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Thread: Mowing down barriers with an everyday task

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    Mowing down barriers with an everyday task

    Mowing down barriers with an everyday task
    Access: Through a college program, a disabled Columbia man gains a simple freedom -- yardwork -- and students get design experience.
    By Joe Nawrozki
    Sun Staff
    Originally published June 10, 2002

    For many homeowners, the numbing drudgery of mowing the lawn is one of the unkindest cuts of domestic life.

    But to Tim Daly of Columbia, there's pure splendor in the grass-cutting.
    Daly, 58, has been disabled for 35 years with a rare inherited neuromuscular disorder called Friedreich's Ataxia. He uses a walker, wheelchair and scooter to get around.

    Because Daly views cutting his lawn as a symbol of independence, he happily attacks what many men assiduously try to avoid.

    "He wanted to do a routine task that most of us take for granted," said Jan Hoffberger, executive director of Volunteers for Medical Engineering in Northeast Baltimore.

    So last year, Daly's wish became another project for VME, a talented pool of engineers, designers, college students and medical professionals.

    Students in the advanced drafting and design program at the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County created an adapter last summer that enables Daly to tow his electric Black & Decker mower behind his battery-driven four-wheel scooter.

    When it's time to mow the lawn, Daly gets help hooking up the mower and scooter with the adapter, which cost about $50 to make. He controls the electrical power of the mower with a button that attaches to his waist. Cutting the lawn, about the size of two basketball courts, takes about 30 minutes.

    "It's not the grass. It's having the power to do the task," Daly said.
    John Walker coordinates the computer and design program at the Essex campus. He and his students have worked with VME and disabled people over the years "in a symbiotic relationship - the students work to help a person get beyond their limitations while they can create something meaningful rather than talk about things in the abstract."

    'Always a solution'

    The project for Daly was "very heartening; the students just light up when they can do something like this for someone," Walker said. Other VME projects Walker's students have worked on include a pneumatic lifter on wheels for an elderly gardener with bad knees and a set of portable steps for a double amputee in a wheelchair.

    "If I want to do something, I know that there is always a solution," Daly said.

    "The people at VME and Essex were super. Usually, people like me don't have a choice because of stereotypical thinking."

    Those who know Daly best are never surprised at his spirit and ability to adapt and overcome.

    "I don't know how he does it," said his wife, Nancy, a registered nurse and assistant administrator at Riverview Care Center in Essex. "Tim can consistently turn lemons into lemonade. He doesn't understand why things can't be done."

    Daly owns his company and travels throughout the nation presenting seminars on accessibility for the disabled and awareness of what he calls the "awesome potential of disabled people in American business." His clients include federal agencies and private corporations.

    Daly, who has two grown children and two adult stepchildren, works from an office at home.

    When he lifts himself out of a sitting position, his shoulders and arms reflect a dedication to his program of weight-lifting and swimming.

    Overcoming adversity

    Born in Catonsville, he was a talented athlete and enjoyed his teen-age years working as a baggage loader at the old Greyhound bus station in Baltimore and taking weekend trips to Ocean City with his pals. It was there, Daly said, that he noticed something going terribly wrong with his body in his legs.

    "At the time, we thought it was comical - Tim could go into the surf, but he couldn't walk out, he couldn't get past the undertow," said a friend, Donald Schaub. When the disease really hit his friend, Schaub, a swimming coach, put flippers on Daly's feet and motivated him to repeat laps across a local YMCA pool.

    "Tim is amazing," Schaub said. "Nothing stops him, nothing gets him down."
    After graduating from Wheeling College, now called Wheeling Jesuit University, in West Virginia, Daly took a job selling computer software. In his first year, Daly said, he failed to register a single sale - potential customers, hearing his slurred speech and noting his unsteadiness on his feet, "thought I was drinking my lunch; they weren't hearing a word I was saying."

    Thinking differently

    "One of my bosses went with me to see what was going wrong, and he nailed it the first day," Daly said. "The boss, David Hurd, told me I had to educate the crowd, sometimes hundreds of people, about my condition, that I had to think differently."

    On his next sales trip, in Shreveport, La., Daly walked out before his crowd on a cane. He jabbed it into the air, explained briefly that his disease was not going to stop him from supporting his family and went on to describe what he was selling.

    During the next two years, Daly sold more than $9 million in software.

    "They saw beyond the disability and began listening to me. ... That was a turning point in my life," Daly said. He worked in the computer industry for 26 years and then started his company after heart surgery.

    Daly is realistic about his health and his life. He knows there is no cure for any one of the more than 200 forms of ataxia, which cause unsteadiness, inability to coordinate movement and difficulty with speech. The symptoms grow worse over time, though mental abilities remain largely unaffected.

    "Sometimes it's how you view things, but it can be more subtle, like the language that you use," Daly said. "But most importantly, I have learned that resilience is stronger than rigidity. ... I've learned to laugh at myself. I am my own best entertainer."

  2. #2
    Member BStone's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2001
    South Glens Falls, NY

    I know how he feels

    I used to hate watching my wife mow the lawn. I like being able to do it again.

    Lawn Care From A Chair

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