I’ve been having adventures every day of my life for as long as I can remember. Sometimes they have been exciting and exhilarating or occasionally they’ve been scary. Some we plan and others come out of nowhere. Even other people’s mundane can be an adventure for me. Adventures are often classed as risky ventures where the outcome is unknown or cannot be predicted. Throughout my life, I’ve found no two days have ever been the same. Whenever I was faced with the unknown my Mum would always say ‘life is an adventure let’s go make it happen’.
Have a go attitude to life
This doesn’t mean I live every day in a state of heightened emotion. It is more the approach that I’ll give anything a try, even if it scares me. As a little girl, I remember in physio being asked to sit on a platform swing cross-legged. My sitting in those days wasn’t great and immediately I was thinking I couldn’t do it. Having to be persuaded to allow Mum to lift me on, I felt sick and my stomach tightened as the platform wobbled and she held me there. To see myself suspended a couple of inches above the floor with no support I was afraid of falling. I was sure I would topple off when I was let go. But then within seconds, I was loving the sensation of the gentle movement of the swing. This taught me it is always worth trying things out.
Having a go includes being an adrenaline freak and wanting the fast and scary theme park rides. It included making my first conference presentation in Dusseldorf when I was 12 (and loving it). I know I learn by pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
Any trip out can be an adventure
Every time I go out somewhere new or into a busy place then life can be an adventure in many small ways. As a wheelchair user, it isn’t possible to always see the path ahead, to know where there are dropped kerbs that make it easy to cross the road. To see around crowds of people to establish potential hazards. To have people who are so busy on their phones they walk into or over me. It is never a case of getting from A to B in the shortest distance without stops and starts to avoid people and find the safe route. I always allow time for the detour, especially when overseas as many countries don’t seem to understand a dropped kerb. I’ve definitely had plenty of these where we seem to walk for miles marooned on one side of a road when we want to be on the other.
On occasions, my chair has decided to just stop, usually in awkward places like on a crossing. Occasionally the knob on my joystick controller has flown off into the road. It shouldn’t happen but usually, it’s because I’ve pulled it so hard trying to swerve or stopped suddenly to avoid an unexpected hazard. But the result is another ‘life is an adventure moment’, a situation to be resolved before we can move on.
One of my greatest adventures was flying above the Great Barrier Reef and landing in a seaplane. Just getting onto (and off) the plane was an adventure, with little ladders and nothing to hold onto, but Dad, Mum and my PA made it happen for me. The experience was then just like any other person lucky enough to make a similar trip. Full of colour, noise and sights that I could never have imagined, it was remarkable! My Gold Coast trip was a dream come true and had been years in the making. So, of course, I had to include seeing kangaroos, whales and dolphins as well as Fraser Island.
Another adventure was being lucky enough through school to go up in a glider. Not once but twice. On the first occasion it was so peaceful I fell asleep! So on the second trip, I was all for making the most of my adventure.
Pushing outside my comfort zone
I’ve grown up knowing life is an adventure using AAC (and being in a power wheelchair). People often see my equipment first, and not me as a person. Through lack of awareness people often ignore me. Or they ask a question and don’t wait for a response, or speak over my head to my assistant first. If they speak to me they glance over my head to my assistant to check what my response is valid. I need to push myself out of my comfort zone on a daily basis to communicate, never knowing what will happen.
Just recently in a well known retail chain, I was returning a faulty item. Despite all my efforts the shop assistant kept ignoring me and only speaking to my Personal Assistant. After modelling good communication and dropping heavy hints my PA resorted to telling the assistant to speak to me directly. Sadly this did no good and I was still completely ignored. It was so clear there was an issue that a store colleague came across and took over the conversation speaking directly to me.
So I take the view life is an adventure! Dealing with being patronised, remaining stout-hearted and resilient enough to keep going and trying to communicate again, and again. Never knowing if the person you are going to speak to will treat me as an equal or a 3-year-old. I make it my own personal mission to educate other people that disability does not mean inability or disadvantage. Along the way, I may even convert some people, and possibly not!
Learning and growing from experiences
Every time I have another adventure I reflect on the experience. If it is a social communication adventure then I ask myself what went well and what I might improve next time something similar happens. I’ll discuss it with the person who was with me. The result might be new programming on my device or a different approach by me. Possibly it might be a different tactic from the personal assistant to focus the conversation on me.
If it is a physical environment adventure sometimes we just laugh, we know nothing could have changed the situation. Other times we write and complain, or seek future assistance. Maybe we just learn that life is an adventure and we adapt our own ways of working.
Anyway, here is to many more of life’s adventures, big and small.