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Wind Chime Walker

by Lorra Tamplia

A cane is a cane is a cane. Not so, according to Patricia Lay-Dorsey of Detroit and San Francisco, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1988 at age 46. As an artist, writer and storyteller, Lay-Dorsey wouldn’t take to the typical wooden cane. “I shunned orthopedic devices, preferring a crooked-shaped piece of driftwood from the shores of Lake Michigan that I decorated with wood burned designs, feathers and beads. I also used hand carved wooden staffs from Africa.”

After two such canes lost their animal heads when dropped in rain and snow, Lay-Dorsey decided to switch to a metal cane. But these were ugly, she says, so she quickly fashioned a plain aluminum cane into a piece of art: a cane adorned with rainbow-colored tissue paper.

\As the MS progressed, Lay-Dorsey realized a need for a wheeled walker to protect her from falls. “And I thought the cane was ugly!” After receiving the walker, she immediately collaged it. That evening, she was able to walk farther than ever before in her San Francisco neighborhood.

At an herbal shop, she bought a small deerskin pouch filled with herbs and hung it on the front crossbar. “That night, my walker changed from enemy to ally.”
Since then, what many people consider to be a mere orthopedic instrument has become the “windchime walker,” a continually evolving work of art for Lay-Dorsey. She says, “Bells, crystals, windchimes, beads, feathers, Mexican cornhusk flowers, bracelets worn by Bosnian refugee women, a Zen medallion, a copper spiral from a goddess celebration - each with a story to tell - have turned this device into a ritual altar inviting celebration. Children come and play here. Strangers smile and speak. I feel good about myself, and perhaps other differently abled persons get new ideas.” 

People have suggested that Lay-Dorsey patent her idea, but she is more interested in getting others to think about transforming their own adaptive devices into art objects. “It totally changes the energy of having to use such orthopedic-looking equipment.”

Lay-Dorsey, a group-facilitator by profession, occasionally volunteers for a program called Attitudes, sponsored by the Kenny Foundation, a 50-year-old Michigan-based agency that services the mobility impaired. Attitudes is a disability awareness program for young grade schoolers. 

Lay-Dorsey also enjoys keeping busy with the Internet, to “build and maintain communities of like-hearted folks, without my needing to get in my car and drive someplace!” She is active in an online women’s group called Webcrones. “Though I’ve facilitated countless groups of different types over the years, online moderating will certainly offer some new opportunities. Online communication can cut to the heart in ways that face-to-face meetings may not.” 

Of course, a designer walker can invite many intriguing reactions as well. Says Lay-Dorsey, “Responses have ranged from a 3-year-old’s ‘Look, Mommy, she’s a fairy godmother!’ to the multiple-pierced, spike-haired young man who whistled, ‘Killer walker!’”

While deliberately drawing attention to her adaptive devices, rather than hoping they’ll fade into the woodwork, Lay-Dorsey proudly says, “Here I am, world! Don’t ignore my disability; it’s part of who I am. Feel free to notice and comment on my walker! It’s because of her that I’m still on my feet and out here among you.”

Last December, Lay-Dorsey was in a busy chain drugstore. “Walking down the aisle, windchimes tinkling as usual, I saw a row of four women pharmacists behind the counter ahead of me. One was smiling. She said, ‘Would you mind staying right here for awhile? The windchimes feel so nice.’”

“I replied that she should put some above her work station. As I turned to leave, she smiled and said, ‘Thanks so much for coming here today!’ She was obviously not talking about my purchase of one bottle of aspirin!” 

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