This summer I took a road trip to the USA. The main reason was to attend a conference in Indianapolis for people living with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), or brittle bones. It was my third conference with the Maryland-based Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation.
My trip actually began in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where my parents and I spent the night before going to Chicago, Illinois. The most notable thing about Kalamazoo is that it is mentioned in a famous big band song by Glenn Miller, called “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.” Needless to say, I did not get a gal in Kalamazoo. I did however have a good meal at Applebee’s and a restful night’s sleep at the hotel we stayed at.
The following day we drove to the north side of Chicago for a baseball game between the Cubs and the Colorado Rockies. The game was played at the historic Wrigley Field. At 100 years old this year, Wrigley is one of the last of the old ballparks still standing. I enjoyed the experience of being at Wrigley Field. It was a dream come true for me to watch a game there, and right at centre field. Wrigley is accessible as can be, despite the fact that it is old and not designed for accessibility. All visitors with disabilities require assistance getting on and off the lifts, because they cannot be operated easily.
What I liked most about Wrigley Field, aside from seeing a baseball game, was the friendly staff. They were eager to help anyone, and didn’t hesitate to greet people with a wave and a smile. The Cubs won the game 4-2.
|Donald inside Wrigley Field in Chicago|
Getting in and out of Chicago wasn’t as fun due to bridge congestion on the south side. It was worth seeing Chicago again for the second time in my life. The long waits in and out of the city were worth it.
Late that night we arrived in Indiana. The conference began the following day, a Friday. At the opening address, the guest speaker said Indianapolis is one of the most accessible and disability-friendly cities in America. I put that theory to the test throughout that weekend.
A few hours before the conference started, I went on one of the city’s buses operated by the IndyGo transportation service. I wanted to explore the city by venturing outside of the downtown area where our hotel was located. IndyGo requires all wheelchair users to be tied down when boarding a bus. That was the best part of going on one of their buses. The worst part of the ride was making frequent stops on a ride that should have only been 20 minutes long. I decided instead to go back to the hotel. What I discovered, however, was that some of the streets do not have sidewalks. This made crossing the road dangerous and scary. Fortunately some kind residents guided me along to the other side of the street. I arrived back to the hotel safely by bus.
I love going to OI Foundation conferences because it keeps me updated on the latest research on OI, and also gives me a chance to reconnect with other people who live with this condition. It also provides opportunities to meet new people with OI and their families. It is estimated that this year’s conference drew in 800 participants. Though most of them were from the U.S, there were other people from Canada who attended. I also learned there were visitors from England, Denmark and Norway, giving the conference some international representation.
One of the highlights for me was meeting Robby Novak, better known to the world as the Kid President. He’s a 10-year-old boy from Tennessee who posts inspirational pep talks in a series of videos on YouTube and Facebook. He is just as lively and energetic as he presents himself in his videos. When I met him, I let him know I am a fan. (Robby, along with his sister Lexi, has OI.)
|Donald meets the Kid President|
In-between conference events I explored some of downtown Indianapolis. This included a unique bike and pedestrian pathway at a park across from the hotel. The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is eight miles long, and promotes accessibility to people with disabilities by including the wheelchair symbol along its paths. The pathways opened to the public in May 2013.
One of these paths leads into the White River State Park. This park includes several attractions, one of which is the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) Headquarters and Hall of Fame. We stopped in briefly to look around, but didn’t stay for any tours. It is an impressive-looking building I think most sports fanatics will enjoy.
We took in a baseball game between the Indianapolis Indians and the Toledo Mud Hens. The OI Foundation sponsored the game played at Victory Field. A bonus that evening was getting to see the visiting San Diego Chicken, the Padres’ mascot! This popular major league mascot visits several minor league ballparks during the baseball season, with Victory Field being one of his favourites. The game went into 10 innings. Fortunately the Indianapolis team won 4-3!
|Does this former Indy ballplayer wear his sunglasses at night?|
The conference concluded with an awards dinner and dance. The foundation also announced that the next conference will take place in Orlando in 2016. I hope I can make it to that one.
As for my informal assessment of Indianapolis as a disability-friendly city, I believe it is a welcoming and inclusive city. The people I met were all friendly and I sense that the city has applied the Americans with Disabilities Act effectively, with more improvements to come. Though it has some shortcomings, particularly with the absence of some much-needed sidewalks, Indianapolis is impressive overall. I’m glad the OI Foundation picked it as the site for its 2014 conference.
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