The holiday season is in full swing. Spending time with family and friends is one of my favorite parts of this time of year. I even love the snow! Every year I make a point to put the Wausau Holiday Parade on my winter bucket list. This year was no exception.
For the past several years, my friend, Randy, has joined me for the holiday parade. Instead of our usual spot by Marathon Park, this year we headed downtown. My mom and our cousins joined us this year too. The creative floats and decorations motivate me to sit in the cold every year. This year there was the extra motivation of grabbing a pizza at Polito’s before the holiday parade made its way to the 400 Block.
As we were waiting for the lights and sirens, Randy and I walked down memory lane. It was two years ago when the hydraulics in my Green Machine died, leaving my very heavy lift hanging outside the van. To make it even more challenging, we were in front of someone’s driveway! It was freezing cold and took a small army to get me, my chair and my van home. I ended up getting sick for months after. Literally, I was sick for the entire winter. However, this did not discourage me from going again and again. Luckily, Randy was willing to risk it again too!
This year the temps were much warmer, somewhere in the 40’s. We found a great parking spot, which was a Christmas miracle considering the parking shortage in downtown Wausau. I gave my mom directions to where we were positioned. My mom walked several times around the 400 block square looking for us. Unfortunately, we were down the street a ways…my bad! My sense of direction is as good as my driving skills. The scraps and holes in my walls will give you an idea of how great those skills are. On the bright side, my mom got her steps in for the day!
Changing our normal spot shined a light on the accessibility issues of the holiday parade. There were a few wheelchairs out that night. However, I think of my friends and neighbors who do not have access to an accessible vehicle. The Wausau Area Transit System does not run buses past 6:30 and the parade does not start until 6:30. The holiday parade is not accessible to those without transportation. This is really frustrating and sad. My neighbors spend much of their winter isolated, especially during the holidays. The Holiday Parade is a free, enjoyable tradition which should be accessible to all. However, this parade is only accessible to those with vehicles or to those who can afford accessible transportation. Considering the accessible taxi would cost about $80 round trip, this is not an option for many.
Now let’s talk about watching a parade from a wheelchair! I had a great spot at the edge of the sidewalk or at least I thought I did when I first parked there. As the crowds rolled in, they spilled into the street. I could not pull forward because of the curb. My mom and my cousin, Tony, did a great job of redirecting anyone who stood in front of me. However, it was impossible to see down the street. There were no officers or barriers to keep the crowd back. In fact, as the mayor rolled by he tried to direct everyone to back away from his decorated vehicle. So basically, I had restricted tunnel vision of the parade!
What is the solution? One suggestion I have for the parade organizers is to have roped off sections for wheelchair users and their companions throughout the parade route. Additionally, rope barriers would be beneficial to keep the crowd on the sidewalk. I know Wausau has Community Service Officers which could be used to ensure that the crowd remains behind the barrier.
I understand that these obstacles are not easy to conquer, but it is also not impossible. Throughout the year, taxi and transportation companies profit from wheelchair users. Offering reduced, affordable prices would be a wonderful way to give back during the holidays. The city of Wausau could also give back to their disabled citizens by extending the bus service on this important holiday event. School buses and accessible church owned vehicles could also rally for the cause. This is a community event, so with a bit of community effort, this could happen!
As I stated before, having designated areas for wheelchairs would solve much of the visibility issues for wheelchair users. Volunteers, such as scouting groups or church groups, could assist to make sure these designated areas stay clear for wheelchair users during the holiday parade. Mapping out and marking these designated areas throughout the parade route would allow wheelchair users to pick the most convienent spot.
With that being said, I had a great time at the Wausau Holiday Parade. It has become a tradition for Randy and I. I loved the horses and the dogs in the parade. With my startle reflex, I am not a fan of the horn blowing or sirens. However, a parade would not be a parade without all the racket. The floats are always awesome, along with the dancers. However, my absolute favorite part of the parade is by far the flame throwing float sponsored by the hot air balloon association. I have to say the flames trump even Santa!
I also wanted to mention the incredible citizens who live in my town. The excitement took over a few and they blocked my view. With the exception on one guy, everyone quickly moved out of the way with an apology. I really appreciate that I live in a great town with wonderful people.
This year I really appreciated the efforts of Chase the Chill Central Wisconsin. This group knits and crochets hundreds of hats and scarves. Before the parade they tie them throughout downtown. Anyone who needs a hat or scarf can take them. No one has to go cold in Wausau! This good will gesture is exactly what the holidays should be about…giving, loving and caring!
The Wausau Holiday Parade is a tradition I look forward every year. It never disappoints. My only wish is for my friends and neighbors who are wheelchair users to have the same access to the parade as I do. I see how isolating and lonely the holidays can be for them. The holiday parade spreads joy and holiday cheer for those who are present. With the efforts of Chase the Chill, the holiday parade also spreads warmth. I want that joy, cheer and warmth spread to my friends and neighbors as well.
Until next time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’!!
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