UCP of the Golden Gate Life without limits for people with disabilities™

“Ta-Ta for Now: A Farewell Post”

June 27th, 2014
by Alva Gardner

My goal in this blog was to write about personal experiences, challenges, and coping mechanisms, and hopefully provide some ideas and techniques that you can implement in your own lives or recommend to family members and loved ones. I hope that you, my readership, have been able to see similarities either in your own lives living with disabilities, or been able to share some of the knowledge you’ve learned with people you know who have disabilities. “Alva’s Perspective: Rolling Through Life, Love, and Work in the Bay Area” was a place for me to discuss some of the issues, challenges, and successes I have experienced in my life thus far. If you are just joining the “Alva’s Perspective” audience, and don’t have time to read through my previous posts, I have taken the time to write one final “summary post” compiling what I believe to be the highlights and take-away messages.


As Hannah, my Independent Living Skills Specialist, takes down my dictation for this post, I would like to recap all of the wonderful programs and resources that provide assistance to people with disabilities in the Bay Area. Clausen House works with adults with developmental disabilities on independent living skills, integration into society and developing their social skills, and assisting them with life management. The assistance I receive from Clausen House is paid for by the Regional Center of the East Bay; a non-profit that provides services and support to people with developmental disabilities to ensure that each individual is living his or her life to its full potential. Although I do not work directly for nor receive services from the Center for Independent Living, they are a kind of one-stop-shop for gathering information about and assistance from local Bay Area disability organizations that help with many tenets of self-sufficiency when living with a disability.

Getting assistance through organizations is not the only way to make living with a disability work for you. Hiring personal attendants, that you manage and train, can help you live the day-to-day life that you want; having a cook that coordinates menus with you or ordering from GrubHub ensures that you eat what you want when you want it. The people at Safeway’s customer service desk are there to help you do your own grocery shopping, though you may still need assistance at home making a list and then unpacking groceries. Lastly, asking for accommodations in your apartment that help make it a comfortable and easy place for you to live, is something you are entitled to. More often than not, even if an apartment complex is not able to meet the accommodation directly, they are willing and able to find someone or some company that can fulfill it.


Problem-solving is a never-ending project. Solutions that you come up with which work in one setting, or at one living situation, might not work in another setting; be able to know yourself well enough to be able to modify basic solutions so that they are applicable to many different situations. A method that you create for coping with one transition might not work when dealing with a different transition; think of ways to create solutions to reoccurring problems that you can take with you from place to place and then slightly modify to better address specific contexts.

Despite the fact that I’ve been creating and modifying solutions and adaptations for years, the truth of the matter is that, even now, not all of said solutions come wrapped up with a nice bow. Sometimes I have to make sacrifices in order to reach the level of independence I am striving for. For example, when doing my grocery shopping, I have to decide whether it’s more important for me to go to the store by myself, then get assistance shopping, which may take two or more hours, or if I’m okay with asking an attendant to drive me and help get my groceries. Whether your goal is getting your nails buffed and polished, or traveling somewhere by yourself, develop systems that work for you and put you in control of your own life and actions.

Comfort with Disability:

When you are comfortable with your disability, those around you will be more comfortable with your disability. Whether you are on a date with someone who has never been out with someone with a disability, or engaging with a child who has never talked to someone in a wheelchair before, exuding confidence and comfort around your disability often speaks volumes more than the words coming out of your mouth. Whether this comfort is with your chosen method for getting around, the fact that your limbs spaz out when you get nervous, that you prefer eating chips and popcorn using your tongue over your hands, or showing a little kid how your chair lights up and makes beeping noises when you drive, one’s attitude about his or her disability is infectious. After an interaction with you, a kid who next sees someone in a chair rolling down the street or someone who keeps a more open mind in his or her dating life, the way that you choose to talk about and interact around your disability with others has a lasting effect.

Comfort with your disability goes beyond the social world. While the stakes might feel higher, and comfort with your disability might feel more necessary in a job interview, the same basic principles applies to both social interactions. Whether securing a second date or a second interview:find ways to mention disability early on and as naturally as possible, be aware of ways that your disability might create challenges, think creatively about ways to overcome these challenges, and take steps to ensure your physical comfort during an in-person interaction.

As I have said time and time again, regardless of the setting you are in, the activity you are participating in, or the people you are interacting with, the most important of “Alva’s Perspectives” is to think about what YOU want out of your life and how YOU feel comfortable getting it!

Posted on June 27th, 2014 | No Comments »

Gainful Employment: Make A Living By Making Your Job Work For You

June 17th, 2014
by Alva Gardner

Unfortunately in today’s society, there is an overwhelming assumption that people with disabilities cannot, will not, and in fact should not, hold down regular jobs. Whether it is because of an assumed “stupidity” or complete physical limitations (or both), society tells people with disabilities not to even aspire to be employed, contributing members of society. This message gets perpetuated from (some) generation(s) to generation(s), (some) employer(s) to employer(s), and indeed, by (some) people with disabilities themselves. People with disabilities thus come to expect less out of life and from themselves and can forget that a lack of visual self-representation in the workplace does not mean they should not strive for employment.

Due to this seeming absence of employees with disabilities, people applying for jobs may be nervous and apprehensive as to how and if to mention their disability in a cover letter or application. It is my opinion that this depends on the company and job you are applying to. For example, for the majority of the jobs that I have applied to and have gotten, my disability itself and/or the experience and skills I have acquired by having a disability have been positive attributes. Thus, I was not shy about openly discussing my disability and how it would affect, both positively and negatively, my job performance. The job I currently have, however, is the first job I have applied for that was not with a disability-related organization. While I still mentioned my disability in my cover letter, resume, and throughout the entire interview, I had to consider the way in which I did so and how to reassuringly highlight is as a positive.

Between the time that you submit an application and learn whether or not you get an interview, take time to study the job description and company mission to preemptively identify some potential areas where your disability could affect your ability to do a job efficiently. Then think of some creative problem solving ideas of ways you would take care of them without the involvement of another employee or boss. Also come up with examples of ways you have modified past tasks or projects to have on hand during your interview to put your interviewer at ease about your ability to competently do the job. In my most recent interview and now at my job I talked about how, as a receptionist, a large portion of the job is answering phones and I, as someone with a speech impediment, can be rather difficult to understand over the phone. During my interview, I addressed this “issue” and reassured my interviewer that I was not only aware of this difficulty but made a conscious effort to over-annunciate when answering the phone. I mentioned that I could also recognize when the person on the phone was not going to understand me (regardless of my annunciation) and was comfortable handing the call off to someone else.

Having ready answers and examples for interview questions will do little good if, throughout the whole interview, your disability “acts up,” giving away how nervous you are. One thing that I had to “get over” when preparing for an interview (or even an important meeting after I’ve landed the job) was the feeling that there was only one way to dress professionally. It has been my experience, too, that most typically-business-appropriate clothes are not warm… at all! And when I get cold, cement blocks could not hold down my spastic limbs. I was so relieved, and frankly empowered, when I discovered ways to dress that were not only professional, but comfortable and warm, ensuring my ability to present my “best self” to potential employers. Business slacks instead of a pencil skirt, boots that allow me to wear warm socks instead of stiletto pumps, and a cardigan underneath a suit jacket allow me to not only look professional, but stay warm, calm, and comfortable.

The last piece of advice I have for becoming employed (as someone who is by no means an expert, and is very much still learning) is to remember that you are likely the first and only person with a physical disability your interviewer has ever interviewed. It is also likely that you are the first person with a physical disability to enter a particular workplace. Therefore, it is crucial to not only be open-minded, but patient with co-workers and superiors (as well as interviewers) in terms of discussing your disability. In most of my interviews, I actually ask if they have ever hired someone with a physical disability before. I am not judgmental or short with them, and I allow them time in the interview to ask me questions and tell me concerns that they might have regarding my hire. This gives me the opportunity to put their concerns to rest and assure them that, despite any accommodations or “extra work” hiring me might require, I would be a valuable employee that brings something special to their company.

That is the take-away message I want you to get from this article: Despite any accommodations or “extra work” that might come from hiring you, you (as a person with a disability) are a valid candidate for jobs and are a valuable employee who brings unique attributes to any workplace. The truth of the matter is, you are going to encounter a lot of people and employers who do not think you can do certain jobs. It is hard enough convincing them otherwise when you yourself also believe in this inability. Acknowledge your limitations, come up with creative ways to compensate for them, and be willing to have realistic conversations about your disability and the potential job at hand.

Posted on June 17th, 2014 | No Comments »

“He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not”

April 16th, 2014
by Alva Gardner

The most important and basic step you must take in order to date successfully is to be completely comfortable (or as close to it as possible) with your disability. Whether this comfort is with your chosen method for getting around, the fact that your limbs spaz out when you get nervous, or that you prefer eating chips and popcorn with your tongue over your hands. The important thing is to try and think about these characteristics as attributes and qualities that the right partner is not only going to accept, but cherish about you.

In case it was not obvious, these are all (and only a few) aspects of myself which I had to embrace and become comfortable discussing. Admittedly, I am at the slight advantage that, as a public speaker since age eight, I find talking about my disability exciting, interesting, and downright empowering. I acknowledge, however, that not everyone has had this opportunity. I think the easiest way to become comfortable talking about your disability as a whole is to pick one aspect of your disability that you like or are especially proud of. For me, that was nicknaming my wheelchair “The Bulldozer.” As I got more comfortable “bragging” about this attribute I noticed that people, especially men I was interested in dating, started to get more comfortable with my disability and began to see it as something more than just a letdown. This is true for so many parts of any disability, whether it is the mode of transportation you use to get around, the way you prefer to eat chips or popcorn, or even if you have a speech impediment that makes people have to listen to you when you speak. It takes a little longer to find people smart, patient, and brave enough to take time to look past the superficial and get to know the real you, but when you find that special someone, I promise, it will all be worth it.

It is also crucial to remember that most people you go on dates with are going to be shallow, rude jerks (intentionally or unintentionally). I have been on my fair share of first dates that ranged from pleasant, to awkward, to downright unbelieve(ably bad!). I have been on dates where the guy stared at my mouth every time I talked, to ones where the guy could not talk about anything but my disability, to ones where he clearly had not known about my disability before showing up, and all the way to ones where the guy was more comfortable with my disability on a first date than I was! (disclaimer: I’m still dating that one! He’s a keeper <3). It was my experience, too, that all but two of the guys I went out with had never gone out with a woman in a chair or with any disability before me. Once I came to accept and expect that from the guys I would go out with, it really got easier to recognize that their awkwardness and discomfort was not necessarily about me, but with the newness of the experience.

I don’t want to candy-coat it for you; at times, dating with a disability sucks! It is up to you most of the time to plan accessible dates, you have to be comfortable enough with your disability for the both of you (or at least fake it that you are), and more times than not, you are going to be rejected. BUT! The great thing about dating with a disability is that if you find someone who can truly look beyond your disability and get to know you as a person, odds are you’ve got yourself a good one!

Posted on April 16th, 2014 | No Comments »

“If At First You Don’t Succeed…”

February 25th, 2014
by Alva Gardner

“… try try again.” Everyone knows this phrase and while it is definitely corny, it is also very true. I associate it with my mom, wiping tears out of my eyes, or screaming with me at the top of our lungs because I had just encountered yet another narrow-minded person who told me something was impossible. So much of what I’ve accomplished in my life is because of my belief in this saying. My belief is that anything I want to do in life is valid and worth doing; even if, as it almost always does, accomplishing that goal takes some ingenuity and a little extra work. Remembering that your priorities in life are legitimate and that you should not sacrifice is crucial, especially when you’re someone with a disability, living in an able-bodied society.

My mom has been like a personal cheerleader all my life. She raised me to be a strong, confident, and most importantly, an assertive woman who goes after what she wants and isn’t afraid to ask for the help and accommodations she needs to get there. As I said in my very first blog post, independence comes from doing whatever it is that an individual needs to do in order to feel independent. Many of my successes came about because of my comfort with asking for the help that I needed. Success does not necessarily mean doing something on your own. It means realizing what you can do on your own, modifying things to make that easier, and getting help when you need to.

While many of the things I have had the opportunity to do in my life fall under this category, there is a specific example I would like to share with you; perhaps you can extrapolate from it and apply the basic concept to an activity that interests you. Aside from living in an apartment, and all of the smaller components that go along with said endeavor, there is one activity that I do on a regular basis, which required a significant amount of trials and failures before I developed a functional, independent system. That activity is getting my nails done.

Now, you are probably thinking, “Getting your nails done?! That seems like such a mundane activity to write about!” On the surface, you are right; getting one’s nails manicured sounds like an insignificant and childish activity to spend an entire blog post discussing. In fact, figuring out of way to independently get a manicure was one of the first triumphs I had in the long process of independent living.  Cutting one’s fingernails is not presumably something most (able-bodied) people spend a lot of time thinking about. They do not necessarily have to plan in advance when they are going to do it, ensure that someone will be around to help them, or stress over whether or not the people they implore to assist will be able to hold their hand steady enough to succeed. All of these things, and several more, are a part of my thought process every time I think about cutting my nails.

Admittedly, I mostly have my personal care attendants cut (and occasionally paint) my nails; as this activity does not occur as a part of my routine every day, I have to plan ahead and ensure that I leave time in an otherwise completely full routine to do so. Sometimes, however, either because I run out of time in the routine or my attendant is not able to stay late if we run over time, I cannot manicure my nails with my attendant. I am then forced to come up with an alternative method: professional manicures.

Fashion Nail on University Avenue is my favorite nail salon. I have been getting manicures there since I was in high school. They are, to this day, the only salon that will give me a decent manicure if I go there by myself. The first several times I got my nails done there, I brought a friend or attendant who would hold my hands steady while the manicurists worked. This helped them see (there is somewhat of a language barrier, so explaining to them what was necessary to help me would have been challenging) what was necessary to help me. Through visual demonstration, along with some explanation, the women at Fashion Nail now know that when I come in for a manicure they are going to need two people to work on me: one to hold my hand steady and the other to do my nails.

Unfortunately, because of this extra step they must take, I usually have to wait a while before they can help me. While not ideal, this is an outcome of needing special assistance. The truth of the matter is that not all of my solutions come wrapped up with a nice bow on top. Sometimes I have to make sacrifices (in this case, time) in order to reach the level of independence I am striving for. It is a worthwhile sacrifice to me, however; I am able to pamper myself without needing to coordinate timing and logistics with an attendant or friend. Whether your goal is getting your nails buffed and polished, or traveling somewhere on public transit by yourself, develop systems that work for you and put you in control of your own life and actions.

Posted on February 25th, 2014 | No Comments »

Curiosity Doesn’t Always Kill The Cat (or Child)

January 15th, 2014
by Alva Gardner

I just got back from lunch with my godfather, J, and he shared a very heartwarming and inspirational story with me. I would like to now share it with you, as I think the underlying message is an important one to remember and continue to spread to others. Here’s the story:

J takes care of his friend’s son, Z, several times a week. Z is five years old and is in an afterschool program with other kids his age.  During an evening family night at his school, there had been a station set up where kids could make their own cards to give to other people. Z sat down and started making a card for his friend N asking if he wanted to have a play date; Z’s parents and J had heard N’s name mentioned before, but didn’t know exactly who he was. The next day, his parents received a phone call from N’s mother. She told them that N had never been asked to have a play date before and that he was so excited that Z had asked for one. This story would be sweet all on its own, but what makes it especially heartwarming is the fact that N uses a wheelchair.

Now, I share this story with you not because it should ignite some kind of awe-inspiring reaction in you. But rather to remind you, as it reminded me, that our actions affect other people even when we don’t intend them to. I have spent a decent amount of time with Z over the last few months, talking to him, playing with him, and giving him the occasional ride on my wheelchair, while never giving him the explicit message “people in wheelchairs are people too”. I think it is important, especially with young children, to allow disability to be a natural part of the conversation and teaching process. Kids are very inquisitive creatures; they like to explore, ask questions, and take in the world with nonjudgmental curiosity. For adults with disabilities, and able-bodied adults for that matter, it is crucial to foster this nonjudgmental curiosity and answer questions in the understandable and truthful ways.

There is an unfortunate practice in our society that teaches little kids not to stare, ask questions of, or really even interact with people who are different than them. I have found this to be especially true as someone who uses a wheelchair. More times than I can count, I have rolled down the sidewalks of Berkeley (home of the Disability Rights’ Movement, as well as home to the biggest population of people with disabilities in the world) and have had parents snatch their small children out of my way as I pass by. I always try to remind myself that these parents are not intentionally harming their children’s view of people with disabilities; that they are honestly trying to be helpful to me while keeping his or her child safe. The reality, however, is that these children are being taught to be afraid of people in wheelchairs.

One of my favorite things, despite some people’s assumption that this might be annoying, is having little kids come up to me and start exploring and asking questions about my wheelchair. This gives me the opportunity to not only educate kids about disability, but do it in the way that subconsciously shows that I am a person, just like them. A wheelchair, then, has the opportunity to ignite and foster curiosity, wonder, and excitement, instead of the fear and danger it is assumed to possess.

Sometimes, it can be frustrating as someone with a disability to feel like I am responsible for teaching the entire able-bodied community about disability and etiquette. Many times I have felt like I am one person who comes to represent an entire category of people; if I happen to get annoyed at someone for their lack of awareness, it is assumed that all people with disabilities are easily annoyed. Despite one’s best intentions, it can be difficult to not let situations like this make you into a bitter and resentful person. Whenever I find myself in situations where I am frustrated by able-bodied adults’ lack of awareness and respect for disability, I try to remember kids like Z and how the lessons of acceptance get paid forward everyday.

Posted on January 15th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

It’s A Wonderful (Apartment) Life: Apartment Living 101

December 1st, 2013
by Alva Gardner

Welcome back to the conversation of independent living, transition to college life.  This post will focus on, apartment life!  I ended the last post saying that the key to independence is defining what that means to you, where your priorities are, and how you want to achieve independence.  There is a misconception in our society that “independence” means someone does everything for him or herself and relies on no one.  Instead, independence should be defined by each individual, for each individual; if you feel you are managing our life the way you want, you are an independent person.

That being said, this is how I choose to structure my independence.  The most important part of independence for me was not to move home after I graduated from college.  Mom and I discussed it throughout my final year at Cal, and we both decided that my moving back home would tempt us into old habits and make my inevitable permanent departure that much harder (for both of us).  Thus, I now live in an apartment.  Despite my lack of job and financial independence at this point, having a space and life separate from my mom has helped keep me motivated towards further independence.  Here is a perfect first example of self-defined independence; I live separate from Mom, but she pays my rent.  Despite this financial support, my relationship with Mom is not really any more dependent than my able-bodied counterpart.

And now to turn my full attention to apartment logistics.  A shocking reality of accessible apartments is their rent — my apartment is $2075 a month for a 2 bedroom/1 bathroom.  This was on the cheap end of the spectrum; most of the apartments I looked at (which I found by merely Googling “bay area wheelchair accessible apartments”) ranged from $2075/mo to $2700/mo.  In total, I looked at 5 apartment complexes: 3 in Berkeley, 1 in Oakland, and 1 in El Cerrito (which had the cheapest rent in the high $1000s/mo).  I should also mention that, because I am the roommate who needed the accessibility aspect of the apartment, I pay a little over half of the rent.  I live with two roommates who divide the remainder equally between them.

When I say “accessible,” I merely mean an apartment that someone in a wheelchair can physically get into and move around.  Most complexes do not have units that come with other desired accessibility features eg. grab bars, automatic door openers, etc.  You may also have to have furniture removed or exchanged, kick plates installed on doors, and existing shelving reconfigured or removed.  While touring places, I made sure too ask every complex what their protocol was for accommodations; most will pay for them once you request them (some require that you find a company to do the installation).  The complex I live in, for example, had me fill out an application for all the requested accommodations, get it approved and signed by my doctor, and then find the exact pieces of equipment I wanted.

I started using personal care attendants full-time when I began at Cal.  These are people who help me with daily living activities.  In college, they helped with dressing, grooming, using the bathroom, showering, and eating breakfast.  UC Berkeley is unique in that it has the Disabled Students’ Residence Program, designed for incoming freshmen to teach and assist with independent living skills; this is where I started learning how to hire, train, and manage my personal attendants.  Since moving into my apartment, my attendants’ responsibilities have expanded to include more household chores, such as laundry, cleaning, and some secretarial duties.  Depending on your needs, the attendant, and the level of communication, attendants’ duties can (and often do) vary.

The most difficult adjustment for me to apartment life was figuring out meals, grocery shopping, and then meal preparation.  I hired a cook attendant; because none of my daily attendant shifts are long enough (or flexible enough) to allow for weekly dinner preparation, I had to make this its own shift.  My cook attendant comes every Monday for 1.5 to 2 hours, cooks two dishes (which usually makes about five or six servings), cuts the food into bite-size pieces, and puts each serving in a Tupperware in my fridge.  This way I have a balanced meal already prepared, which I can retrieve and eat independently.

Specific meal planning might vary widely person-to-person based on dietary restrictions and individual preference.  That being said, some general strategies I’ve developed for meal planning include making lists (mentally or tangibly) of meals that I like and that I know work for me.  For example, dishes with chicken or other meat that can be poked with a fork, pasta (for the same reason), and foods high in iron were important for me to base meals around.  When I wanted to expand my menu repertoire, I looked to websites like www.williams-sonoma.com, www.bonapetite.com, and www.sunsetmagazine.com for recipes.  Also, websites like www.yummly.com and www.pinterest.com (which I primarily use) allow me to make profiles where I can create “Boards” based on different interests, search for and save recipes, and get personalized recommendations.  Now, once a week, I look at these websites, find one or two recipes that look good, and make grocery lists based on the ingredients.

I primarily do my grocery shopping at Safeway on Shattuck Ave.  in the “Gourmet Ghetto”.  It is a relatively short roll from my apartment, it has a wide variety of food, and it is decently priced.  Safeway also has a great Rewards program, which saves me money.  When I go shopping, I go by myself; I time it so that I get home when one of my attendants is scheduled to be there, then they are able to help me unload my groceries.  Safeway, like most big chain grocery stores, has a Customer Service desk near the front of the store.  Upon arriving, I go to Customer Service and request shopping assistance – one of the employees will come with a shopping cart and help.  This is a service that anyone needing special assistance can request.

There are several city organizations in Berkeley and around the Bay Area that provide independent living skills training and assistance.  Please refer to their websites for more information on services and eligibility.

The Berkeley Center for Independent Living: www.cilberkeley.org

The Regional Center of the East Bay: http://www.rceb.org

Clausen House: http://www.clausenhouse.org

Thanks for reading!  Hope this helps appease some of your concerns.

Posted on December 1st, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Moving Out On Your Own

November 6th, 2013
by Alva Gardner

Originally, I was going to write one piece on apartment life and the independence considerations that go along with it. But as I was writing, I realized that I couldn’t do justice to all the things that I want to share with you in one post. Therefore, I am going to split independent living and apartment logistics into two different posts. I will also do my best to post “Part Two” in the next week or so, instead of waiting until the end of the month.

As I sit in my apartment writing this, I can’t help but remember a time when I thought I would live at home forever. As a little girl I would constantly tell Mom of my plans to live in our house with her for my entire life, believing full well that this was not only possible, but realistic. This determination to stay in my home was routed in a childhood fantasy to have life as I knew it remain static; one that stemmed from a deeper self-doubt of my ability to live independently. Being away from Mom for short times was not foreign to me by the age of 18. Adventures away from home, coupled with Mom’s continuous grooming for and warnings of my inevitable departure for college, should have smoothed my transition to dorm life. To some extent, they did. But the truth is that nothing could have fully prepared me for the challenges that arose when I moved into my freshman year dorm and began my journey in independent living. I quickly learned that there are certain things that come up in new situations, which you can’t prepare for ahead of time. There are aspects of day-to-day life (that are different for each person with a disability) that differ based on type of living environment.

When I first moved into my freshman dorm, I had so many thoughts, questions, and fears running through my head. How would I get all my meals taken care of? How would I find, let alone manage, all of my personal attendants? What would happen if one of my attendants didn’t show up for a shift? What if I had one of my dizzy, nauseous spells in the middle of the night? To be honest, these questions arise for me at every living transition, and most of them take a new round of figuring out in each new location. The key, basic element to developing a system that works you is to be really honest with yourself about your abilities and what you might need a little help or adaptations to be able to do more efficiently or effectively. A lot of this determination affects, and is affected by, if and how one uses attendants.

I believe that moving from dorm to co-op to apartment life allowed for an effective, gradual entry into the realities of independent living. College dorms were a safe, structured place that had safety nets already in place to facilitate a smooth transition to independent living; resident assistants, dining halls, and fully accessible units allowed me to learn independent living skills that I have carried with me to other living environments. One of the most important skills, crucial to anyone with a physical disabilities’ living on their own, that I developed in Cal’s dorms was how to work with personal care attendants. Now, I believe that there’s more on this topic than I can do justice here. Look for my post on apartment logistics and personal attendants in mid-November.

The important thing to think about with independent living is what YOU want out of your life and how YOU feel comfortable getting it!

Posted on November 6th, 2013 | 1 Comment »


October 22nd, 2013
by Alva Gardner

Hey! I’m Alva Gardner, the new blogger for United Cerebral Palsy of The Golden Gate (UCPGG). I am a recent college graduate from UC Berkeley, public speaker, fashion designer, activist, poet, and a girl who is just figuring it all out as I go along.

I was born and raised in Oakland, CA and then moved to Berkeley, CA in 2008, at the start of my college career. Having lived in various types of campus housing, from freshman dorms to cooperative houses, I now share an apartment with two roommates. I’m currently working on finding a career in the fashion industry, ideally somewhere on the design or marketing side of things, in addition to starting my own business. My business, Designs By Alva, is a brand of functional fashion, designs geared towards people with disabilities where I work to address accessibility needs while maintaining the aesthetic appeal of the garment.

I was approached to write this blog about my experiences as a woman with a disability, living an independent, productive, and fulfilling life. And that’s what I’ll attempt to do, in a way that is both approachable, as well as thorough. While my aim in this blog is to write about my experiences in an informative way for you, my readers, I also acknowledge (and hope you can too) that this is a never-ending process and a learning experience that I am still very much a part of. That being said, if there’s ever anything you want me to write about specifically, or something you have follow-up questions about, please don’t hesitate to ask! Let’s make this a conversation; we can all experiment and learn together.

Before and during the transition into college and living on my own in the dorms and student cooperative housing, then to living on my own in an apartment, people around me constantly told me that things would eventually get easier. My mom especially was and still is a huge support system in my life who has always said, “Transitions are hard, but it does get easier.” I, being the stubborn adolescent and young adult that I was, never fully believed her, and was sure that this was merely something that parents of kids with disabilities said as an empty means of encouragement…. BUT, I am here to say (from personal experience no less) that transitions do, indeed, get easier!

My goal in this blog is to write about personal experiences, challenges, and coping mechanisms, hopefully providing some ideas and techniques that you can implement in your own lives or recommend to family members and loved ones.

“Alva’s Perspective: Rolling Through Life, Love, and Work in the Bay Area” will discuss many of the issues and challenges (and the successes!) I have encountered in my life as a single woman, living on my own, looking for a job and new ways of socializing, while having a disability.

I am excited to share my perspective with you all! Look for my next post in mid November!

Posted on October 22nd, 2013 | 4 Comments »