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Thrifty sisters maneuver the city for cheap summer activities  

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The secret to Sarah Hart and Olivia Rice’s bond is their mutual desire for adventure and cheap outings. Over the past three years, the two have become experts at finding inexpensive hangs with high degrees of wheelchair accessibility. 

The pair met at the special-education Heartwood School in Mason, where Rice was one of Hart’s students. Rice, 27, has cerebral palsy and an underlying progressive neurological condition which requires her to use a wheelchair. Toward the end of Rice’s time in school, her best friend died. Hart, 31, asked Rice if she wanted to join her in running a 5K in her friend’s honor, and the two have been inseparable ever since.

Hart said it was frustrating when she and Rice first started hanging out because people would assume she was Rice’s mother.

“The problem I think is people see someone with a disability in public and they think the only person who would take them out is someone from their family,” Hart said.

After consulting Rice’s actual mother, Hart started referring to Rice as her sister when in public. When Rice graduated from Heartwood, she was moved to a group home where “they just sat the residents in front of the TV,” according to Hart. 

“For Liv, the real focus was taking her out,” She added. “Nobody gets out much except for her.” 

Favorite low-cost summer activities 

This year’s best low-cost hang was participating in the Lansing Fourth of July Parade with the East Lansing Roller Derby team, which Hart officiates for. Hart said the duo started out with a Dollar General haul for “patriotic nonsense” to decorate Rice’s chair. Other activities Rice enjoyed were watching the East Lansing roller-gals practice — which is completely free — and attending this year’s state tournament ($10 for adults). 

Second on the list this season came Hawk Island. There is a $3 charge for residents to park your car. The paved sidewalks from the parking lot to the water park make it easy for Rice and Hart to maneuver. After putting a trash bag over Rice’s chair, she could experience the splash pad and its mushroom-like fountains.

New this summer, the thrifty duo has dived into antique shopping, naming the Mega Mall as their favorite location. Hart finds antique sales around the area through Facebook, but she recommends that even if a store says they are wheelchair accessible, to still call ahead for clarification. 

Not the best hang

On the not-so-great list for accessible adventures are older buildings, such as the Turner-Dodge House, in north Lansing. The Victorian building does have a ramp to get inside, but there is no access above the first floor for those with mobility restrictions. While attending a donation-based event at the old residence last year, Hart had to haggle to not be charged for two adults, considering all the action was taking place on the second floor.

“We went to an antique store in Mason and there was a step, so I opened the door and asked the lady where the accessible entry was, and she was like, ‘Let me go check in the back,’” remarked Hart. “I was like ‘How do you not know if your building is accessible or not?’” 

The woman returned with bad news and assured Hart that one single step wouldn’t make much of a difference. Hart, a paraprofessional that provides in-home care, thought otherwise and she took Rice home. 

Overall, Hart said that most places are easy access, including East Lansing’s free downtown concert series, MSU’s botanical gardens and the Downtown Lansing Library. Hart added that while she and Rice both have the means to attend ticketed events, free events offer more “interesting” experiences.

“If you are willing to put in the effort to try something new, generally it’s worth it,” she said. “Trying new things should never be disappointing just because you are with someone who has a mobility restriction or disability.”

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