checking out the next day it took three to help her take down, complete with sour faces. It was a high bed to transfer onto, and the carpeting made it difficult with the lift – which are everyday kind of problems, but by that point we were in no mood for more obstacles.

On the plus side, the toilet and shower were both wheelchair accessible, as was the sink area with room for an attendant. But were the little things that added up: One washcloth provided for two people. No tissues. In a couple of instances, key card would not open the lock. The entrance ramp was steep. After we checked out, Mab needed both hands to wheel a loaded luggage cart to the manual front door. This owner or manager exited directly in front of her without bothering to hold it. That said it all. Finally, those last two scrapes across the concrete to send us on our way, grinding our teeth. So long, fuckers.

Also, none of the laundry facilities at the last couple of places we stayed were working. Call in advance.

On our homestretch through Caldwell, Texas, we passed a line of unusual metal sculptures along the road. My mantra this trip was to keep moving forward and not stop for every sight, because up ahead would be another one and another one and another one, and this served us well. (Exceptions allowed, of course, because it’s a vacation, for chrissake.) But we were on our way home, and these sculptures were striking enough that Mab behind the wheel deserved to see them, so we circled back. Looking it up later, they are the work of the late Dr. Joe Carlisle Smith, who led an incredible life. They are big pieces, most 5 feet or taller, primarily metal but in other media as well. There are many of them all around what I assume was his house, but they’ve been written up in several publications and there’s even one in front of the local McDonald’s. Interesting pieces I wish could look at more closely.

Accessible Travel: Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Garden – and Alpine, TX does vegan

Day 7

In the morning move I followed up with Peers Hotel in Austin to describe our accommodation needs and what was agreed to, because I had an uneasy feeling. Last week he said, “We will do whatever needs to be done.” Today, it sounded like he was trying to get out of what he promised on February 2 and also agreed to in the Expedia confirmation where I left very specific requirements. Again he said they would do what we needed, but when I hung up Mab and I both shrugged because his tone was not reassuring. More fun later…

It was an open-ended day to kick around before we started the home-leg of our trip. We decided the nearby Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Garden was worth a visit. (Also highly rated online are the Fort Davis National Historic Site and especially at sunset the Fort Davis State Park, and the Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross University – alma mater of Dan “Hoss” Blocher from the TV show Bonanza (Mab, trivia whiz) – right down the street in Alpine. Also, depending on who you ask, the Marfa lights viewing stand.) The center focuses on plant life and natural history of the Chihuahuan Desert straddling Texas and Mexico. The staff is extremely friendly and knowledgeable. They take pride in the diversity of their guests and are happy to accommodate disabled visitors. They recommended which trails and exhibits were most wheelchair-friendly. The cactus and succulents greenhouse where actual scientific work is done is open to viewing. It is floored with crushed gravel that works best with wider tires. Same can be said for the mining exhibit that was put together by two elderly miners. It too was lined with gravel that was all right to drive over. (Mule-powered wells? Display below.)

The staff allowed us use of an employees-only service road to get closer to the greenhouse. It was still very bumpy for a wheelchair van, and the scientist receiving us didn’t get the message and turned us away. Right away she realized what happened and so we crept our way back to the greenhouse. It was well worth it. There are hundreds of exotic-looking species, mostly cactus, of all shapes and sizes, labeled on long tables. We really got into it. You can’t blame the scientist for being protective of all the work here, especially after hearing a few horror stories of the tinkering some visitors have done. No touchy specimens! Great facility and experience.

We went a couple times for take out to a little family place called Snack Shack. Generous portions, very tasty, and vegan options. Yesterday, stuffed potato with broccoli, grilled onion, jalepenos, mushrooms and chives. Today, I ordered a bean burrito and they had no problem with substituting potatoes and jalapenos for the cheese. The sweet lady in the drive-thru window said they’ve been in business for six years. While we ate we watched a few dozen deer and bucks crossing the road in front of us. Why did they do that? To get to the Snack Shack! Hopefully, the for-sale sign out front is for one of the houses sharing a driveway with them, because this little shack rocks.

We closed out our stay in the mountains with a beautiful sunset of soft blue and bright orange over the rolling foothills. Good day.