What Were the Odds?

As Christmas approaches, I am reminded of a story that my friend Jim shared with my son who was embarking on his own military journey.

It’s a war story, but a love story at the same time. One might think they wouldn’t go together, but when the darkness of war surrounds people, the light of love is magnified. Adding Christmastime to the story makes it magical.

Here is a picture of Jim’s story. It is typed below the picture for easier reading.

“As a member of the Army Armed Forces in the Pacific Theater of Operations – a Tank Battalion –  attached to New York’s famous and finest Infantry Division during WWII, I can honestly tell you that war is hell. There’s just no way getting away from that.

            But I can also truly add that following Japan’s dastardly air attack at Pearl Harbor – of which most of us didn’t even know of its location prior to the attack – we very clearly understood that there would be no choice as to whether or not we’d rapidly become involved in a counterattack. It took just a month or so short of five years, but no one even thought of getting back home until the war was won. Sure we wanted to get home, but until we defeated Hitler and his Allies including Japan, we knew we were in for the duration no matter how long it would take.

            As we hip-hopped across the Pacific, recapturing island after island – for our outfit it was Guam, Leyte and Manila in the Philippines, Hiroshima, just off of Okinawa and Okinawa itself – we knew our next battle would be the Japanese Island itself until President Truman, thank God, had the courage to order the atomic bombing of Japan itself. Sorry about those who felt it wasn’t necessary, but as far as I’m concerned, it saved millions of lives, mine included.

A very interesting miracle sideline is worth hearing at this point, with which I’m sure you will agree “When we arrived at Leyte – it was Thanksgiving Day – we came in under a Jap air attack until our faster air fighters coming in pairs, attacked their fighters, knocking them out of the sky, a beautiful sight to see, granting us free access onto the island. Shortly thereafter, we received a message from MacArthur congratulating us on our safe arrival and promising us we would not miss our Thanksgiving meal. He added that unfortunately one of the Jap bombs hit and sunk the lone cargo ship carrying our Christmas gifts, so we should prepare ourselves for this disappointment. Well disappointments are a part of fighting a war so we knew we’d live with it.

            True to his word we got our Thanksgiving dinner the day before Christmas and the next day our Christmas dinner. A week later on New Year’s Day night I, along with a buddy was assigned guard duty from midnight till 2 AM. It was a beautiful moonlight night and moonlit nights are like daylight in the Pacific, when in the distance I saw something white reflected by the moon’s light. Approaching it carefully my buddy warned me to be careful or it might be a buried hand grenade. But I said “No, it can’t be, because a hand grenade is black and this is white. Still I did approach it carefully, getting down on my knees with my arms outstretched as far as I could get them, I carefully dug under the item when up popped a very soggy brown papered box, out of which popped a very soggy wrapped Christmas box, out of which stuck this very white item reflected by the moonlight. Reaching for its top I lifted it from its Christmas box and in my hand I held a silver ID Bracelet, one side of which was engraved with my name and serial number, and the other side “With my love, HEW“, my wife’s initials, a term of endearment that I gave her because she did not like the name of Hazel.

            Call it what you like but I call it a miracle from God. What are the odds not only that I should be the one to find this box, but that the box should belong to me?

            And here’s the kicker. Three months later, now in Okinawa, I finally get a response from my wife acknowledging receipt of my letter explaining how I received my ID bracelet, to which she simply wrote “What happened to the cookies“?

            And that’s the way it is with my wife. She firmly believes that the less said keeps her out of trouble.”

Hazel and Jim Kistler

Jim’s writing can also be seen in several of my blog posts titled Treasured Traditions, starting here: https://climbingdownhill.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/a-treasured-tradition-part-1/

[NOTE: The story shown and quoted above is not my own, but expressly belongs to the Jim and Hazel Kistler family and is not to be copied without permission or proper credit given.]

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Treasure Box of Memories

One holiday season, as Christmas was approaching. I wanted to do something meaningful for our mothers. Gone were the days when they needed things. Plants and flowers get repetitive. What our mothers had done for us through the years was treasured, and I wondered what we could give them that would convey our love and gratitude for them.

These are the kind of images I think of when I hear the word treasure.

So I set out to make our own treasure box. I found small boxes that resemble a treasure chest (see below – pretty close, right?). From a gold colored posterboard, I cut circles small enough to look like coins, but big enough to write a message on. The family came together at the table. We thought of favorite memories and things we appreciated and wrote them on the circles.  

We glued pictures on the other side of some of the circles, and gold foil covered chocolate coins on others.

It was fun to make the coins. When they were all done, we put them in the box.

We put a note on the top to explain the contents. It read:

“Life’s true treasures are the priceless memories we hold in our hearts. They shape us, strengthen us and motivate us. Thank you for the memories you have created in our lives.”

We mailed the boxes across the miles and imagined our mothers opening the boxes on Christmas morning and reading the memories.

My mother-in-law passed from this life last year. When she had moved from her home, we found the box on her dresser, just as we had given it to her. I hope she felt loved by the box she received that Christmas years ago. It’s not the price of the gift or the wrapping, it’s the thought put into it.

To make a box like this, you will need:

– 1 Box (Hobby Lobby has a good selection)

– Poster board – I used two-sided silver and gold (found at Staples). We made about 50 circles 2 1/2″ in diameter (I used a drinking glass as a template).

– Gold foil covered chocolate coins (I saw them at Big Lots this year).

– Scissors. glue, glue gun and markers

– Pictures to cut

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Windows to Weather

There’s a window in the front of my house. When I look out of it, some days I see the sun shining bright and some days it competes with clouds. Some days water sprinkles from the sky, while other times it falls in sheets, waving with the wind. In winter months, the snow might fall slowly as if dancing to the ground, or fall harder and faster as if it is racing to meet a deadline. During autumn, leaves can be still, slowly float to the ground, or swirl wildly in the air. Wind, temperature, sunlight, precipitation, humidity, barometric pressure – they all play a role in how the weather looks and feels.

There is another window I have. This one I look into. It’s the window to my spirit. If I look intently enough, I can assess the climate and determine the forecast for the day ahead. The state of my spirit has as many varieties as the weather outside. Happiness, stress, guilt, excitement, pain, sadness, fear, anger – they all play a role in how my spirit’s weather feels.

I cannot control what weather Mother Nature blows my way. Some days are destined to be gloomy outside. The gloomy days make the days with sunshine brighter. John Steinbeck said “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?” Both the rain and sunshine are needed to make a rainbow. That’s true for the spirit also. Difficult days make the simpler ones easier to appreciate. Just as I have no control over what Mother Nature sends as weather, I have no control over many circumstances in my life. However, I can influence, and indeed determine, the weather of my spirit at least to some degree (pun intended). Some days it is especially hard to do.

Below are some words that remind me to choose the weather of my spirit instead of allowing circumstances to determine my personal forecast for the day. I hope they help you too.

Stitched message made by my mother-in-law
Stitched message made by my dear friend Melissa

QUOTES FOR A SUNNY DAY: (Credit is given where credit is known.)

After every storm there’s a rainbow, no matter how long it takes to show up. -Grace V., Ohio, on Dove chocolate wrapper

Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect.  It means you’ve decided to see beyond the imperfections.  -Gerard Way

Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” -Melody Beattie

Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity. -J. Sidlow Baxter

Get rid of stinkin’ thinkin’ in your life.

Happiness doesn’t come from doing what we like to do but from liking what we have to do. -Wilford Peterson

Happiness is an internal issue, not an external circumstance.

Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.

He who lives for himself will have small troubles, but they will seem to him great.  He who lives for others will have great troubles, but they will seem to him small.  This is the spirit that is called Christmas.  – E. Paul Hovey

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life.  -Henry Thoreau

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions. -Stephen Covey

I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination. -Jimmy Dean

I find that it is not the circumstances in which we are placed, but the spirit in which we meet them that constitutes our comfort.

If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough. -Oprah Winfrey

It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light. -Aristotle Onassis

It’s easier to act yourself into a feeling than to feel yourself into an action.

Learn to write your hurts in the sand and to carve your blessings in stone.

Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you do hold well. -Josh Billings

Life is like a piano, what you get out of it depends on how you play it. -Tom Lehrer

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. –Charles Swindoll

Live life in the moment as if you only have today to live, but learn as if you are going to live forever. -Ghandi

Make the most of the best and the least of the worst. -Robert Louis Stevenson

No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.

Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is. –Ernest Hemingway

Thankfulness becomes your barrier between you and anger, bitterness, envy, strife.  It doesn’t let them in the door.  – A Thankful Heart is a happy Heart.

The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything.  They just make the best of everything. -Andreas Tsatoumas

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” — Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

The rich person is not the one who has the most, but is the one who needs the least.

The winner says it may be difficult but it is possible.  The loser says it may be possible but it is too difficult.

Things work out the best for those that make the best of the way things work out.

We can’t choose what happens to us in life, but we choose how to tell the story.

What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity?  Our attitude toward it.  Every opportunity has a difficulty; and every difficulty has an opportunity.  – J. Sidlow Baxter

What life means to us is determined not so much by what life brings to us as by the attitude we bring to life; not so much what happens to us as by our reaction to what happens.  -Lewis L.Dunnington

What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. -Plutarch

When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it. -Henry Ford

When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life you have a thousand reasons to smile.

When things go wrong, you don’t have to go with them.

Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. -Henry Ford

Wondrous is the strength of cheerfulness, and its power of endurance.  The cheerful man will do more in the same time, will do it better, will persevere in it longer, than the sad or sullen.  -Thomas Carlyle

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I complained because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet. OR You can be sad you don’t have shoes or be grateful that you have feet.

You can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

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Merci Train Car

Sitting on our state’s fairgrounds is a train car with an written explanation.

This train car grabbed my attention. After learning more about it, it grabbed my heart. For it proves that even after things as senseless and barbaric as war, there is love.

In 1947, after World War II, $40 million in relief supplies were sent to France and Italy by Americans. Seven hundred carloads of food, fuel, and clothing, donated by the citizens of the United States brought relief toward Europe.

In response, two years later, a French rail worker and war veteran initiated a French thank you train project. The Gratitude Train, a gift from France, contained 49 box cars, each filled with gifts to the people of the United States from the people of France. Those cars were distributed to our states.

In a world where war is threatened and hate often seems rewarded, I am drawn to the generosity and gratitude expressed between two countries and their people.

Love and hope ring loudly through the actions shown in this little known part of history. I cling to the goodness of humanity shown here, knowing it still exists in many, if not most, people. It’s a story worth telling and retelling.

Some states’ boxcars have been destroyed or lost; but most states still have one, and the location of yours can be found at this website:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merci_Train

I hope that the picture of this train car and the story summary behind it give you an interest in knowing more, and that it provides encouragement to you in the circumstances of our world and even in your own difficult personal situations.

Love is found in surprising places.

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Two Toddlers and the Toe

Having two toddlers in a room can create some sweet moments. Having two toddlers in a room can lead to some challenging moments. Having two toddlers in a room will certainly provide some humorous moments.

Little Miss sat on the sofa watching all that was going on around her. Little Mister was at that age when he was practicing his walking, and the sofa was just the right height to cruise along it. When Little Mister approached the end of the sofa, Little Miss was sitting with her legs stretched out. Little Mister happened upon Little Miss’s feet. And we know what babies/toddlers like most to do with objects; so anyone watching might have anticipated it, but most of the adults in the room were engaged in conversation.

Little Mister leaned forward until his mouth met with Little Miss’s biggest toe, and that toddler toe fit perfectly in Little Mister’s mouth. Little Miss’s knee-jerk reaction was to jerk her knee, bending it inward. But then, pausing for a moment, she noticed that something about her toe had changed….it was wet! And it deserved to be examined. So she lifted it up, saw it was glistening, then looked down at proud Little Mister who was responsible for the change in sensation. Her facial expression was priceless.

This grandma, who watched the scene unfold, was quite entertained. The camera had been poised for such a moment as this and the pictures allowed it to be relived many times, and shared with you.

No toes were harmed in the capturing of this toddler moment. 

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Hotel Review-STAYBRIDGE INN – MADISON EAST, WI

In December of 2020 and in April of 2021, we stayed at the Staybridge Inn on the east side of Madison. The suite had a separate living area, bedroom and bathroom.

The living area was similar to the picture shown below from the hotel’s website. It was a comfortable and practical space we especially appreciated when family came to visit us there. It had a very homey feel.

Hotel website photo

The kitchen area had a stove, oven, dishwasher, and a full-sized refrigerator, plus plates, bowls, silverware and pots and pans – everything you might need. A burner on the stove wasn’t working.

Hotel website photo

The bedroom looked similar to this website picture:

Hotel website photo

The heavy chair on the side of the bed had to be moved by Mr Legs so my wheelchair could fit next to the bed. The nightstands and lampshades posed a challenge for getting my chair back far enough to transfer in and out of the bed. The space from the foot of the bed to the bathroom was a tight fit for my wheelchair to maneuver through; but I managed it. The big windows in the rooms were appreciated.

The pocket door (instead of a traditional door that gets in the way) was a great feature that gets a thumbs up from us. This one happened to be off it’s track when we arrived, but Mr. Legs fixed it.

This is the picture of the bathroom that I took.

The sink was pretty but not practical. Surprisingly, it didn’t provide much more access to the sink than a traditional inset sink on a vanity. The base made it difficult to roll up to it. The little shelf next to the sink was not sufficient for both of our toiletry bags. The mirror above the sink was placed too high for me to easily use. There was a full-length mirror in the bedroom, but it’s placement in the room meant it was blocked if the door to the living area was open.

I’ve seen many of these hotel showers where the shower seat is too far away from shower controls to allow for independent showering. However, the sliding bar and long hose did reach the seat, making showering with help possible. The box for towels was trendy, but my wheelchair hit it more than once when I backed away from the sink.

Hotel website picture

See that nice soap dispenser below (added later)? It prevents the shower seat from being lifted up. When the seats are down, water splashes off of them which can be unpleasant for those who shower in a standing position.

The two long grab bars at the toilet were more than sufficient and there was plenty of room on the side of the toilet to maneuver a wheelchair. The toilet seat itself is one that slopes inward, which makes balancing on it difficult for someone without full body control.

At one point during our stay, the hotel elevator was stuck and inoperable, so my wheelchair and I weren’t able to get to our room on the second floor before going out. When we notified the front desk, staff called for maintenance right away. The desk clerk said there was a ramp at the end of the building, but our time was limited. By the time we returned, the elevator had been repaired.

Hotel website photo
Hotel website photo
Hotel website photo

The hotel’s variety of breakfast options was impressive and the design of the area allowed free flowing traffic. The comfortable breakfast/gathering area and the exceptional large outdoor courtyard were features we enjoyed a great deal. The décor at this hotel was very pleasing. There were some minor inconveniences, but we had a great stay at this wonderful place. We did return, and will stay there again whenever we are in the area.

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Facebook Flames

Social media can be a minefield. That’s exactly what it was when I saw the entry of a friend there. We’ll call her Diana.

Diana could be very kind, but she also clearly had anger issues that were made apparent through her coarse words about others. On that day, Diana wrote this:

“Not that I want praise…but I swear I get so tired of rude people. Our society thinks it’s perfectly acceptable behavior. Helped an older gentleman in a wheelchair who was really struggling to get up a ramp and into a restaurant this evening. He looked at me like I was dirt. Hey Buddy, don’t mention it. Glad I could help.”

Then someone responded with this:

“Did you ask first? People should be able to choose if they have help or not. If you didn’t ask, you may have seen your desire to help as more important than his desire for independence. If that’s the case, then you may well be mistaken who the rude person is.”

Although the responding comment may seem a bit harsh, a point was made. When a person is confined to a wheelchair, the chair can and should be considered as an extension of the person. The chair, when being used, deserves the same respect as the physical body of the person in it. It’s not acceptable to go up to a stranger and touch them, so why would it be okay to take the handles of someone’s wheelchair without permission? While the man appeared to Diana to be struggling, independence and a sense of accomplishment can be valuable things for someone who has suffered loss of mobility. I understand the desire to help, but it’s important to show courtesy, and it is respectful to ask if your help is needed or wanted before taking action.

What do you think about Diana’s comment and the response?

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Hotel Review-HOLIDAY INN WICHITA EAST I-35

Last July, we traveled to the Wichita area in Kansas and needed a hotel for two nights. We chose the Holiday Inn Wichita East I-35. The hotel is beautiful with it’s warm colors and sleek designs.

It was the first time we had travelled since COVID-19 started, and we discovered that some things about hotels had changed. I was surprised there were so many sitting areas in the lobby until we realized that what used to be the breakfast area was now another area to sit. We had heard from a friend that hotels were not serving breakfast anymore. Social distancing and masks don’t quite fit in with hotel breakfasts as we used to know them. Our friend was given a paper bag breakfast upon checkout from his hotel stay somewhere.  We received no breakfast at this hotel.  Housekeeping did not clean our room until we checked out, which ended up being the standard during the pandemic.  I began to think the room rate should have lowered somewhat without breakfast included and automatic housekeeping, until I began considering all of the new measures hotels are likely obligated to provide for customers and for employees; and I realize that with sanitizing measures and lack of business due to people not traveling, hotels would be fortunate to stay afloat at that point in time.

The basic layout of the hotel’s handicapped bathroom was pleasing to the eye, but not  practical for everyone. At first glance, the shower was welcoming; but it would not be possible for me to adequately manage getting in and out of it. The shower’s doorway was wide enough, but half of the shower space was to the left of the doorway and not open. Specifically, there was not room to transfer from a wheelchair to a shower chair because there was a wall blocking entry. 

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The toilet had one long grab bar on the side of it.  It needed another bar in back of it.  There was a towel rack on the wall, but I had concern it wasn’t sufficiently anchored for me to use it as a grab bar. We carefully tested it, and it likely could have been used; but we would not have wanted to find out the hard way that it was not strong enough.

The sink was set up to allow a wheelchair to slide under it, but the thickness of the counter with the wood piece below it coupled with the longer distance to the sink than usual (because of its shape) prevented me from getting close enough to use it.  Framed mirrors are pretty, but the frame made the mirror itself too high for me to use.  There was a full-length mirror across from the bathroom, but the lighting there was poor.

The way the large bathroom door opened into this room was better than most, but it went past the wall of the bedroom and was awkward to open and close.  There was no low hook on the inside of the bathroom door.

There was ample room on the sides of the bed for my large wheelchair.   I did not check the height of the bed in this room.  Sometimes the height of beds make it difficult for wheelchair users to transfer onto and off of it. My wheelchair has height adjustment so it was not an issue for me.

 The hotel, with its lovely entrance, roomy and welcoming lobby, considerate employees, and nice room with pleasing décor made it a comfortable place to be; but its accessible room/bathroom leaves room for improvements for practicality. Our experience there reminds me that meeting ADA requirements is often not the same thing as easy to use.

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Recalculating

When GPS technology was first available in our vehicles, and a change in direction was necessary to reach a destination, the device would alert the driver with the word “recalculating”.  In a similar way, when MS affects the body, changes in the way tasks are done are necessary and we must recalculate. As a driver of a vehicle must find a new route, a person with MS must find a new way of achieving a task.

Changing the way we move and perform tasks is a way of life for those with a progressive illness.  It becomes a constant theme of “consistently changing”.  Movements can become a complex orchestration of using what body parts still work well, coaxing the ones that partly work, ignoring those that don’t work at all and avoiding those that work against you. Getting it all synchronized to achieve a goal can be a tiring task.  Just as hearing the computerized voice repeat the word “recalculating” became frustrating, having to recalculate tasks becomes frustrating as well.

Like navigating a car in an unfamiliar area, recalculating tasks can involve modifications to direction, sometimes multiple revisions, navigating around construction, breaking familiar patterns, shifting management, negotiating, realizing, executing.  Tasks, previously done independently, might require assistance from another person, or might require that the task be given over completely.

Adjustments must also be made to thinking.  Independence can turn to dependence, pride yields to humility, sometimes hope has to take a backseat to resignation, and contentment may temporarily give the right of way to grief until that also is recalculated.  It’s all part of the journey.

When physical changes mangle my method of achieving a task, when my sense of direction is sabotaged, the memory of that repeated word from the GPS can cause me to chuckle or roll my eyes. In spite of detours, when a task is successfully recalculated and the destination is reached, there’s a sigh of relief and a sense of accomplishment.

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Hotel Review-EMBASSY SUITES, OVERLAND PARK, KS

In February of 2020, we stayed at the Embassy Suites in Overland Park. That was more than a year ago, so the layout and features could have changed between then and now, but I will post the pictures and opinions I have as a comparison to other hotels.

Our corner accessible room at this Embassy Suites had a very large living area, nice sized bedroom and generous bathroom. The wide and layered draperies lent themselves to an elegant feel there, and I must say that my favorite part of the space was the huge drapery pulls that made the window coverings easy for me to open and close from a wheelchair, a luxury I don’t often have.

The bed/bedroom was wheelchair friendly because there was ample room on both sides of the bed to roll up to it and transfer onto it.

The bathroom size was generous, but the layout presented challenges. The sink was relatively easy to roll up to and the mirror was low enough to use. A single lever faucet is easier to use than separate hot and cold controls, but that was a minor inconvenience.

The toilet had one bar behind it, but no bar on either side, which makes transfers onto and off the toilet difficult for someone in a wheelchair. With no wall to attach a bar to, a pull-down grab bar between the toilet and shower would be helpful (if there is room for one).

The shower in this bathroom had good grab bars. It had a height adjustable spray nozzle with a long hose but the shower seat is too far away from the water source for someone sitting there to use the controls and shower without assistance; and it may be difficult for someone to help because the toilet is placed close to the tub. A low soap dish would be an added convenience.

It’s a beautiful place and we enjoyed our stay there. There are many things about the hotel we liked. The breakfast and complementary evening reception at Embassy Suites hotels is beyond compare. The cardboard cover over the television remote signifying it was sanitized was a nice touch, and the room overall was lovely. I do hope that when it comes time to remodel, changes are made to the bathroom to make the space even better for their patrons who have need for accessibility.

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