Editor’s Note: Kristen Hart of Virginia Beach, Virginia, wanted to become as independent as possible despite having Spina Bifida. When she went to YouTube to learn how to solve some of the problems she had as a lady in a wheelchair trying to live independently, she couldn’t find any videos that helped. As Hart learned how to solve her own problems, she decided she could create YouTube videos to help others like herself solve these same problems.
I was surprised when I couldn’t find any videos to help me learn how to solve the daily problems that people in wheelchairs face. So, I got involved with some Facebook disability groups, and I quickly found out that the people in those Facebook groups were having the same problems as me. First I solved problems about cooking from a wheelchair, and then I decided to start making videos to show people what I’d learned to help them.
My first video, which was very low tech, was about how to drain water from pasta. One of the first things I wanted to learn was how to use a stove. I grew up using a microwave for everything, but I had a love for pasta and still do. One of my dreams was moving into my own apartment and cooking pasta.
That was the specific problem I went to YouTube to try and find – a video that could show someone in a wheelchair how to drain pasta from boiling hot water after taking it off the stove.
Normally, you would boil pasta in a pot. Then, you would take that pot of hot water and pasta over to the sink, pour the hot water and pasta into a colander to get rid of the hot water, and the hot water would drain down the sink. But in my apartment, my sink was more than a few steps from my stove. The only way I could see to get the boiling water and the hot pasta pot from the stove to the sink was to take the pot off the stove, put it in my lap, roll over to the sink and pour the water and pasta into the colander.
However, if I did that, I’d have fried legs from putting the hot pot in my lap. The other problem was: once I had the pot in my lap, I still had to push my chair. After I solved the pasta draining problem and made a video of it.
I began making videos of how I solved all types of everyday problems people in wheelchairs face. To date, I have made over 100 videos showing people in wheelchairs how to solve everyday problems, and I have a list of 100 more videos that I plan to shoot. I’m trying to show other people with mobility issues how to solve their problems. Also, I have friends who come over to my house, and I shoot videos of them. Sometimes my sister, Kimberly Bucholz, helps with the videos.
Using a Wheelchair Because of Spina Bifida
I was born with Spina Bifida, and I’ve been in a wheelchair my entire life. I had a strong mother who refused to accept the fact that just because I was in a wheelchair I couldn’t do anything. She always would help me devise ways to do everything I wanted to do independently. I also worked with physical therapists.
As I grew up, I developed a mindset that I could do anything anyone else could, but I just might have to do it differently. From the age of 5, I was able to dress myself and take care of my own bathroom needs.
I have two associate degrees, and I’m a licensed cosmetologist too.
In 2012, I decided I wanted to live independently – meaning, move out of my mother’s house and have my own place. I was fairly convinced I could do everything I needed to do for myself. But when I moved into my apartment, I discovered that I couldn’t do many of the everyday living types of things that I wanted to do. A classic example was taking a hot pot off the stove with boiling water and pasta and pouring it into a colander.
While on a Facebook page for people with disabilities, I saw others saying,
- “I don’t know how to do this.”
- “My parents won’t let me do certain things.”
- “There’s no one to teach me how to cope with everyday problems.”
Since YouTube was the first place that I would visit to solve daily problems encountered by people in wheelchairs, I decided that was what most people would do. I wanted to offer them help.
I’m a visual learner. I like to watch videos and learn what I need to know. So, I started my YouTube channel – Living Able.
Living Able: A One-Person Production Company
I began making my videos with a tablet computer. I’d set the tablet on a table or set it up with some boxes. Then, I’d use tape to tape my tablet to the boxes or the table to keep it exactly where I wanted it to be to video me, while I demonstrated how to solve different problems. I’d turn on the video feature of the tablet. Then, I’d roll out in front of the tablet and do my videos. At that time, I didn’t have any editing software – but I do now. So, you’d see me wheel into view, solve a problem and wheel out of view.
Now, I have a Canon VIXIA Mini – a mini compact personal camcorder. I like this video camera because it’s small, and I can carry it around with me to make videos outside my home too. I have a tripod I can put the camera on, I use Movie Maker to edit my videos, and I just recently got Adobe Premiere Elements 12. Also, I’ve gotten a green screen and a new lighting system.
Living Able’s Video Channel Has Experienced Phenomenal Growth
I started Living Able on November 17, 2013. Now, I have more than 1,050 subscribers to my channel and more than 250,000 views. Living Able is the leading video channel in making “how to” videos for people in wheelchairs and with other mobility issues. Perhaps I’m the only person doing these kinds of videos, so naturally Living Able is the leader. Other people have started to do these “how to” videos but usually stop after 10 or 15 videos.
The Living Able channel has a number of cooking videos and videos on problems people encounter when they travel. I travel with my father, Kenny Hart, as he goes around the country teaching continuing education for home inspectors. One of the problems we’ve faced is finding a handicapped room with two beds in it. Most of the time, my dad and I stay in a room that’s not designed for handicapped people, and I post videos on how I deal with living in a regular hotel or motel room.
I also get ideas for videos from people that I’ve met through Facebook disability groups when people ask me to try and solve a problem for them. Once I learn how to solve that problem, I make a video and post it on YouTube. Then they will share the video with other people.
I guess the toughest problem that someone has sent me was, “How would you take a shower curtain down, wash it and re-hang it while you’re in a wheelchair?” This video is called, “L1 paraplegic wheelchair user taking shower curtain down and putting it back up again.”
I realize there may be some things that people in wheelchairs can’t do. However, I try and solve every problem I can find that people want to learn about and develop some type of method or tool to solve that problem.
Why Kristen Keeps Making Videos
I have friends who use wheelchairs, and often they live with their parents or their spouses. If their parents or spouses pass away, or my friends have to live on their own for some reason, there’s a lot of everyday tasks that they don’t know how to do, and they don’t have anyone to teach them. This problem breaks my heart, because I know there are ways that people in wheelchairs can do things that may seem impossible for those who haven’t been taught how to adapt.
The world often will tell people in wheelchairs everything they can’t do. But we can’t allow ourselves the mentality of, “I can’t do this.”
My answer is, “Yes, you can, and here’s how.” In my videos, I want to show that people in wheelchairs can do many more things than they think they can. I know my videos are effective, because we’ve already reached over 250,000 people who have watched the videos and learned from them.
Another way I get requests for solving problems is through my Living Able Facebook page, or they can contact me through the Living Able YouTube channel. At least several times a week, people in wheelchairs will contact me and say, “Hey, Living Able, how would you solve this problem?”
The video that gets the most views is of my friend, Tara Chandler, transferring in and out of her Mazda RX-8 – a little sports car. I think that video gets so many views because people are accustomed to seeing someone in a wheelchair generally driving a van. Currently, that video has had over 70,000 views.
Tara actually had a note put on her car when it was parked one time. She had parked in a handicapped parking space, and someone had written her a note that said, “You can’t possibly be handicapped and drive this sports car.”
Once again, that was one of those stupid stereotypes that people believe. In this video, you see Tara taking the wheels off her wheelchair, folding the back of the wheelchair down into the seat of the wheelchair and storing the wheels and the chair behind the driver’s seat.
See Tara Transferring In and Out of a Mazda RX8 Sports Car
Kristen’s Life Each Day
I live in a regular apartment. Other than my bathroom door being a little wider than most apartments’ bathroom doors, everything else is built for an able-bodied person. Nothing in the apartment is designed for a person with a disability.
I chose a normal apartment, because most handicapped accessible apartments look like one big room. If they make the sinks wheelchair accessible, they take the cabinets out from under the sink where I need to store my pots, pans and other kitchen needs. Also in most apartment complexes, usually, only one or two apartments are handicapped accessible.
Since I’m young and strong and know how to overcome, I want to let other people with disabilities have those apartments.
At one time, our family lived in a two-story house, and my bedroom was on the second floor. So, I would go up and down the stairs on my hands and knees. But depending on your level of function, there are many ways to navigate stairs.
More of Her Favorite Living Able Videos
Another fun video on the Living Able channel is titled, “L1 paraplegic showing three ways to reach and pull down the shower head.” Often when you go to a hotel room, the shower head sprays water over your head – not hitting you. So, I show different things like using a mop or other improvised tools to pull the shower head down.
If I have guests in my home, and they need to take a shower, they always move the shower head up, so the water hits them on their chests and backs. Often when they leave, they forget to pull the shower head back down, so the water hits me in the right places.
One more video that gets quite a few views is, “How to reach the kitchen faucet.” Unless you have a kitchen designed and built so your wheelchair will roll under the kitchen sink, you can’t reach the faucets. This video shows how I use everyday household objects to turn the kitchen sink water on and off.
I keep my videos to less than 5 minutes and cover as many topics as I can that I believe will help people.
So, if you have a problem you can’t solve, contact me, and I will try to make a video to solve the problem. Or, look at my Facebook page or YouTube channel to see if I already have a video there that solves your problem.
To view Kristen Hart’s YouTube Channel, click here.
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About the Author:
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.