PRESQUE ISLE – Carol Bell began her workday Monday as she does most mornings, by sitting at her desk and starting up her computer.
But with her left arm in a sling tied to her body and her left leg in a brace so she couldn’t bend her knee, the project manager for the Partnership for a Healthy Community said the task wasn’t as easy as it usually is.
In the end, she resorted to using two fingers and an elbow to hit the proper keys to get her computer running.
Bell was one of four community leaders who volunteered to “take on” a disability for a half-day to raise awareness among businesses and the general community about the challenges that people with disabilities face and to bring attention to therapy vocations.
The Aroostook Medical Center hosted the “Walk a Day in My Shoes” event Monday in observance of National Physical Therapy Month in October and National Rehabilitation Awareness Week, held two weeks ago.
Bell’s “disability” was a stroke that left her without the use of an arm and leg. She said the exercise helped her to see how much a disability can affect every little thing you do during a workday.
“Your frustration level goes up as the day goes on,” she said. “I was trying to do a purchase order and rip a page off with one hand. It’s so frustrating.”
Others who participated echoed the same sentiments. Craig Green, who runs an insurance agency, received a neon green leg cast and a hot pink arm cast; Richard Kimball of the University of Maine at Presque Isle was outfitted with a wheelchair; and Joy Barresi Saucier, TAMC’s vice president of public relations, development and strategic planning, wore a special pair of sunglasses that obstructed her peripheral vision and left her with a narrow center field of vision.
“It’s a lot more work,” Barresi Saucier admitted. “Most of us have never faced a challenge like this in our lives, so it’s been very enlightening.”
Barresi Saucier thought up the idea for the event after hearing about similar programs within other organizations.
“We wanted to do something that would increase the public’s awareness of what therapists do for their work and also show the challenges faced by folks with disabilities,” she said.
The four volunteers spent four hours with their disabilities, then attended a noontime meeting of the Presque Isle Rotary Club to discuss their experiences.
Rotary members had the opportunity to experience their own disability by eating lunch without the use of several fingers – organizers taped the fingers of one hand together and taped the thumb of the other hand to its respective palm – and all were expected to learn more about rehabilitation.
Organizers and participants hope the message hits home.
“People really don’t realize how disabling anything like this can be until they actually experience it,” Bell said. “People need to be more aware, more conscious.”