Three-Year Blogging Anniversary

This past week marked the Off Balanced blog’s three-year anniversary. That seems crazy to me. So much from 2011 feels like yesterday. Yet here you and I sit. Well, I’m sitting. Maybe you will read this standing up or lying down. I can’t know that. Enough dickering over such detail though! Allow me to get back on-topic.

Three years ago I stated the following as my blogging goal.

“Blog-wise the title ‘Off Balanced’ still works as a pun, indicating my blog’s goal to throw misconceptions about cerebral palsy and other disabilities off balance. I plan to address these different preconceived notions in detail while also introducing you to various individuals I’ve had the opportunity as a disability beat writer to learn about and interact with over the past few years.”

Happy Three-Year Blogging Anniversary

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Admittedly I lost my focus some. Last year I used my blog here to keep myself publicly accountable for my 2013 New Year resolutions. Good stuff I believe but at the same time mostly irrelevant to cerebral palsy.

My admission brings about questions regarding Off Balanced the blog’s future. Should I re-focus on my blog’s initial goal? Or, do I move forth carrying a more open-ended attitude with subject matter? The latter may lead to moving my blog to, which I’m planning a complete makeover for anyways.

Reader feedback will help me make a more confident decision. Give your input by commenting below, letting me know what you prefer to see from me. Thanks in advance for your thoughts!


Disability and Asking for Help

A subject reoccurred last weekend spent at my alma mater Notre Dame College (NDC) for their Homecoming & Alumni Reunion weekend, asking for help. Friday evening the topic arose while talking to a face from the past. Saturday during tailgating and at the homecoming football game asking for help surfaced through actions.

On Friday I saw Mrs. Clemson, who happened to teach my graphic arts and fiber design classes back in high school. Turns out Mrs. Clemson graduated NDC in 1970. While talking to her I mentioned a specific part from my memoir Off Balanced (buy for your Kindle or Nook) about a time in high school I faced a physical challenge, three step without a rail. Rather than ask a nearby classmate for help I struggled down these steps on my own. Why? I felt too embarrassed to ask for assistance.

HelpMoving forward to Saturday walking over from the tailgate area to the football field I asked my friend to carry my drink since we needed to go across a grassy area. No big deal. I’m so use to asking friends for a helping hand the task remains second nature, a second nature I still appreciate very much and I try not to take for granted.

Anyways the real interesting asking for help came later on. I stayed outside to eat my hamburger and finish my drink. However, my friend went ahead and found seats. After I finished eating and drinking I headed inside Mueller Field. To sit next to my friend I asked four current female college students if I could get past them on the bleachers. They stood up to let me through.

Tentatively I made my way across, but I found the space still too tight to maneuver around comfortably. So without much thinking I asked “Do you mind if I use your hand?” Basically I asked strangers “Could I hold your hands?,” totally a premise to power an awkward moment. Yet I didn’t even think about the potential awkwardness until after I sat down and settled in. Emphasize potential since the girls obliged without a problem.

No I didn’t think about the potential awkwardness because I remained focused on what I needed. Really the situation speaks to a sentiment I blogged about for Handicap This Productions earlier in the year, eliminating “embarrassment” from your vocabulary. One thought I shared in said post echoes today’s point very well.

“Why is the question embarrassing? I need help and I’m mature enough to realize that.”

The same principal applies to awkwardness. Bottom line and the lesson I learned over the past 10 years, do not allow your needs to make you feel embarrassed or awkward. Ask for help if you need help and do so proudly.

*Above image courtesy of Simon Howden at

Shoe Shopping with Cerebral Palsy

Shoe Store Aldo

Cerebral palsy adds difficulty to shoe shopping. Photo: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons

When going shoe shopping, what factors do you keep in mind? To the average person I’m guessing common answers might include price and style/design. Now I can only guess since my cerebral palsy (CP) adds factors most people probably don’t need to consider.

Early on in my memoir Off Balanced (available on the Kindle, Nook, and i-Pad via the free Kindle app) I mention wearing high top shoes as a kid. The high tops worked to hide the DAFOs (dynamic ankle foot orthoses) I wore, which aided my childhood agenda to hide my CP.

Years later I still limit my shoe shopping to high tops. These days the reasoning stems from practicality rather than embarrassment over my disability. High tops provide my ankles extra support, support lessening my wobbliness. This support proves essential given I no longer wear DAFOs.

However I still rely on foot orthotics, custom made shoe inserts specifically. Amongst their purposes, my shoe inserts neutralize a significant height discrepancy with my legs. So you might say my inserts play important roles in my ability to move the best I can. Thus I must buy shoes the inserts will fit well into.

My custom made shoe inserts

The shoe inserts I need to keep in mind when shoe shopping.

Finding that right fit can prove difficult. For instance this week I passed on certain shoes I really wanted. My inserts did not fit the 8.5 size. Depending on the shoe I can also wear nines. While the insert fit well into the nines, my foot did not. Too much space up by the toes! Ugh!

From the weekly cerebral palsy Twitter chat #CPChatNow (Wednesdays 8pm EST/Use #CPChatNow) I know shoe shopping stands a frustrating task for many in the CP community. My own case only demonstrates a couple issues. Some with CP may experience trouble tying shoes. Others may baffle the shoe department staff with two different size feet. Bottom line, the frustrations vary person by person.

If you possess an interesting shoe shopping story whether due to cerebral palsy, a different disability, or another factor please feel free to share by commenting below. Thanks in advance for adding your insights!

#CPChatNow Week Four Overview


Next Live Twitter Chat: Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Over the past month I mentioned the live Twitter chats John W. Quinn (@johnwquinn), Handicap This! (@HandicapThis), and I (@zacharyfenell) started hosting. By using the hash tag “#CPChatNow” Wednesdays at 8:00pm EST (7pm CST/5pm PST) you can join us to discuss everything cerebral palsy related. Beginning now Tim from Handicap This! and I will take turns recapping each discussion, with Tim’s recaps going up at and mine here.

Given Christmas fell on Wednesday this week, we decided to hold our live Twitter chat #CPChatNow last night. You will find a few highlights below. Thank you to everyone who make these chats engaging and enriching.

John brought up a topic quite native to the season, New Year resolutions.



Everyone seemed to experience at least one “Why me?” moment throughout their lives.


Several Why Me Moments

An interesting question about bullying arose.


What makes a bully, bully?

Encouraging wisdom unfolded.


The above highlights just a few great tweets from last night’s chat. Please join us Wednesday, January 1st, 2014 at 8pm EST (7pm CST, 5pm PST) as we continue to build a more connected cerebral palsy community.

Establishing a Stronger CP Community

FYI regular Off Balanced blog readers, check back tonight for my usual disability related #FF suggestions.

Father’s Day

Allow me to join the vast majority and say “Happy Father’s Day” to all the Dads out there. Earlier this week I received an email from Dick’s Sporting Goods’ PR department, suggesting since I’m such a big Cleveland Indians fan I checkout the following video.

Nick Swisher really knocked one out of the park there with his insights.

“The greatest gift I can give my Dad is just spend the time with him.” 

The Fenell Men

My brothers and I with our father. (circa 2010)

When both child and father enjoy athletic abilities spending time together seems easy. Swisher played PIG with his pops. My two brothers playing little league each experienced the chance to be coached and managed by our father. Seeing how I grew up in America loving the Cleveland Indians and baseball in general I saw little league as ultimately the traditional father-son bonding opportunity. Considering my cerebral palsy though, my parents prohibited me from playing.

In situations like mine seeking other ways to spend time together becomes important. During my preteen/early teenage years my father took my brothers and I fishing on weekends somewhat regularly. I like to think I thrived the most. My older brother Bill didn’t appear super into the activity, perhaps due to his “I’m a teenager and spending time with family isn’t necessarily cool” mentality. This mentality I mention in Off Balanced we both eventually adopted. Nick, my younger brother, preferred using his fishing rod to “dip” for the small fish swimming around the pier over actually casting out.

Anyways, let me get back to my point. So I viewed little league as the traditional father-son bonding opportunity. Traditional however does not mean exclusive. Discover an activity which will grow the father-child relationship and pursue!

Sales Pitch Time:
Why should fathers, sons, and daughters read Off Balanced?

Fathers, one theme present throughout Off Balanced revolves around parenting decisions to protect your child. Whether your son or daughter has a disability or not the urge to protect your offspring remains universal. Reading Off Balanced will hopefully motivate you to reflect on your own parenting decisions, enabling you to become an even better father.

Sons and daughters specifically current teenagers, another universal theme to the parent-child relationship involves frustration. I felt frustrated amongst other emotions because my parents never signed me up to play little league. Yet in writing Off Balanced I did my best to fairly portray the reasons behind my parents’ decisions. Such an approach could help you learn to respect your own parents’ decisions more.

*Purchase Off Balanced for your Kindle or Nook.

Disability Awareness Amongst Teenagers

Heartwarming to deplorable accurately describes the emotional range created by news articles about teens with disabilities. Take yesterday for example. Going through the daily Google Alert emails for “cerebral palsy” still in my inbox, I came across a NBC Local 15 (AL/FL news station) report which appalled me.  14-year-old Austin Stokes ended up going to the hospital after getting seriously assaulted on school grounds. He explains the incident.

“I was walking out in the breezeway and I threw the coke can at the boy because he called me a retard. Then, the next thing out of the blue he punched me and lift me off the ground and I became airborne.”

While possessing the ability to throw a soda can, Stokes doesn’t maintain a good chance at victory in a fight. According to the news report, his cerebral palsy leaves him partially blind and paralyzed. Also note Stokes’ assailant, a high school senior, holds a size and age advantage.  A 17-year-old should display the maturity to walk away after a can gets hurled his way. I assume the student to be 17 or 18 years old given his class rank.

Yet again I want to think a 17-year-old knows better than to call somebody with a physical disability “retarded.” Such behavior stems from ignorance. Overall the news story further motivates me to engage able-bodied individuals and get them to read my book Off Balanced. I believe Off Balanced can open eyes, getting ordinary students to see their peers with disabilities as kids sharing similar wants and needs.

Thankfully some individuals out there already own this perspective. Let me demonstrate by returning to the emotional range I previously mentioned. I went from disgust reading the Austin Stokes story to delight when I checked out a Fox 8 (N.C.) report about high school freshman Brionna Miller. Impressed by her positive attitude Miller’s peers voted her onto the Homecoming Court. Her classmates allowed themselves to see Miller’s personality first rather than her wheelchair. Ultimately this stands as any disability advocate’s goal.

*Author’s Note: I know personally my goal writing and publishing Off Balanced involves helping to cultivate more stories where teenagers celebrate their peers with disabilities as people first.Currently I’m seeking advice on how to reach more able-bodied teenagers. Please leave any suggestions via commenting below or through emailing   

Book News: Watch the Off Balanced Cyber Reading/Q & A Now!

The Off Balanced Cyber Reading/Q & A arrived on Youtube sometime late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning. I read a selection from Chapter 4, “My First Crush.” Following the reading I answer questions about publishing and disabilities. View below!

What’s Next?

My second guest post for Laura Forde’s Through My Eyes: My Life with Cerebral Palsy blog will get published shortly. I discuss my experience as an individual with cerebral  palsy using the online dating service e-Harmony. If you missed my first post for Laura, no more excuses! “How Cerebral Palsy Helped Shape My Work Ethic

On Friday, September 28th I will join The Inclusive Class’ Nicole Eredics and Terri Mauro to discuss Off Balanced and my experiences inside mainstream, inclusive classrooms. You can listen in live by visiting at 9:00am EST on the 28th.