Followup to SF Muni bus complaint form post

As a followup to my post about public transportation complaint forms: I filed a couple of complaints to test the system. It is fairly cumbersome, so though I had resolved to report everything that was a problem, I haven’t done it. I did take a few photos of buses that I ride before I get on, and took some notes so that I have the bus numbers, but that is hard to keep up consistently. I am usually focusing on getting on the bus smoothly and I’ve had my son with me a lot so I have him to think about too. This is with riding the bus 2 to 6 times a day.

I feel a little worried about reporting on drivers who are rude or can’t operate the lift well. Those drivers will still be there every day and I will have to still see them. They don’t always have their numbers showing on their uniform sleeves. I am not sure what their reaction will be when they see me photographing the bus number.

I would estimate that about half the time I have a problem getting on the bus. Most of the time that is the driver not asking people to board or exit at the back of the bus and so there is a delay in putting down the lift. That isn’t a big deal to me unless the bus is crowded, and 20 people push on in front of me, which means I have to get past them in the aisle to get to the wheelchair seating area OR that the bus driver doesn’t want to let me on. Three times in the last week bus drivers have been reluctant to let me on, giving excuses about their shift being about to end in 10 minutes, or about the bus being too full (it wasn’t). I had to argue my way on, each time. The driver in both cases tried to convince me that another bus was “right behind them” but I could see on QuickMuni, an Android app, that the next buses were 20-30 minutes away. One time, my son and I were completely passed up, at 10pm on Mission by a #49 bus going outbound.

On the complaints I filed, I got back email responses as attachments in docx format. Here is one of them:


July 19, 2012

Dear Liz Henry:

Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback regarding Muni.

Our goal is to provide timely, convenient and safe service, and your input is very important. Your complaints have been forwarded to Cyndia Chambers, Potrero Division Superintendent for investigation and resolution. We will strive to resolve your concern in an expedient manner. 

If you have a follow-up question regarding your report, please contact us at 415.701.5640 and refer to Passenger Service Report # 413220, 413221.

If you would like to provide additional feedback regarding Muni services, we welcome you to provide comments seven days a week, 24 hours a day via or through the 311 Customer Service Center at 311 or 415.701.2311.


Maria M. Williams
Manager, Muni Customer Services
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

Passenger Service Report #: 413220, 413221
311 Service Request #: 1160424, 1160418

Then I got a paper copy of this letter snail mailed to me. Both letters are the same, but one is dated July 16 and the other July 19th. That seems like a lot of effort on their part to say nothing.
I don’t know what my complaints were. I don’t know what is being done. I don’t have any kind of report on data they collect, whether there are ongoing programs for improvement, and so on. I’ll try following up on one of the complaints to see what happens next in their procedure.

When I go back to the SF Muni 311 feedback page, and click on the link to check the status of a complaint I have already filed, I get an error screen. Try it and see! When I put in the complaint tracking number and my email address, I get yet another error from the Lagan self-service online government app. As with all the other error screens I’ve gotten to with San Francisco’s 311 system, there is nothing to tell me where to report the error.

If the entire procedure is this opaque and difficult to me, a privileged person with incredible access to computers and the net and a fair educational background and a lot of experience dealing with bureaucracies, how does this process look to The Average Citizen? And specifically, will it work at all for other disabled people in San Francisco who want to hold the system accountable, and contribute to improving public transport?

On bus lifts and complaint forms

Now that I am using a mobility scooter and can’t drive, I ride a MUNI bus about 4 times a day in San Francisco. Most of the time I get on the bus and everything’s fine. A non-trivial amount of hte time, there is some hitch to accessible MUNI travel and either I cope with that gracefully or I get quite angry.

Most of the time in the last few months I get too discombobulated to document the incident. But I’m resolving to do so consistently from now on not for my own desire to vent but as a political act that might benefit many people and might help us act together to improve things.

When I talk about, or twitter or blog about access difficulties on the bus, people tell me “well you should report it”. I found that reporting it is quite complicated. Also, while dealing with mobility issues and a lot of pain and all the demands of my daily life, even on medical leave from work, it’s been daunting to consider this.

I would like to describe some of the aspects of MUNI transit with a wheelchair and to take a good look at the process of making an official complaint. The complaint process is fairly clunky and off-putting. I’m thinking about how to improve that process and make it productive and useful. Meanwhile, I’ll make a policy for myself of not only going through the formal complaint process, but also twittering the bus number and situation. For my own data tracking, I will take a photo of each bus I ride, with the bus number, uploading it to Flickr. I’ll then take notes on access in a paper notebook. For each Flickr photo I will type up my access notes, and tag the photo with #accessMUNI, the bus number, approximate time of day, details of the experience, and #fail or #win. That will give me some data to work with personally.

I wonder how many lifts break on MUNI in a day, in a month? How many complaints about bus access are there? Is that or should it be public information? Could I build a work-around, an end run, basically an alternate complaint system that has intake from paper forms (mailed to me personally), text messages, and a phone app? Or a simpler web form for complaints?

Here is how a smooth bus-boarding goes:

* The driver sees me and immediately tells the apparently able bodied people on the bus and the people waiting for the bus to use the back doors. The driver extends the lift.
* I get on the lift and it brings me up onto the bus
* The driver or other passengers flip up some seats to make room for me and the chair
* I settle in and we’re good to go (meanwhile, everyone else has gotten on or off.)

Keep in mind the wheelchair seating areas, two on most buses, are midway back in the bus, so to get on or off, I have to go past three to 5 inward-facing seats which might be full of people, some of them with shopping carts, strollers, walkers, and suitcases.


In a bad situation, here is what can happen:

* The driver does not know how to operate the lift.
* The driver tries to extend the lift, but it doesn’t work.
* The driver claims the lift is broken.
* The driver says the bus is too crowded and won’t let me on.
* The driver lets all the other people get on the bus through the front door, filling up the seats, then extends the ramp, but now the bus is so full it is very hard to get to the wheelchair seating. People have to get up or move or stand on the seats to let me pass. The people on the bus sometimes get angry and impatient at the fuss and delay.
* The driver does not stop for me at all.
* There are already two wheelchairs on the bus, so the driver won’t let me on.
* Driver has not pulled up to the curb in a place where I can get on or off, and then has to reposition the bus to extend the lift.
* The lift breaks in such a way that the bus can’t move because the doors won’t close.
* I get on the bus but the lift won’t work again to let me off.
* The lockdown clamps either don’t work at all, or lock in a wheelchair’s wheels and won’t release. (I don’t use the locks anymore so I won’t go into this.)
* There is no button for me to push to indicate I want to get off the bus and need the lift, so I have to shout to the driver or get other passengers to let the driver know. (This doesn’t always work: I can miss the stop, or it can mean the driver yells at me.)
* Many other bugs in the system that I haven’t thought to list.

As a more minor complaint I have noticed that all drivers get me to come onto the lift, then lock the front flap upwards so I can’t get off again. Then the driver will sometimes get up to clear passengers from the wheelchair seating area and flip up the seats to make room. In that situation I am sometimes sitting in the rain waiting. I always wonder why the driver doesn’t move the lift to bring me onto the bus, and out of the cold and rain, first? Don’t they think? But, whatever, at least I’m on the bus eventually.

Another detail that would improve courtesy is that when the drivers (correctly) ask people waiting to get on or off to use the back door, and they begin to extend the lift, they almost always overlook obviously elderly and disabled people using canes or simply very frail. It would be much more in keeping with the spirit of things if the driver would encourage these folks to get on the bus through the front door, then deal with the lift and wheelchairs. I often tell the driver, “I’m sitting down — that lady isn’t! Does she need the bus to kneel, first?” But it usually doesn’t work and the driver continues yelling in some elderly person’s face for them to “use the back door”.

I wonder about the training the drivers go through. Most of them can competently operate a lift and are resigned to helping get wheelchair users on and off the bus. A very few are kind and treat disabled people with human decency as a matter of course. I see them deal with difficult people and situations gracefully. It might improve things in general if the drivers had some basic consciousness raising about people with disabilities. Drivers may assume a wheelchair user is paralyzed (they often assume this for me, yet I can walk ) They shout, or condescend, or pat me, or bring in a lot of assumptions to our interaction, and then I see them repeat that pattern with other disabled people who get on the bus. You can’t make people be nice and I don’t need my ass kissed because I’m disabled, but maybe some of that bad attitude feeds into the access problems that I see happen, especially with drivers who regard us as an inconvenience and want to use any excuse to pass us up and who seem to want to make us feel it.

When a lift is broken and a bus passes me up, I always wonder what happens. Does that driver just continue on for the rest of the shift, passing up an unknown number of people who needed a lift? Do they report the broken lift right away? What happens?

Here is a #49 bus, number 8195, that passed me up yesterday at Van Ness and 26th, claiming a broken lift:

49 bus with broken lift

So, moving onward to the complaint process and the forms online. Basically this is the bug reporting system. San Francisco uses the 311 system. Here is the 311 page that leads to the complaint form. People with compliments or complaints can use the web forms, or can call 311 or a full phone number to give feedback. There is a link to an accessible form, but it isn’t really an accessible form, it’s instructions to call the 311 number if you can’t use the web form.

Here is screen one of the complaint form. It asks for an email address and a repeated email address confirmation. You have the option to skip this step.

MUNI complaint screen 1

Then I get a screen that either adds my address to the 311 database, or tells me it’s already in there. It tells me to call 911 in a real emergency and gives me a disclaimer about privacy. There are Back and Next buttons.

MUNI complaint screen 2

Screen 3 is a beauty. It’s 26 fields, 8 of them required.

SF MUNI complaint screen 3
Here are their fields. Required fields are marked with an asterisk. Just for fun, I bold faced the options that I need to complain about most often.

1. First Name
2. Last Name
3. Primary phone
4. Alternate phone
5. *Email address (never remembered from one session to the next; no login possible)
6. Address
7. City
8. State
9. Zip code
*10. Request category — a dropdown menu with these options:
a. Conduct – Discourteous/Insensitive/Inappropriate Conduct
b. Conduct – Inattentiveness/Negligence
c. Conduct – Unsafe Operation
d. Services – Criminal Activity
e. Services – Service Delivery / Facilities
f. Services – Service Planning
g. Services – Miscellaneous

11. *Request type. This dropdown changes depending on which Request Category was selected in field 10.
a1: 301 Discourtesy to Customer
a2: 302 Altercation: Employee/Customer
a3: 303 Fare/Transfer/POP Dispute
a4: 304 Mishandling Funds/Transfers
a5: Refused Vehicle as Terminal Shelter
a6: General Unprofessional Conduct/Appearance

b1: 201 Pass Up/Did Not Wait for Transferee
b2: 202 Ignored Stop Request
b3: 203 No EN Route Announcements
b4: 204 Inadequate/No Delay Announcements
b5: 205 Offroute/Did Not Complete Route
b6: 206 Not Adhering to Schedule
b7: 207 Refused to Kneel Bus/Lower Steps
b8: 208 Did Not Ask Priority Seats to be Vacated
b9: 209 Did Not Pull to Curb
b10: 210 Refused to Accomodate Service Animal
b11: 211 Unauthorized Stop/Delay
b12: 212 Did not Enforce Rules/Contact Authorities
b13: 213 General Distraction from Duty

c1: 101 Running Red Light/Stop Sign
c2: 102 Speeding
c3: 103 Allegedly Under Influence of Drugs/Alcohol
c4: 104 Using Mobile Phone or Radio
c5: 105 Eating/Drinking/Smoking
c6: 106 Collision
c7: 107 Fall Boarding/On Board Alighting – Injury
c8: 108 General Careless Operation

d1: 501 Altercation: Miscellaneous
d2: 502 Larceny/Theft
d3: 503 Fare Evasion/Transfer Abuse
d4: 504 Disorderly Conduct/Disturbance

e1: 601 Delay/No-Show
e2: 602 Bunching
e3: 603 Switchback
e4: 604 Vehicle Appearance
e5: 605 Vehicle Maintenance/Noise
e6: 606 Lift/Bike Rack/Securements Defective
e7: 607 Track/ATCS Maintenance
e8: 608 Station/Stop Appearance/Maintenance
e9: 609 Elevator/Escalator Maintenance
e10: 610 Fare Collection Equipment
e11: 611 Signs, Maps, and Auto-Announcements

f1: 701 Insufficient Frequency
f2: 702 Lines/Routes: Current and Proposed
f3: 703 Stop Changes
f4: 704 Shelter Requests

g1: 801 NextMuni/Technology
g2: 802 Advertising/Marketing
g3: 803 Personal Property Damage
g4: 804 Fare Media Issues
g5: Muni Rules and Regulations

12: Expected Response Time (7 days)
13: checkbox for Disclaimer
14: * Vehicle number
15: Employee ID
16: Employee physical description
17: * Line/Route (Dropdown of all the routes)
18, 19, 20: Date, Time, am/pm
21: Location
22: * Cross Street
23: * Details
24: Do you want a response letter?
25: Was this an ADA violation?
26: If it was an ADA violation, do you want a hearing?
(If “Yes” is selected, and the operator is identified, a telephone or in-person hearing will be scheduled to address the issue)

Sometimes the form returns an error message!

muni complaint form error page

When it works, I get a confirmation screen with an option to go back or to confirm the info.

After confirmation I get an issue tracking number, and if I’ve given my email, an email with all the information I submitted plus the tracking number. So, if a person goes through all these screens successfully, the tracking system seems pretty decent.

My main criticism of the form is that it requires the user to decide on a taxonomy for their complaint. The complaint must fit into one of the dropdown menu options, but the possible options are shown only after the user decides what category it should be in. The complaintant should see all the options and should have a clear “miscellaneous/not included in these options” possibility from the start. THey shouldn’t have to put the complaint into a category at all. The computer can assign a category for it based on the user’s choice from a single dropdown. Uncategorizable complaints, or complaints from people not patient enough to read through the dropdown options, should be accepted too, because they are potentially useful data points. I don’t care if someone just wants to say “Fuck You MUNI” — that is not super constructive, and yet it still gives useful information in that someone was dissatisfied.

The MUNI complaint form appears to be designed with an official bus inspector in mind as the “complaintant”.

I have never seen a bus driver put the restraint system on for a wheelchair user, by the way, though some drivers have tried to get me to lock myself in with the wheel clamps. I’ve actually only seen one guy in a cheap E&J chair with no working brakes use the wheel clamps and never seen *anyone* use the belt system. It is unrealistic and not very workable. I’m sure someone out there uses it and likes it, though.

The “compliment” form is much simpler than the complaint form.

I can picture many other ways to collect this data. Maybe by building a system to take simplified complaints by text message from a feature phone (like Krys Freeman’s Bettastop prototype), or from a phone call. Paper complaints should also be possible, maybe by postcard. Complaints should be collected to figure out where problems may be clustering.

There could be a variety of useful smartphone apps as well. Though how many other disabled people on the bus do I ever seen with an iPhone? Take a wild guess. None! (That number will grow as GenX ages.) Accessibility problems should be reported via smartphone by able bodied people routinely, rather than that issue being left to the people with the least energy and resources.

It is hard to know what details you will need in making a complaint. Bus number, time of day, route number, location of the issue are the main details. I could make preprinted notepad forms and distribute them to other people on the bus, asking them to collect data.

I could see what my experimental data collection on Flickr leads to and if I can get anyone else to do the same and use the same hashtags.

And I could certainly go to one of the MUNI accessibility committee meetings to see what they talk about. Mainly at this point I’d like to know what happens with the data collected and how I can obtain it. Do particular lines have more wheelchair users, or more lift breakdowns? Particular times of day? What could be done about that?

Ideally, lift breakage or other issues would be reported in as close to realtime as possible, and hooked into a great open source system like QuickMuni? What about an app that knows what bus I’m on already, and for which I can just hit a few buttons to give simple feedback?

The thing that pisses me off most of all is trying to ride the bus during a busy time. Drivers then sometimes let 20 other people get on the bus first through the front doors. Good drivers tell everyone to board from the back door, and lower the lift immediately. Bad drivers delay everyone if they let the able bodied people go in the front, then don’t get them to move back, and then the driver refuses to let me on the bus. Leaving me in the dust is just the logical, reasonable thing to do in those driver’s minds. I had one driver on the 24 line yell at me for not *thanking him* for explaining why he wouldn’t let me on the bus. You can imagine my incandescent rage as I am deemed inconvenient and it is as if I have no right to take up space, while every other person, their shopping bags, strollers, and so on are given as much convenience as they could wish. It is for those moments that I’m going to take a photo of every bus I attempt to board, even before there is a problem.

Voyage to the End of the Block

Today I read Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880), read a lot on Wikipedia and elsewhere about the Ainu and their history, and got about halfway through Finding Fernanda which I read about on Racialicious. It’s awesome investigative journalism, a good expose of the politics of international adoption and child trafficking.

In the morning I tried out the scooter. The battery heated up while charging to scary-hot and didn’t charge fully. I took the scooter for a spin anyway.

Voyage of Exploration to the End of the Block

At the end of the block I came back up the hill feeling very doubtful that the battery was going to behave itself. Sadly I was correct as the scooter didn’t have the power to get me up the slope of a driveway that cut across the sidewalk much less the rest of the way up hill. I texted a couple of people and then realized there was still a charge but the steepness of the hill lowered the battery gauge to 0. So I serpentined my way up. About 4 houses away (at the steepest bit of the hill) Danny came out to rescue me and started laughing. “Are you TACKING?”

So I will try a new battery tomorrow. I called 6 wheelchair and medical supply stores and they didn’t stock this kind of battery. They all special order it and it takes 3 or 4 weeks. Weeks!!! Then I called someplace called Battery Plus, which had it and for much cheaper than the wheelchair stores. I hope it works. I’m counting on it to get around! But if it doesn’t I’ll find a more powerful powerchair.

After a rest and icing my ankles I tried going down the hill in my manual chair. It wasn’t too hard with gloves on to help me brake. So, that’s fabulous! That means I can get on the #24 bus. I hopped on and was on my way to physical therapy in the Castro.

On the bus I watched a very very old lady with a quad cane and a funny hat getting on the bus using the lift and walking with extreme difficulty. Obviously a regular. There was some fuss and rearranging as the driver made some people get up for her. Another very old lady said hello to her very happily. I eavesdropped on their conversation about shopping and then the lady with the cane said, “Now that I can go out of the house again I only go as far as 18th because I’m just afraid of getting tangle up with that Occupy stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with them 100% but I’m scared I’ll get caught in one of those crowds.” They agreed about liking Occupy but being scared. That was so sad….

Then it was my stop. I realized I had backed my chair into the claw thing that grabs and locks your chair down to the floor. I usually try to avoid those and just hang on tight. The lever was stuck and would not release my chair. This snowballed embarrassingly until 2 people plus the driver plus some sort of transit cop were trying to tug my chair free and not listening to my protests that they were going to pop the tire right off the rim. Finally I stood up (mostly because people’s armpits and crotches were in my face, very annoying, and i was being jostled way too much) There was a collective gasp from half the bus. SHE CAN WALK!!!!! The driver turned around and went “Girl, what are you doing standing up! Sit back down!” “Look… that’s what the boots are for, standing up!” The chair was freed, I thanked them all and then got out of there as fast as possible feeling angry and embarrassed.

Then it was very lovely to be in the parklet in the sun at Market and Castro. I had a cookie and wrote in my notebook and looked at people. I wonder if people still say “basket days” about days like this when it’s amazingly warm and everyone’s in tight shorts? NOT EVERYONE THOUGH since there was a completely naked dude wandering around all leathery and hippietastic, holding a sort of wizard staff walking stick. Okay then!

Physical therapy was reassuringly fine and was half massage, my favorite kind, not like the boot camp kind of PT. I took a taxi home. End of story! At least I mentioned books a little in the beginning of the post.

Here is how I watch livestreams and twitter events as they are happening, btw:

big monitor setup

And in other news, this article ticked me off because of the framing: Activists and Anarchists Speak For Themselves at Occupy Oakland. The title says it. It is activists and anarchists speaking for themselves. Yet claiming to be speaking for “voiceless” people in an “empty” city and a battlezone, a riot, a war zone. I am deeply suspicious of framing events and places and histories in this way. It in fact goes with occupying to describe a place as empty and its (non)inhabitants as voiceless (a clear Denial of Agency attack) and thus making that place suitable for a battleground. This audio clip from an activist named Soul is more like it. Work with the people doing effective work rather than writing stuff about how great it is to have a battle with riot cops.

Ankle-bustin' in the wild west

A little bit more about ankles before I move on and talk about all the books I’ve been reading!

After a couple of weird and frustrating visits with a new doctor I switched doctors again and hit the jackpot, with a kind, earnest, detective-like internal medicine dude who sent me off to the UCSF Orthopedic and Rheumatology clinics and then saw me afterwards to mull things over. The upshot of that is I have tendinitis in both Achilles tendons, some messed up other ankle tendons plus bursitis on both sides. My theory (and everyone seems to agree) is that I got too enthusiastic about walking and stair climbing and was treating pain as something to make me pause slightly and then “push through” so as not to be lazy or malingering. Tendons don’t play that way… They would like three to five months of ridiculous attention in order to recover. This is depressing though it is nice to hear the word “recover”. It means I can’t really go home to my boat. I am homesick and sad. I miss driving. It is daunting to get around in my wheelchair while in this much pain (and with giant boots on). I am on leave from work and I don’t have energy to do anything much.

night boots

I now have some clever heel wedge things that peel off in layers, big old space boot thingies to walk in, some lighter and comfier night braces for being in bed, lovely velcro ice packs that go around my ankles, and NSAID topical gel (voltaren) since I can’t tolerate regular NSAIDs. I was begging for prednisone but it looks like prednisone is exactly wrong and makes your Achilles tendons rupture. I do have some emergency Vicodin and now this Cymbalta stuff which seems promising but which is putting me through side effects… dizziness, nausea, jaw-clenching, and all that (but it did help me immediately not to feel so upset).

velcro ice pack wraps

In Phase One of my conquest of space, we calm everything down, singing gentle lullabies to my ankles, avoid walking (while magically somehow achieving aerobic exercise) and wear these boot things with the wedges in them. I sit around distracting myself from pain and side-effects. Three or four times a day, I Voltaren up my ankles, do some PT exercises, wear the ice packs, and then it’s back into the boots. Through the magic of Amazon I got a shower bench (there is no bathtub.) At first I had a kitchen chair in there and then faced up to the reality that I needed a real bench with good stability and rubber feet and all the works. (Plus we only have 2 kitchen chairs and there are 2-4 of us in the apartment.) I get up and make my coffee or Danny makes it for me. Then I switch between reading books, reading stuff on the net, and doing my exercises and ice. At around 3pm, if it’s sunny out, the sun hits the sidewalk in front of the house, so I go outside to sit in a lawn chair (classily, on the sidewalk in my pajamas).

I went scouting to the local indoor pool and had a nice swim at the Disabled Water Exercise hour with a lot of fabulous women in bathing caps and some very friendly lifeguards who DJed for us and took requests. I used a lift to get in and out of the pool for the first time in my life. A confession here. I am not really able enough to push myself around in the manual chair to get there and back on 2 buses. The ramp up to the pool building just about does me in as my right hand and arm don’t cooperate and hurt a lot. But I can just barely do it. As of today (thanks to my fabulous boss at BlogHer and his wife’s late dad’s scooter which has been in the garage for a year) I have a little Zipr 3 travel scooter with a 12 Ah 24 V battery so I am hoping that will hold enough charge to get me to the pool (on the bus) and back. (I think I have to buy it new batteries tomorrow.) Otherwise it is around $30 in taxis plus $7 to get into the pool. I would prefer the bus at least one way since it’s cheaper and more fun. The pool was cold… I haven’t gone again yet because it’s been cold and rainy. I went to a day spa instead and saunaed myself for 3 hours.

I should also mention I started this trip with one ankle bandage brace that was moldering under the bathroom sink. Then got a second one. I felt that maybe people would see my ankle brace usage as some sort of Hysteria. Then I realized that part of why it hurt when I tried to leave the house was because my shoes touching my ankles hurt like fury. Then I got out the giant space boot that I used last July when my left ankle went all strange. The space boot was AWESOME. Then I mail-ordered a second boot from Amazon ($50, when the first one from the orthotics clinic cost me like $200…) The boots were slightly different from each other. So by the time I showed up at the orthopedist I had these embarrassingly unprescribed boots on. (No one minded or threw me out of the clinic for self-medicating myself with space boots.) I got the awesome Night Boots from their orthotics people, and the heel wedges to put in them. Over the last couple of weeks I realized I could do with a smaller size of matching walking boots. So I ordered them and a 2nd set of heel wedges so that I don’t have to switch the wedges from night to walking boots every time I switch which is like 10 times a day. Amazon Prime is very, very, useful if you are disabled, as is cold hard cash to buy things off it with.

walking boots

In Phase Two about a month from now assuming my tendons have achieved a calm and stable orbit and the rest of me has not completely atrophied, I will progress to Strengthening which sounds difficult and scary. I resolve to swim Every Day Possible until I am amazingly healthy. I will pretend to be a polar bear. Physical therapy will happen three times a week instead of once. I will do amazing things with Thera-bands.

I think there is a Phase Three where I reach Mars but I’ve forgotten what happens then.

ankle rehab junk

The pain has gone from being intolerable and maddening, to being just all-over stabby and achy ankle pain, to several separate kinds of pain behaving differently in different bits of my ankle depending on what I’m doing. I assume that means it is getting better!!! The sciatica-nerve pain I live with a lot of the time anyway. It’s very familiar. Also, numb/buzzing in both feet (and hands) aka peripheral neuropathy. The sharp splintery scary pain like million icicles is the Achilles tendons. The dull horrible pain at the base of my heels is the bursitis which makes it hurt to stand up at all (boots or no boots). The wobbly wrongnesses on either side of my right ankle are the posterial tibial tendons and, um, some other ones on the outside. That is the bit that makes me afraid to stand up in the shower. It’s important to get to know what’s going on with pain and what it means. If you’ve been in a lot of pain it’s still a surprise when it comes back or when you find out there are whole new kinds of pain and places to hurt. But once I can break it down into different things, I feel a little more in control of things (even if I’m not). It is getting to name it and knowing what it is, partly.

While it is scary and annoying and depressing to be dealing with this I have to say it is as good as it could be. I have tons of support, I have short term state disability while I’m not working, a warm and cozy place to live, and my partner and our kids are just great. I don’t feel like the most stellar parent (as usual while in lots of pain) but we get by. My parents also helped me out so that I can do things like do my errands with TaskRabbit, take taxis around instead of going through paratransit (though I am going to sign up for it anyway) and order books and space boots and Thera-bands galore off Amazon. I have a zillion beautiful friends who talk with me on IM and IRC throughout the day and night, recommend books for me, and say “there there” in comments when I complain and cry all over my not-very-secret-secret diaries. So I’m very grateful for all that and am also glad I have decent medical care and advice. I look forward hugely to scootering once I get a new battery for this little scooter beast.

I miss my boat, being on the boat with my son, seeing him during the week and helping with his homework, all our boat neighbors, the birds outside my window, the water and light in the harbor, the tide, kayaking, my bike, walking casually into stores and looking at things, grocery shopping at Chavez Market in Deadwood City, the nice people at the wash and fold laundrette next to Chavez, watching my son’s rehearsals at his hip hop dance studio and all the people there, picking him up from school, the library, driving alone with loud music on, randomly deciding to drive down interesting looking streets or going a new place on the map just to see what’s there, all my stuff and books and clothes, housecleaning (weird, i know…), bustling around a lot, doing Projects, my cooking stuff especially my toaster oven, and being able to drive people places and do them favors.

I have been to Noisebridge twice this month (and printed things on the 3D printer, finally!), went to lunch and the fabulous day spa with yarnivore and yatima, and another time with queershoulder; to physical therapy; and to half a day of She’s Geeky where I ran a discussion that was basically “What Would Black Hat Feminist Hackers Do?”. I also went to a cafe with my sister and to another cafe with my friend hazelbroom. That isn’t too bad for outings. I go kind of stir crazy in here staring out the window and at my screen and feel that life sucks if i have to be in bed for days and days and days. So any time I get to go out (even to the doctor) the world looks especially shiny and I love everyone and I come back all charged up with extrovert energy.

I’m about to go to London by the way because, fuck, free trip to London, I am dying to go to (and speak at) this conference, and I’ll be damned if my ankles not working is going to stop me. (See below for photo with airport gate tags hanging off my wheelchair.) I will have to spend a lot of time in bed in the hotel, but it’s a nice hotel, it’s accessible, there is room service and internet, and it’s near a lot of cafes and bookstores and the British Museum and the Central London YMCA, which I will pay 50 pounds to join for a week so I can swim. The bad part will be the plane ride but I have pain meds for that and will also bring my ice packs. I think the flight attendants might refreeze them for me if I ask nicely.

The sauna place deserves particular mention in being a bright spot in my month. It is fairly accessible, with a lift to get up a couple of entrance steps (they leave the key in it!) and no stairs anywhere else. In the entry hall, there is an accessible bathroom. There’s a smaller toilet once you’re in the locker rooms which would not be accessible to most wheelchairs (though I managed). I did okay with my manual chair in the bath house area which is a big open room with benches and showers (seated showers), wet sauna and dry sauna rooms, and a cold and a hot pool which are on a raised area i.e. not as accessible. I got into the hot pool by hitching myself up the side of it, hanging onto a pillar, and then sliding in like a seal. If you need help transferring then there is probably no way. There is tea and ice water and lemons and little cups of salt to scrub yourself with, which if you are foolish like me you think is an unusually un-hippie-ish nice touch of providing sugar to make lemonade with. No! it is not sugar. Perish the thought. Do not attempt to sugar your herb tea (like I did!). The other funny thing about this spa is that it is hipstertastically solemn and full of fake Zen. So there are buddha statues and lotus flower things all over and there is a gong you can bang on if people are having a good gossip or giggling in a way that perturbs your Meditative experience. I wish they had Loud Hour because I would far prefer, when naked in a sauna scrubbing myself with a slice of lemon and some salt, to be surrounded by gossiping laughing women rather than solemn culturally-appropriating church ladies with a lot of tattoos. While reclining in an Adirondack chair panting from the hot tub and sipping my iced lemon-cucumber water I was idly looking around and saw in the locker room window a strange paper cutout decoration that … that looked exactly like Jokey Smurf holding a present. Then the universe shifted and I realized it was the lotus flower logo of the day spa. I started laughing as I shifted the lotus flower to Jokey Smurf and back again and imagined the sort of sauna that would have an exploding terrorist smurf as its logo. I couldn’t TELL my friend my thought since we would be GONGED so I hitched myself into my chair, went back to the locker room, got my notebook, and settled back down in the lounging chair to write down all my silly observations for posterity.

Travelling wheels, and whoever invented the ankle was a jerk

Someone just tagged this very nice photo of me dressed to kill! It’s from in 2010 in Wellington. Now that was a fantastic conference! I had such a great time with the Haecksen and at DrupalSouth. I gave three talks, “Code of Our Own“, “Hack Ability: Open Source Assistive Tech“, and one about Drupal consulting; went to some other great talks; did some fun hacking around; messed with Arduinos; went to a GirlGeek dinner; did touristy things (greatly facilitated by Daniel and Kelly driving me around half of the island, one of the nicest things ever); and met a ton of fantastic people. (Thank you Google “diversity” money, LCA, and DrupalSouth for helping me get there with some cold hard cash!)


I note that when you’re using a wheelchair and dressing up it is important to either wear pants that are about 3 inches longer than you’d wear walking, OR make sure to have on really good socks.

These stripey purple socks cheered me greatly! I have matching armwarmers, but that’s kind of overkill.

It was nice to wake up to see this reminder that I am a tough-assed world traveler.

That’s part of why I leave the dozens and dozens of airplane gate tags remnants on my wheelchair frame. Sometimes it bolsters me up to look down at at them and think, “I’ve been a lot of places with this chair.”

After months of doing very well and gradual improvement in walking, to the point where in December I was boldly walking around barely using a cane “just in case” and practically STRIDING, going up stairs just for fun and to “feed” my little FitBit friend, well, something went wrong in my ankles. I don’t really know what (yet if ever) but it began to hurt like hell. I took it easy every couple of days, but then it went *really* wrong, and I could not bend my ankles very well. That’s never happened to me before! A whole new kind of pain and limping! Right when I was cautiously thinking about my future years of “invisible disability” and the new challenges that would bring…

If your ankles don’t work, you can only shuffle very cautiously. Going up or down even a small step means turning sideways to take the step, while holding onto something for dear life. So, I’ve been in bed for two weeks, with my feet up on ice packs and heating pads. It is hard to take a shower. I can’t drive, because my foot can’t work the gas and brake pedals. For going to the doctor (or my one outing this week, to a cafe, driven by a friend) I am back in the wheelchair. I’m taking taxis for doctor visits and using TaskRabbit rather heavily while my partner is out of town.

Now while I talk big about everything I have to say it was just plain convenient and nice to be able to walk so well. I am in pain and sad and upset. Actually I’d notch that up to “freaked the hell out and terrified of losing my independence.” So it’s nice to see this photo of myself from 2 years ago, happy and smiling, looking sharp, ranging (alone) so far from home. I do love my wheels!

And next year I swear I’m going to KiwiCon. . .

Will you need a photo ID to vote in 2012?

The Brennan Center just published a huge report, Voting Law Changes in 2012. The description of the report says that these laws will affect disabled people as well as young, minority, and low-income voters. Here is the lowdown on how these laws may affect people with disabilities.

Disability and Voting equals Power button

Seven states have changed the law on voter registration and on absentee ballots to require government-issued photo ID. If you’re disabled, and you don’t have a current state or federal government issued photo ID, you may need to do quite a lot of planning to get one. Transportation, and the process itself of waiting in lines and going to various offices may be a barrier for many people.

If you have an elderly relative whose ID may be expired or who may not have a photo ID, and you’re in one of these states, you might want to help them prepare to vote. Let them know the law has changed and ask them to check their ID expiration dates now!

Unexpired driver’s license, non-driver’s ID issued by a motor vehicle department, U.S. passport, or U.S. military photo ID will be accepted by all seven states: Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Student IDs: Alabama, Kansas, and Rhode Island.

U.S. naturalization documents bearing a photo: Alabama, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Tribal ID card with a photo: Alabama and Wisconsin.
Concealed handgun licenses: Kansas and Texas. (Okay….)
Any old ID with your name and photo on it: Rhode Island. Woo hoo, print your own!

Here’s an excerpt from the Voting Law Changes in 2012 report that describes the situation in detail:

In general, the photo ID bills that were introduced this session are more restrictive than those in prior sessions, including fewer forms of acceptable IDs, fewer exemptions, or fewer alternative mechanisms for eligible voters without the specified IDs to vote.

Those laws that have passed this session vary in several respects, including: (1) the types of photo ID that voters are permitted to show for voting; (2) whether the requirement to provide ID applies only to in-person voters or to those who vote by mail as well; (3) whether there are any exemptions from the requirement to provide ID; and, most importantly, (4) whether there is an alternative way for a voter who does not have an accepted form of photo ID to cast a ballot that counts. Detailed descriptions of each bill are included in the appendix to this report.

The types of ID permitted
With the exception of Rhode Island, each of the states that passed voter ID bills require voters to show government-issued photo IDs, though the list of acceptable IDs differs from state to state. All seven states accept an unexpired driver’s license, non-driver’s ID issued by a motor vehicle department, U.S. passport, or U.S. military photo ID. All states except for Kansas and South Carolina also accept U.S. naturalization documents bearing a photo. Alabama, Rhode Island, and Tennessee broadly accept any photo ID issued by state and federal governments, though Tennessee expressly excludes student IDs from consideration. Only Alabama, Kansas, and Rhode Island accept student photo IDs issued by state institutions of higher education. Wisconsin purports to accept certain state-issued student IDs, but the state’s new law imposes criteria for such IDs that few if any state schools’ IDs meet. Kansas and Texas expressly allow concealed handgun licenses, and Alabama, Rhode Island and Tennessee accept such IDs as well. Only Alabama and Wisconsin accept a tribal ID card with a photo. Rhode Island is the only state that accepts non-governmental photo IDs for voting; indeed, any current ID with a voter’s name and photograph suffices.

Who must show photo ID

All seven states require individuals appearing to vote in person at a polling place to show photo ID. Only Alabama and Kansas require all persons who vote absentee to submit a copy of their photo IDs with their mail-in ballots. Those states are now the first two states in the nation ever to require photo ID with absentee ballots. Wisconsin requires permanent absentee voters to submit a copy of their photo IDs, but only the first time they vote absentee. As a practical matter, all absentee voters in Wisconsin will have to provide a copy of their photo IDs when the law first goes into full effect in 2012.


Several states exclude certain categories of voters from the requirement to show photo ID for voting. Alabama exempts individuals who are entitled to vote absentee under federal laws protecting certain military and overseas voters and certain elderly and disabled voters. Wisconsin also exempts military and overseas voters, as well as voters designated as “confidential,” such as police officers or domestic violence victims. It does not exempt elderly or disabled voters other than those indefinitely confined to certain care facilities. Tennessee exempts voters who are either hospitalized or in nursing homes. Texas exempts certain voters with disabilities who can produce a statement that they have been determined to be disabled by specified government agencies and do not have the required ID. And Kansas exempts only permanently disabled and absent military voters from its law, but allows persons over sixty-five to show expired photo IDs.

I’m not in any of those states but thought I’d help get the word out.

If you’re in California, take a look at Disability Rights California’s page on Voting Rights, it’s very good and has a ton of links to information in Spanish, English, Cambodian, Hmong, Chinese, Tagalog, Laotian, and Vietnamese on voting while disabled.

Thanks to Dan Gillmor for the link to the Brennan Center report.