I Just Got Here

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The day had been frustrating. The cash register computer wasn’t working, and we’d had to write information about each item purchased on a paper receipt and do all the math with a calculator. It was hot, and I was tired and looking forward to shutting and locking the doors to the mercantile very soon. That’s when the old lady walked in.

She had totally white hair, but it wasn’t styled in some old lady way. It fell straight to several inches above her shoulders, and she had wispy bangs.

She wasn’t dressed in old lady fashion either. She wore sporty-casual clothes in solid colors. She looked as if she had come to hike or camp, definitely to enjoy the outdoors.

Her face was tan and wrinkled, and I noticed during our interaction that her head trembled frequently. I wondered if Parkinson’s disease, which made my grandmother’s head shake late her life, caused this woman’s tremors too.

The old woman didn’t say greet us. She didn’t waste time with any niceties. She simply launched in, demanding in her pronounced German accent, Vere is de campground?

You’re in the campground, I told her. This is the campground.

Vere are the sites? she demanded further.

The mercantile is at the front of the campground, the sites laid out on either side of a loop with a paved road in the middle. If a person didn’t know she was in a campground, I could see how she could be confused. I thought I was being nice when I explained the layout of the campground to the woman.

I assumed (and assuming makes an ass of u and me, my dad would say) she had a reservation, so I asked her, What site are you on?

I thought she’d give me a site number, and I could send her on her way. Instead, she snapped at me with venom and disdain I felt in my heart, How should I know?!! I just got here!

Oh. Ok. I understood. She was interested in maybe camping in this campground, but she certainly didn’t have a reservation.

Then she fluttered some sheets of paper at me and demanded I show her where we were on the map. I looked at the pages and saw they represented the nearby national park and some northernmost portion of the national forest. I had to inform the woman we weren’t on either page of her map.

I grabbed one of the mercantile’s maps showing our area of the national forest. I opened it, spread it before us on the counter, and pointed to our location. The map was for sale, but I never suggested she buy it.

I don’t need this map! she sneered, although I don’t know how she was going to find her way around since her map didn’t reflect where she actually was.

Next, she wanted to know the fee to stay on one of the campground’s sites. I told her since the camp hosts had the day off and I wasn’t 100% sure of the campground’s fees, she’d have to check the information board near the restrooms. However, I said I thought a tent site cost $24 or $25 a night. I thought she might fall out when she heard the price.

She wanted to know where she could camp for free.

At this point, I was pretty tired of her interrogation tactics, so I shrugged and said, It’s the national forest. You can pull off the road and camp almost anywhere.

She had other questions and complaints. Why weren’t the trails here marked like they were everywhere else? (I hadn’t even formulated an answer before she’d moved on.) Did her card get her a discount? I asked if her card was a senior pass and she said yes, but I don’t know what she actually had. She didn’t show it to me. If it’s a senior pass, you get half off camping fees, I told her.

I pulled out the campground’s daily arrival report and determined which sites were not reserved. You can check out sites 1, 4, 7, and 14, I told her. If you want to stay on any of those sites, get a self-pay envelope from the information board, put your payment in it, and drop it in the iron ranger.

Finally, she left the store.

I turned to The Man who’d silently watched my interaction with the woman.

Is she alone? he whispered. I guess he was worried she was lurking outside the yurt we work in. She’s really old, he continued. What’s she doing out here? Did she come out here to die?

I shrugged again. I didn’t know the answers to his questions, and I didn’t much care. I’d done my best to be nice to someone who hadn’t been one bit nice to me. It wasn’t my job to determine if she was fit to spend time in the woods.

Eclipse

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My dad and I had a problematic relationship.

He wanted a son, and I was a daughter. When I tried to do boy things to please him, he thought I should act more like a lady. I imagine he was torn. I imagine he would have liked to share auto mechanics and woodworking with me, but didn’t want to turn me into a lesbian.

My father was an angry man throughout my childhood. After he and God became buddies, he liked to say I never spanked you kids, but the reality was he never spanked my sibling who cried easily and rebelled in quiet, subtle ways unlike my loud-mouthed sassy backtalk. I was spanked more than once with a wooden paddle that came in my Christmas stocking, a ball tethered to it with elastic. When the elastic snapped and the ball was lost, my toy became my torment.

Even when my dad wasn’t spanking, he yelled, and if any of us complained, he’d get even louder and shout, You want to hear yelling? None of us did.

As an adult, I once asked him why he’d been so angry during my childhood. He told me he didn’t even know. I suspect it was some combination of an abusive mother, a teasing father, a child-molesting brother, unfulfilled potential, and over-abundance of testosterone.

My dad liked to tease, to “pick at” as we called it back then, like his father before him. Nothing was too embarrassing for my father to joke about. Once when I was 12 or 13, he mortified me in front of my cooler older cousins by saying the reasons I had pimples was because I used my wash cloth down there (he mimed washing his crotch) before I used it up here (he mimed washing his face). My cousin Larry, bless his heart, came to my defense and calmly reminded my father that most kids my age had zits.

My dad was a conservative while I was a liberal, then a radical. I was a feminist while my dad was the patriarchy. I wanted to be free, while my dad wanted to “protect” me (suppress me) into being a good little Catholic girl.

But sometimes my dad got things right.

He taught me to ride the banana seat, hand-me-down bike his boss’ daughter had outgrown. He ran behind me holding the back of the seat to keep me from losing my balance and falling. He made sure I knew how to roller skate in time to attend a skating party I’d won an invitation to by selling a ridiculous number of boxes of Girl Scout cookies. When all the other girls (Kristi and Angel and Yvette) were wearing necklaces with their names on them, he went to the mall and got one specially made with my name.  And when I was in seventh grade, he showed me the eclipse.

I was in U.S. history class when it happened.

The teacher was an old bat still wearing  a 1960s bouffant style hairdo even though we were living in the 80s. Sometimes she’d stick a pencil into that pouf of hair to scratch her scalp. She didn’t treat her students very nicely. She yelled a lot and berated kids and ruled the classroom with an iron fist. I made good grades and kept my mouth shut, so I wasn’t one of her individual targets, but her classroom was not a pleasant learning environment.

The crackle of the intercom interrupted the day’s lecture. The disembodied voice of the school secretary called me to the office, but said I should leave my books in the classroom.

eclipse

illustration from http://www.public-domain-photos.com/free-cliparts/computer/applications/eclipse-1324.htm

I walked over to the office and found my father standing there holding a yardstick with an index card attached to it. He said he’d taken me out of class so we could see the eclipse.

He explained we shouldn’t look directly at the sun, even during an eclipse, so he had assembled a viewer. How did it work? Did we stand with our backs to the sun, extend the yardstick in front of us and watch the shadow of sun shrink? Were there two index cards, one with a hole punched in it for the sun to shine through, the second on which the shadow was cast? I don’t remember that part clearly. What I do remember was my dad took time out of his life to assemble this apparatus, then came to my school and got me out of class so we could watch the eclipse together.

After we looked at the eclipse, my father escorted me back to the classroom where he performed an amazing feat. He introduced himself to my old bat of a teacher and charmed her into letting her students go out with my dad one row at a time and look at the eclipse. My dad got to explain the apparatus and how he made it and why it worked. He got to tell all the kids why it was dangerous to look directly at the sun. Best of all, he let each of us escape U.S. history and the mean teacher for a few precious minutes.

This was my dad at his finest.

Hum

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I’d been at Ivy and Jay’s place for a few days. Because of my head cold, I’d skipped Ivy’s birthday camping trip with her partner Jay and Ivy’s parents (who I hadn’t know would be visiting during the same time I’d be there). They’d come back the day before, and Ivy’s sweet parents had headed home to Arizona.

The first couple of nights of my visit, I’d slept in the room of a housemate who’d been away working. He’d returned, so I moved my large backpack into a common room with a sofa where I’d spend my remaining nights. The backpack was off to the side, out of the main flow of traffic, but in no way hidden.

I was in another room having an animated conversation with one of the housemates when Jay appeared in the doorway.

Uh, can you come here for a minute? he asked me.

We’re in the middle of a conversation, I told him. I’ll meet up with you in a little while.

It’s important, he said. There’s a weird noise coming out of your backpack.

I’m sure I furrowed my brow as I wondered what kind of noise could be coming from my backpack.

As soon as I walked into the common room, I heard a muffled but steady hum. Sure enough, it was coming from the depths of my backpack. I knew immediately what was making the noise.

That’s my vibrator, I stage whispered to Jay. He and I were pretty good friends by then, so I was only mildly embarrassed.

Peerless Industries WATERDANCER Vibratex Water Dancer Blue Waterproof Compact
I dug through my pack and I pulled out the humming Water Dancer (a waterproof version of the Pocket Rocket). I turned it off and pulled out the battery before I put it away.

The great mystery (unsolved to this day) was how the switch was clicked on. The vibrator had not been humming when I deposited the pack in the room. I don’t think anyone in the house had been riffling through my belongings and bumped the vibrator. Was there a randy ghost in the room? The world may never know.

A Little Hike

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Ivy and Jay had gone on a birthday camping trip with Ivy’s parents, and I’d stayed behind with their housemates.

I like the housemates. They were nice people who talked with me when we ran into each other during the day and invited me to group meals. I felt include.

On the 4th of July, the most outgoing of the female housemates told me the whole crew was going to the nearby national park. Did I want to go along? They were just going to take a little hike.

I wasn’t much of a hiker. I’m still not. I love nature, but I’m fine with plopping down in one spot and observing from there. Besides, I was in the middle of the head cold I’d picked up during my excruciating bus journey from Texas to Utah. My head was full of snot, my throat hurt, and my energy level was low. But a little hike sounded fun.  A little hike would probably do me good.

I got myself ready. Bottle of water. Long cotton pants. Long sleeve cotton shirt. Big straw hat. I was prepared.

We piled into a vehicle and headed to the national park. I don’t remember how far away we were or how long it took to get there. When we arrived, the driver parked, and we all piled out.

The landscape was beautiful in that Southern Utah desert way. The vegetation was sparse. The land was dry. The rocks were red and yellow and orange. It was so different from the lush green I’d grown up in. The stark beauty of this desert astounded me.

A trail started from the parking area. It was paved with asphalt and led visitors to a viewing area. We set off on the trail.

I don’t know how long the trail was, but surely less than a mile. The area to be viewed from the viewing area was, of course, spectacular. The housemates took turns posing on the rocks, and I took photos of everyone. Then we headed back to the car. What a great hike, I thought. That was perfect. What a relief. Now I could rest.

But wait! The housemates weren’t getting back in the car. We weren’t leaving. The perfect little hike we’d just taken wasn’t enough for them. They wanted more! I groaned to myself, but decided to put on a happy face and be a team player.

We walked off into the desert. The sun was hot. My throat hurt. The water in my bottle was lukewarm at best. I was tired. I was not enjoying myself.

The hike stretched on and on. It was no longer little as far as I was concerned. The little hike had turned into a long ordeal.

I hadn’t been paying much attention to where we were going. I didn’t really know how to find my way   around in a natural area with no street signs (and no streets, for that matter), so I left navigation up to the people who knew what they were doing. I don’t know if we were on a marked trail or just trudging through the desert, but I started hearing bits of conversation that included words such as Which way? and Where? We were lost. The very nice housemates had gotten sick little me lost in the wilderness. At that moment, I hated the whole bunch of them.

In reality, I’m sure they were just a little turned around. We probably weren’t really lost. We were probably in no danger. But my throat hurt and I couldn’t breathe through my nose and I did not want to go on any more. I was over this adventure.

Then the most outgoing of the women said cheerfully, At least none of us are miserable.

I raised my hand so she’d have no doubt who was speaking. I am, I said. I’m miserable.

It was official. I’d gone on record. I was miserable.

We didn’t wander through the desert much longer before someone got us on the right track. We headed back to the vehicle. I’d never been so happy to see my transportation out of a place.

On the way back to the tiny town where the housemates lived, we stopped for pizza and ice cream. Pizza and ice cream and lots of big glasses of ice water can cure a variety of woes, and I felt the hatred in my heart dissipate. I felt friendly toward the housemates again.

Back at home, everyone dispersed to take naps.

Before I headed off to lie down, the most outgoing woman said to me, We’ll be going to the rodeo tonight. We probably won’t stay long. Do you want to come with us?

I thought about my throbbing throat, the sadness I’d feel seeing the rodeo’s cruelty to animals, and what won’t stay long might mean to people who thought we’d just gone on a little hike. Within a few short seconds, I’d made my decision and politely declined.

A few hours later, I heard everyone in the house getting ready to go to the rodeo, then I heard the vehicle pull away. I was glad I’d decided not to go. My sick, dehydrated body was still trying to recover from that little hike.

Greyhound Story #4 (Utah)

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At the end of June of my 29th year, I rode a Greyhound bus from Texas to Utah. I was going to the tiny town where my friend Ivy and her partner Jay lived. I wanted to be there for Ivy’s birthday on July 2. My friend Sheff dropped me off at the crowded bus station, and I was on my way.

When I planned the trip, I didn’t realize I’d be traveling with crowds of people trying to get somewhere in time for 4th of July festivities. I was only thinking about Ivy’s birthday on the 2nd, but hordes of people were thinking about Independence Day. Every bus was packed, every seat filled when the bus rolled. Every bus was running late too.

It was well past the time to make my connection when the bus I was on pulled into the station in Denver. Still, I hoped that bus had been delayed too, and I’d be able to get on it.

First I had to claim my luggage, a large backpack. I found it among the other suitcases and duffle bags, but when I grabbed it, I saw the brand new self-inflating pad to go under my sleeping bag was gone. It had been firmly attached to my pack, but now it was nowhere to be seen. I shuffled through the unclaimed baggage. Nothing. I asked a totally unconcerned and uninterested worker about it. He didn’t even suggest I fill out a lost-item form. It was simply gone, and I’d have to deal with the loss. (To this day, I think the pad was securely attached to the backpack and was actively stolen by a Greyhound employee.)

When I made it into the terminal, I found my connecting bus was long gone. I also found the information desk and the ticket counter were closed for the night, so I had no way of finding out what bus I’d need to get on in the morning or what time it would leave.

I sat down at a table in the snack bar area, exhausted by hours on the ‘Hound. I contemplated my options. I didn’t know anyone in Denver. I’d never been to Denver. I didn’t know if there were any cheap motels near the bus station. I didn’t really want to spend money on a motel anyway. Although I had a credit card and money in the bank, I was on a tight budget because as an AmeriCorps volunteer, I only received a small biweekly stipend. I didn’t want to waste a chunk of change on a motel room I’d only spend a few hours in. Besides, I didn’t know when I’d need to be back at the station to catch my bus to Utah. I wanted to speak to the person at the information desk or a ticket agent as soon as one of them started the work day. I reached my decision. I was going to spend the night at the bus station.

I got up from the table and heaved my pack onto my back. I went to the restroom where I washed my face with Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap, brushed my teeth, and attended to other calls of nature.

When I’d gone into the restroom, the large waiting area had still been busy with the bustle of people, but when I came out, it was officially Late At Night and the space had mostly cleared out. I had no idea if I’d be allowed to spend the night in the station. Would the security guard think I was homeless? Would I be kicked out? If I was, where would I go?

I went back to a snack bar table and sat down. I wondered if anyone would try to steal my pack if I slept. I wondered if I could stay awake all night. I sat there for a while, read my book, but soon I was struggling to keep my eyes open. I was going to have to sleep, even if I only managed a short nap.

How to protect my backpack? I lifted it up onto the table in front of me and wrapped my arms around it. Then I lay my head on it. It made a lumpy, uncomfortable pillow, but I managed to catnap throughout the night. Mostly I was awake.

By the time I was able to ask questions of a Greyhound employee, travelers who knew where they needed to be were already lined up in front of numbered doors. When I explained my situation to the Greyhound representative, there was no apology for the late buses causing me to miss my connection. A new ticket was issued and I was directed to a door with a long line of people in front of it. When I asked if there’d be room for me on that bus, the worker shrugged. She mentioned the possibility of another bus headed in my direction but remained vague.

Once my new ticket was printed, I queued up at the back of the line. Other people filled in behind me. A bus arrived and passengers began boarding. The bus was full long before it was my turn to get on. Passengers started to grumble. I thought maybe a riot would ensue. Finally, a Greyhound worker confirmed another bus was on its way.

Once on the bus, I finally allowed myself to relax a little. I was exhausted and emotional. As we passed through the Colorado Rockies, I cried and cried at their beauty. When I saw the giant red rocks of Utah, I wondered if we had somehow left Earth and landed on Mars.

I finally arrived at my destination and was relieved to see Jay there to pick me up. We still had an hour’s drive before we arrived in a town so tiny it only had a public library (opened four days a week) and a movie theater (opened only on weekend nights). My friends shared a house in the town with their friends who were about to become my new friends.

By the time we pulled up to the house, I was exhibiting symptoms of the cold that would plague me for my entire visit, but I was grateful to eat a real meal, then stretch out on a bed and get some real sleep.

Greyhound Story #3 (Whatcha Reading?)

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I thought I wanted to move to Austin, TX. I’d never been there, but it sounded like a cool place. I decided before actually moving there, I should visit so I could make an informed decision.

A friend of a friend had a room in a co-op house in Austin. Since he was more or less living with his girlfriend, he said I could stay in his room while I visited the town.

I took the Greyhound to Austin. I don’t remember anything about the trip. I don’t remember arriving at the bus station to depart the land of my birth or how I got from the station in Austin to the co-op. I must have taken a city bus, because I’m not the type to take a taxi, or maybe the friend of the friend and his girlfriend picked me up in her SUV.

I remember the room I stayed in.  It had cinderblock walls and was very dark. It was tiny and made me think of a jail cell or a room in a mental hospital, although at that time in my life I’d never been in either. The friend of a friend had left it messy, and I didn’t find it very welcoming.

I don’t remember much about what I did in Austin. I know I walked The Strip, the stretch of Guadalupe Street passing next to the University of Texas campus. The co-op where I stayed was close to the University, so I could walk to The Strip easily. One night the friend of a friend and his girlfriend had me over to her apartment for spaghetti. I didn’t go out to listen to live music. I didn’t go out drinking in bars. I didn’t join the residents of the co-op viewing Star Wars after I was invited in the kitchen.

Sapphistry : The Book of Lesbian Sexuality
I did go to Half Price Books near the community health food store. I enjoyed myself there. I enjoyed walking among the thousands of inexpensive books on the closely spaced shelves. I found one to buy for myself as a souvenir of my trip Sapphistry: The Book of Lesbian Sexuality by Pat Califia.

I’d recently discovered Pat Califia when my housemate introduced to the book Public Sex, a collection of essays about sexuality in late 20th century America. From there, I discovered Califia’s collections of BDSM themed short stories, Macho Sluts and No Mercy and her dystopian novel Doc and Fluff.  I enjoyed Califia’s writing style, and the sex scenes were hot, although I realized eventually that I wasn’t into BDSM in real life.

Public Sex by Pat Califia (1-May-2001) Paperback

I’d never seen Sapphistry, so when I ran across it for a few bucks at Half Price Books, I scooped it up.

Compared to Califia’s other works, Sapphistry was more of a how-to book for lesbians. There were no BDSM stories, no hot sex scenes. I was a little disappointed with the content, but as a budding bisexual with precious little experience with women, I thought perhaps I could gain some knowledge from the book.

Other than Half Price Books, I didn’t like much about Austin. I barely gave it a chance, I realize now, but in less than a week, I decided I hated the place and didn’t want to live there.

I got back on the Greyhound and headed home.

I’m not a gregarious, outgoing person. I mostly keep to myself when I can, especially in public, especially on the ‘Hound, so when the loudly talking man boarded, I hunkered down in my seat. I thought if I stayed low, kept my nose in my copy of Sapphistry, and didn’t make eye contact, he’d ignore me.

Wrong!

He chose to sit in the seat behind me. He leaned over into my space and demanded, Whatcha reading?

A book, I replied coldly, thinking I could give him a social cue that I didn’t want to talk.

He didn’t have a clue about my cue.

I know it’s a book! he exclaimed impatiently.  What’s the topic?

There are moments in our lives when we must make split second decisions between telling lies and telling truths. I was living such a moment. If I told the man I was reading a book about lesbianism, would he think I was a full-fledged lesbian and therefore off limits or would I open myself up to homophobic abuse? There was no way to know what telling the truth might bring.

I’ve never been a very good liar. Instead of trying to make up something about the book in my lap, I just blurted out one word: Lesbians!

The man sputtered and stammered and sank into his seat.

I thought he might come at me later with some negativity, so I prepared myself by putting on my headphones and listening to Tool for the next couple of hours. The angry hate music prepared me for battle, but the man must have considered me off limits because he didn’t try to talk to me again.

Wheelchairs and Work Camping

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A reader recently asked me for my thoughts on work camping by someone who uses a wheelchair. I wanted to give as complete and thorough answer as possible, so I decided to make my reply a blog post, in hopes of reaching as many people as possible.

First of all, I’m not really qualified to write about the topic. While I do have experience as a work camper, I don’t use a wheelchair or crutches or a cane or leg braces or any equipment to enhance my mobility. As of right now, I don’t have any mobility issues. (I know this could change in a heartbeat.) I’ll do my best to answer this question based on my experience as a work camper, but if anyone reading this post knows of an article about work camping while using a wheelchair or (better yet) has personal experience work camping while using a wheelchair, please leave a comment with more information.

Folks should keep in mind that there are a wide variety of work camper jobs available.

Amazon hires work campers during the winter holiday season to pull, pack, and ship items. I’ve not worked for Amazon, but I know people who have. Many of the jobs available require pulling items from shelves and moving those items across large distances in a warehouse from where they are stored to where they are packed from shipping.

Work campers are hired for the beet harvest season in Minnesota, Montana, and the Dakotas. Again, I’ve not worked for a company harvesting beets, so I’m not sure how a person with mobility issues would fair in such a work environment. My understanding is that there are different positions available for members of the harvesting team, so someone using a wheelchair might be able to find a specific job compatible with his/her abilities.

My work camper experience has included two seasons as a camp host/parking lot attendant and my current position as a clerk in a campground store/visitor center.

As a camp host, my duties included cleaning pit toilets, picking up trash, raking campsites, collecting money from campers, and completing paperwork associated with renting campsites. I can’t really say what a specific individual using a wheelchair could or couldn’t do. Different people have different abilities, and may be able to do some or all of those tasks, depending on their individual situations and whether or not necessary accommodations could be provided. The campground where I worked had no pavement, so a wheelchair able to easily roll on dirt would be necessary in such an environment.

If a person who uses a wheelchair feels s/he is unable to perform all duties required of a camp host, one way to handle the situation might be to work as a team. The area where I work has three campgrounds where there are two hosts, each working 30-40 hours a week. In many situations, these camp host teams are husband/wife duos, but such teams could be made up of two friends or a parent and adult child. In most situations, the camp host team would be allowed to divide up the workload however they want, according to their abilities and preferences.

Some work camper jobs involve working in an office, either as part of being a camp host or as a job in and of itself. I don’t have personal experiences with office job work camping, but people in a couple of Facebook groups I’m in have done it. Working in an office may be ideal for someone with mobility issues.

I currently work as a sales clerk in what is essentially a gift shop. Except for breaks, there are at least two workers in the store at all times. I believe everything I do (folding t-shirts, restocking shelves, talking to visitors, opening the register at the beginning of a shift and closing it at the end, ringing up sales, taking payment, and making change) could be done by a person who uses a wheelchair. My co-worker doesn’t like opening and closing the register, so while I’m doing those procedures, he puts out or brings in the furniture that sits on the deck during business hours, carries the snack food in from or out to the storage trailer, and opens all of the windows. We are allowed to decide how we will divide the labor.

The bottom line is, every work camping job is different, just as every work camper is different and has different strengths and abilities. I encourage every potential work camper—with or without mobility issues—to investigate thoroughly any job of interest.  Be prepared to ask a lot of questions. What are the duties of the person who will do the job? What physical abilities are required of the person who will do the job? Does the job require lifting a certain number of pounds? Is a camp host expected to get on his/her hands and knees to clean pit toilets? What tools must be used to complete a job? Is the camp host expected to empty garbage can? Can a camp host team divide the labor however the team members wish? Is the campground paved? Is the camp host site wheelchair accessible? Do your best to make sure a work situation is a good fit for individual strengths and limitations before accepting a job.

I don’t know much about the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), but it may offer protections as to what questions a potential employer can ask and what accommodations an employer must offer to workers with disabilities. If I had a disability and wanted to pursue a work camper positon, I would familiarize myself with the ADA and the protections it offers before I began applying for jobs.

As I said before, I would appreciate if readers with personal experience or links to information on the web would post in the comments section. Otherwise, keep in mind that every work camping job is different and every person using a wheelchair is different, so do your homework and ask a lot of questions about specifics before accepting a position.