Remote Viewing

Tonight I will be the keynote speaker at the North American Youth Exchange Network (NAYEN) conference. It is an honor to be asked to share my unique youth exchange story with the 400 conference attendees. I am excited and hope my words will inspire the audience.

Wait Denise – I thought you were still stuck at home because of your broken leg?

Yes, I am still home bound. Thanks to the wonders of technology I will be delivering my speech live from my dining room, via Skype.

This will be the first time I have addressed a large audience from the other end of a webcam. I have conducted meetings and interviewed using Skype, I have held webinar training sessions, but I have never presented to a large group in my slippers. (Trust me – I will be wearing slippers because shoes are still uncomfortable on my broken leg.)

I was initially invited to speak at the 2015 NAYEN conference. I would have accepted the offer, but I was already committed to making my Australia trip a reality. The chance to speak at the Rotary District Conference in Tasmania was an opportunity I could not refuse. Would NAYEN be willing to consider me for the 2016 conference?

Thankfully, they were. I eagerly prepared to travel to Cincinnati, Ohio, site of this year’s NAYEN conference. I recruited my friend Melissa to be my travel companion and Personal Assistant. We agreed on, and booked, flights which would get us to and from Ohio with the least amount of transfers.

Then I broke my leg on January 13. With the snap of a bone, plans had to change.

I did not want to back out of the conference again. I mean, I could have, and I’m sure people would have understood. But I already felt bad for not attending the conference in 2015, and I did not want to get a reputation as the speaker who never actually speaks when she is invited. Especially when it comes to a topic I am passionate about – the benefits of youth exchange, and how my exchange year positively changed my life. I felt so strongly about making it to NAYEN that it was one of the first things I mentioned after waking up from the surgery to fix my broken leg. My sister Sandy told me time and again not to worry about NAYEN, however I was determined to find a way to honor my commitment.

I am grateful to John, Ed, Kevin and the other conference planners who have worked to make it possible for me to fulfill my obligation tonight. After a successful test run yesterday, I am hopeful there will not be any technical glitches today. If there are, I know we will get through them. Twenty-five years ago, my exchange experience taught me how important it is to be flexible and creative (among many other lessons).

While I will miss being able to socialize with the conference attendees after my speech, I have to be honest and admit how relieved I am not flying to and from Ohio this weekend. My knee is certainly better than it was, but being lifted in and out of plane seats and aisle chairs would require high doses of pain medications. Speaking from the comfort of home, I can keep my leg elevated if I need to without needing mind-dulling narcotics. And I get to sleep in my own bed instead of struggling to get up on a high hotel mattress. In theory, this should result in me offering a more polished speech. All from the comforts of home.

Have you successfully used technology to solve an access problem? Share your story in the comments!

30 Days of Thanks Day 23 – Ken

Yesterday, I explained the structure of Rotary in that the individual clubs belong to regional Districts. Each District has a District Governor (DG) who serves for one year. Ken was the DG of District 9830 (Tasmania, Australia) from July 2014 – June 2015. I first communicated with Ken as I did most of the conference committee, in email. In July 2014, Ken sent me a note telling me he was glad to hear I was considering accepting the invitation to return to Tasmania.

I’m sure you will make an excellent addition to the agenda and look forward to hearing your story of living without limits.

I knew the conference theme was “No Limits.” This concerned me, because at the time I received the invitation I was certain I had forgotten how to say yes to life. I felt I was not living without limits, and was worried if I accepted the invitation someone would surely accuse me of being a fraud. I was letting fear hold me back and thought everyone would recognize my words were hollow and empty, lacking the personal commitment required to live without limits.

Still, I accepted the invitation. I started evaluating my decisions, looking for ways to once again say yes to opportunities in my life. I set goals for making the trip a reality, finding encouragement in the positive feedback and support from friends, family and strangers. By the time October came, I was once again saying yes and knew I was on the right track to putting into practice the message I intended to share at the District Conference.

Of course, I did go to Tasmania and attended the District Conference. I wrote about my experience in this post and this one.  Being a keynote speaker and participating in the weekend was an honor. I learned a great deal from the other speakers and fellow conference attendees.

Ken and wife, Lois, were supporters of my involvement in their conference because of what others told them about me. Their faith in my ability to contribute to the overall theme of the weekend gave me the courage to make the most of the opportunity. They welcomed me with open arms, making me feel at home for a weekend in Burnie. Ken and Lois were some of the first people to greet us when we arrived at the conference, quickly confirming we were all settled with all our needs met.

Photo of a gentleman wearing a grey suit jacket and red tie standing with his arm around a blonde woman wearing a black fleece jacket.
Ken greeting Jill, a fellow Rotarian, at the conference.

One of my favorite memories from the conference happened on the dance floor after dinner on Saturday. Never one to shy away from having fun with friends, I gave in when someone invited me onto the dance floor and joined some of the Rotarians and exchange students for a few songs. As I spun around, I felt someone grab my free hand. It was Lois, who smiled and said, “Let’s show them how to groove!” I twirled her around, laughing at the others who quickly backed up to give us space.

I danced with Lois, Ken, and the others on the dance floor for the next few songs, until I noticed Kelly, Malcolm and Rae (my ride home) all standing looking at me. I remembered they had told me fifteen minutes ago they were ready to leave. I was supposed to be saying my farewells, not partying and dancing. This happens frequently – people tell me they are ready to leave and it takes me another half hour to actually make it out the door. Yes, I am one of those people. I quickly finished making my rounds, apologizing as I got back to Malcolm’s side. “Don’t worry Denise – this isn’t the first event I’ve attended with you!”

Thanks to social media, I am able to stay connected to Ken and Lois. Ken shares jokes and stories which make me laugh. Last month I traveled with them to Europe, enjoying their photographs and experiences from the comfort of my living room. I know it is not the same as being there, but their images helped me escape from the cooler weather creeping into upstate New York.

Ken – thank you for the invitation to be a part of your District Conference. Your confidence in my ability to deliver a meaningful message helped rekindle my passion for saying yes to life. I had not realized how much I was letting fear hold me back until your theme of “No Limits” challenged me. I appreciate your support and assistance in making my dream of returning to Tasmania a reality. I will always be grateful for the opportunity you provided. Should you ever want to explore the eastern United States, you have a friend here who would enjoy returning the hospitality!


30 Days of Thanks Day 20 – Helen

A few months before my trip to Tasmania, I discovered a blog called Walking the Derwent. I read the posts with interest, recognizing familiar scenes in the photographs. The blogger, Helen, chronicled her adventures walking the shores of the Derwent River in Tasmania. I started making comments on posts. It didn’t take many weeks before Helen and I were corresponding directly by email.

I told Helen of my trip, asking if she would be interested in doing a “walk” along the river while I was visiting. Thankfully, Helen responded enthusiastically and suggested we travel on an accessible boardwalk from the Glenorchy Art and Sculpture Park (GASP) to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).

Two women stand along a colored boardwalk talking.
Helen and Kelly talking on the boardwalk. Notice the sailboat and dingy in the background?

You can read about our lovely day together in this post from March. It was a beautiful day, and I thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to meet Helen and spend time with her in person after exchanging emails for a few months. One of my favorite memories from our day together occurred as we were walking along the boardwalk by the river.

I saw a sailboat in the cove, with what looked like a small rowboat or dingy tied behind it. As we continued along the boardwalk, I saw a scooter parked on the river’s edge with a tow hitch behind it. It didn’t take us long to realize the owner of the dingy had towed his craft to the water using his mobility device. I laughed, snapping photo after photo. Helen and my cousin Kelly walked on without me as I continued to express glee over the scene.


Photo of a boat hitch tied to a mobility scooter, at the bank of a river.
I have many photos of this. I love what it says about the owner’s spirit of adventure.

Helen remembers a different moment from our walk. At the end of the boardwalk, we continued along a sidewalk which took us out by the road towards MONA. Helen knew the route would lead to the museum, but did not know if it was wheelchair accessible or if there were curbs. Not wanting Helen and Kelly to need to retrace their steps, I sped past them yelling, “I’ll go check it out!” I flew down the path, not realizing how far I had gone until I saw the museum entrance up ahead. Realizing I was on my own, I thought about going back but figured they would just keep walking if I didn’t show up. Sure enough, fifteen minutes later Helen and Kelly came around the curve and met me where I was sitting on the corner.

We had a marvellous day when we walked along the GASP walkway and then you sped away and left us way back – of course you waited patiently at the gates to MONA.  Very funny.  

Now, whenever I read Helen’s blog posts, I hear her voice in my head. I laugh when I picture her reactions to discoveries and when she describes her encounters with the locals on her journey.

Helen is walking the river in stages. I am most impressed with Helen’s determination and dedication to documenting her progress towards her goal. She does not drive and uses public transportation to get to and from most of her walks. She offers practical tips on her blog for others who might be interested in walking in Tasmania or wherever they are located.

Along the way, Helen has encountered some obstacles and set-backs. She shares these difficulties as well as her successes. Her honesty and perseverance are inspiring. As I mentioned in a recent comment on her blog, we never know how far we can go when we just concentrate on the next step. Sometimes when we look up, we surprise ourselves by realizing just how much ground we have covered.

Helen – thank you for agreeing to meet and for serving as a fantastic tour guide to a stranger. Your hospitality made for one of the most marvelous days of my trip to Tasmania. I appreciate you repeating a walk with me so I could play a small part in your journey. I am honored to have been included. I am grateful for the gift of your friendship. I learn so much from your stories and I look forward to reading more!

30 Days of Thanks Day 17 – Allan

As someone who has planned her fair share of special events, conferences and parties, I recognize the effort which is required to plan and execute a large event. I have been a guest or speaker at several events and conferences which could benefit from the expertise and attention to detail of Allan and the other Rotarians who organized the Rotary District 9830 OneCare Conference in Burnie, Tasmania.

I began corresponding with Allan via email last July. He was the Rotarian in charge of speaker arrangements for the District Conference. His initial email was full of useful details which were important to help me make a decision about traveling to Tasmania. Details such as:

I know of only two accommodation places able to cater for a disabled person.

I attach photos of a different room at the caravan park, which has a bathroom (toilet & shower) directly accessible by wheelchair (no steps), but to enter the place from the outside, there is one low step. It is clearly not totally suitable for you.

Access to the building is very ‘disabled friendly’, but access to the performing stage at the front of the Theatre is not so easy to manage.

Allan sent excellent photos with his descriptions. These helped me determine what would be most comfortable and what would not be possible. Through our early emails, we quickly established a positive rapport and were able to move through the logistics involved with me speaking at the conference.

As we communicated, I learned the other keynote speakers were also people with various disabilities. We were all invited to speak on the conference theme of “No Limits.” At first, I worried this might turn into a giant weekend of inspiration porn (watch the late great Stella Young if you don’t know what I mean) but thankfully this was not the case.

Conference organizers and event planners could all take lessons from Allan when it comes to planning events everyone can attend comfortably. Allan did not dismiss my questions as difficult or silly. He was prompt with his responses. Rather than make assumptions, he asked me along the way if things would work or not be acceptable for me and my needs. More importantly, he listened to my responses and remembered my preferences.

When the conference accommodations needed to be changed just a few weeks before my trip, Allan sent me a note with more photos. I have stayed in my fair share of hotel rooms which were supposed to be accessible but fell short, so I am used to making do with whatever I need to. As long as I can get to a toilet and a bed, I can manage almost anywhere for a night or two. Allan picked a wonderful substitute for us. The cabin had one of the best bathrooms I have ever used at a hotel or rental property.

I finally met Allan when I arrived in Burnie, Tasmania for the conference last March. We hugged, and I felt like I was meeting a well-known acquaintance not having a first time encounter. Allan and I talked about winter back in the northern hemisphere. He spent time in Canada during the winter years ago, so he understood why I was so happy to be in sunshine and warmth in the middle of March, rather than snow and cold.

I observed Allan over the next thirty-six hours, quietly working behind the scenes to make sure everything was on schedule and moving according to plan. If there were problems or unexpected happenings, I never knew about them as a conference attendee. Allan’s attention to detail and eagerness to provide an inclusive atmosphere made the conference an enjoyable experience for all who attended.

Allan and all of the members of the Rotary Club of Burnie, along with the District 9830 Conference Committee, offered me the chance to fulfill a dream. They provided the opportunity to return and express my thanks to the Tasmanian Rotarians who changed my life. I will always be grateful to their commitment to including me as a part of their conference.

Thank you Allan – for your support and assistance. I was honored by the opportunity to be a small part of your event. I appreciate all you did to make me feel welcome as a guest. You were the perfect example of a gracious host, and I enjoyed my weekend in Burnie.Photo of woman in a wheelchair and an older gentleman in a hat. The woman is wearing a black dress with a gold shawl. The man is wearing a white shirt with the Rotary emblem and a hat.

30 Days of Thanks Day 14 – The Wells’ Family

I started writing this post weeks before I learned of yesterday’s attacks in Paris and Beirut. My heart aches for the victims and their families. I am writing this month of posts because when I was sixteen, I had the chance to participate in an international youth exchange. This exchange, sponsored by Rotary International, taught me the importance of cross-cultural and international understanding. Now, more than ever, we need more of this international dialogue. I am sticking with my intended post because today, while a day of mourning for many, is also a day of celebration for those I love. Congratulations Simon and Emma – may you have years of happiness together.

When I was preparing to be an exchange student, one of my main concerns was related to the families which would host me. I did not need to worry. I was fortunate to be placed with four wonderful families. I developed close bonds with all of them and have stayed in touch over the years

My first email after accepting the invitation to return to Australia was to Malcolm and Rae. They were my fourth host parents, the final family to host me at the end of my year. Would they be willing to help me find accommodation once again? The reply came quickly.Photo of the author, a woman in a red wheelchair, with an older couple standing behind her. All three are dressed in business attire. They are in front of cloth drapes featuring Rotary Club banners.

We are doing some renovations and think you’ll be able to stay here. Would you be comfortable with that?

Would I be comfortable with that?! Of course I jumped at the chance to spend time with “family.” Who wants to stay in a hotel when you can stay at a place you once called home for a brief time?

Many of my memories from the time I spent living in the home on Bonnet Hill involve boys and golf. Malcolm and Rae have two sons, Martyn and Simon. This meant I was an “older sister” AND I had  younger “brothers” for the first time in my life. Martyn and Simon were curious about America, picking on my accent and the words I used. Along with Martyn’s friend David, they would try to pronounce “New York” as I did, then would tell me to say “alum-in-um” instead of “alu-min-i-um,” which usually resulted in all of us giggling. The boys took to calling me “DiNoto,” putting extra emphasis on the second syllable as I often did when I corrected people who said “Di-NAH-to” rather than “Di-NO-to.”

One morning I came out of my bedroom and almost stepped on a golf ball which was rolling down the hallway. I stared quizzically at Simon, standing at the other end of the hall with a putter in his hands, who proceeded to explain how the boys had created a putting course throughout the house and the lawn. Would I mind announcing myself prior to coming out of my room from now on so he would know not to putt? I probably rolled my eyes and told him to get out of the way so I could go to the bathroom. In addition to watching for golf balls rolling down the hall, the new course also meant I had to sit at a different spot at the dining room table to write in my journal so my chair did not obstruct the path of the green. I tolerated the golf until one morning in April. My bedroom door flew open at 6:30 AM on a Saturday as Simon and Martyn both came running in. “Denise – get up! The U.S. Open is on TV!” 

I rolled over, assuring them both I did not have the slightest interest in anything on TV, reminding them it was Saturday and we did not need to be up this early. “But, it’s live from America! Don’t you want to see it?” I yawned, and agreed to get up in an hour if they didn’t make me watch golf. I don’t remember if I actually did watch golf with Martyn and Simon that morning, but I do remember Simon’s insistence that I should care about it since, like me, the broadcast was from the United States.

Malcolm, Rae, Martyn and Simon welcomed their home and hearts to me twenty five years ago, and I remain grateful to be an adopted member of their family. We have stayed in contact since my exchange year. In 2010, I served as tour guide when Malcolm and Rae came to the United States as part of a trip around the world. They stayed with my sister Sandy, also a Rotarian like Malcolm and me, and each day we explored the many areas I call home. I brought them to Bainbridge, my hometown, to meet my parents. My mother especially wanted to be able to thank Rae for taking care of “her baby.”

Without Malcolm and Rae, my trip in March would not have been the wonderful experience Kelly and I were able to enjoy. Every time I had a problem or question before I even arrived, Malcolm and Rae had answers. Malcolm found the Invacare wheelchair charger I used during my stay, sparing me from frying the electronics in my power chair. Rae had extra chargers we were able to use for our electronic devices, which was wonderful since I’d forgotten my adapter. Malcolm coordinated the accessible van rental, a gift from Kingston Rotary, which enabled us to move freely around the state for two weeks. Malcolm and Rae hosted a barbecue in their home, and allowed visitors to pop over for coffee, chats and meals throughout my stay. They both took amazing photos, which they shared with me and gave me permission to use on my blog.

One of the highlights of my visit this year was our family dinner. The family has grown in twenty five years. Martyn is now married to Sonia and they have two adorable children. At the time of our visit, Simon and Emma were engaged. Today is their wedding and I know you will join me in wishing them years of love and happiness together.

As we sat around the table in March, laughing and telling stories, I was reminded of something I often say when I speak about my exchange year. Home is not just the place where you were raised. Home is wherever you find love, support and a base from which to thrive.

Malcolm, Rae, Martyn and Simon – thank you for making your home a place where I could find love and acceptance. I am blessed to have “family” willing to adapt to my needs and accept me for who I am. I appreciate your assistance in making my dream visit a reality. Malcolm and Rae, I am honored you were present at the conference to hear me publicly thank the men and women who made such a difference in my life. The two of you have changed my world in so many ways and I will always be grateful for the love and friendship you have given willingly for the past twenty five years. Martyn and Simon – you were the best introduction to younger brothers any girl could ask for. You have brought your parents joy and I know they are proud of you (as am I) and all you have become. I am with you today in spirit as you gather in celebration. “DiNoto” sends her love!

Multi-generational family photo of grandparents holding grandchildren, and adult children. One of the adult sons holds a dog.