stWhen Heather Jimenez decided to remodel her London kitchen, she turned for advice to a new guidebook to meet her particular needs. Crippled in both legs by polio in 1952, Jimenez relies on crutches and a wheelchair to get around.
"Everything now is at a height that is comfortable for leaning on, or for use with a wheelchair," she says in a definitely British accent, although she was born in Philadelphia and for a time raised in the United States.
Drawers, for example, that slide out were installed in her kitchen cupboards "because I couldn't get things down to the bottom row." The guidebook, she says, is full of such ideas "you don't think of yourself."
Jimenez, who declines to reveal her age -- "Say I'm a grandmother" -- wrote part of the large manual, "The Source Book for the Disabled: An Illustrated Guide to Easier, More Independent Living for Physically Disabled People, Their Families and Friends" (Paddington Press, 288 pages, $15.95 hardcover, $9.95 paperback.)
The purpose of the book, she says, was to gather into one source all the information she and her co-writers feel a disabled person needs to know for coping in ordinary society. (From tying a man's tie with one hand, to buying such mechanical aids as a wheelchair, to maintaining one's home and enjoying a healthy sex life.)
The idea for the book was born when a close relative of Paddington Press' publishers suffered a stroke leaving her paralyzed on one side. They could find no such source to answer their everyday questions on how she could manage to continue cooking, dressing or traveling -- "to make her life as independent as possible." Would she even be able to hold her new grandchild with only one mobile arm? they wanted to know.
In the United States alone, "At least one out of every 10 citizens is physically disabled," the book estimates. The President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped held a book party at the Martin Luther King Library recently to introduce it to interested groups.
"We think its very good. It's easy to read with practical suggestions," says committee spokesman Robert Ruffner, who contributed a section on public attitudes toward disabilities.
Jimenez was the mother of two young daughters living in Paris when she became crippled. Her husband was with UNESCO. As she recalls, "You're rather at sea when you enter a new world."
Someone who becomes disabled may adopt one of several unhealthy attitudes, says Jimenez. They may try to avoid others with the same problem, fearing they may be identified "as one of them." Or they may refuse to recognize their limitations and become frustrated trying to do more than they are capable of.
In her case, she says, she can manage on crutches and was reluctant to use a wheelchair because it seemed a comedown. Now she finds a wheelchair in the house helps conserve her strength. "I guess I grew up."
"When you really come to terms," she says, "you can feel on equal terms with the able-bodied and those with a disability. You can put your time to productive use and not waste it."
During her stay in Washington, she spent three weeks babysitting her two grandchildren in her daughter's Upper Northwest home. Her son-in-law is a correspondent for The Economist.
In London, Jimenez does public relations work for the Disablement Income Group, a "pressure group of disabled" working for legislative reform in Great Britain. She also works with many other organizations interested in what she terms "mainstreaming -- putting disabled people back into the community." This led to her participation in the source book.
Before the book, she says, she had never used a "reacher," a device someone sitting in a wheelchair can use to pick up an object from the floor. Now, "I've introduced reachers to I can't tell you how many people" -- including, she says, friends experiencing only minor back problems but who can't bend over.
In the past 10 years, she says, the public has become more aware of the needs of those with disabilities. "They take it far more for granted that these people have rights to get across the street and into buildings."
Among other topics the source book covers:
Skiing for the deaf, the blind or the single-limb amputee, who "often become proficient."
The disabled parent. "More and more disabled mothers and fathers are proving that a physical disability need not be a handicap to being a good parent."
Financial aid. "It is expensive to adapt a home to the needs of a disabled person and even modest modifications are not cheap."
Household chores. "Bedmaking is a heavy, often difficult task." The book diagrams a quick and easy way to do the job.