Monday, September 20, 2010


I like to believe that I am at least a partially enlightened person. However, something happened that made me realize how wrong I was.
It is simple to believe that we as a society are accepting of people with mobility issues. After all, they have all the good parking spots right? Until you are faced with a mobility issue yourself, you don't see how inaccessible our world can be.
After my son had surgery on his knee, he was in a wheelchair for trips to the mall. We tried to get into his favorite video store. It was almost impossible. The aisles were not straight so it required alot of  maneuvering to get him in. When we wanted to leave it required a delicate dance of back and forth movements to get him out. It certainly would have been easier if the people standing watching us would have moved out of the way. Instead they stood behind us or when we backed up, they moved to take the spot we were just in. We then would have to wait for them to move so we could continue our dance to get out of the store. What a horrible experience.
After my knee surgery, I was on crutches. I had to get to the College to write my final exam. All public buildings must be accessible by law. That is great but it is obvious no one with a mobility issue was ever consulted during the construction of the buildings. My exam was on the second floor. Yes there is an elevator. There is however a huge problem with that. The parking is between buildings E and F. The elevator is in building D. So, once i made it up the ramp and into the building, I had to hobble to the next building in order to get on the elevator. Once I arrived on the second floor, I had to hobble my way through buildings D, E and F in order to get to my exam. It was a good thing I have a paranoia about being late and I always try to arrived everywhere early. It took me twenty minutes to get from the elevator to the exam room. When you add in the twenty minutes it took me to get back to the elevator I spent more time walking than I did actually writing the exam. I was exhausted by the time  got back to the car. Why is there not an elevator in each building? We were lucky, in our case it was temporary. I feel for the people who must spend their life in a wheelchair.
My Father contracted Polio when he was a child. He was lucky and survived. He spent many months in a hospital far from family and friends. He was only a child and he was all alone. That story always break my heart, but that is a post for another day. My Father was not confined to a wheelchair. He had many years where he was able to walk. While running was not something he could do, he was still able to live a good life. As he ages though, his mobility is rapidly decreasing. This has opened my eyes to the difficulty he faces. While he gets a good parking spot at the mall, he has trouble negotiating the floors in the mall. Until you have an issue walking, you don't realize how slippery those stupid floors are. I discovered this myself when I had to use crutches after my surgery. One wet spot on the floor and you quickly become road kill. Something as simple as an unexpected uneven door entrance can send you sprawling. Now they are looking at moving into a condo but his needs make it difficult to find one for them. He needs close parking since he can't walk far especially in the winter with the snow and ice. He also needs very few stairs inside the condo and an elevator is a necessity. He finds walking on carpet hard so he would like hardwood or laminate. Of course builders are willing to do that at first. They say it is all easy to do and of course it is included in the cost. Then they come back and say they can do it all but of course since he has special needs, they will have to increase the price for him. While it may not be discrimination, it certainly does make finding housing difficult.
I was pleased to find one builder who actually took all of these things into consideration. He was showing us the condo. In the kitchen, he was showing us the door open button. It was halfway across the kitchen. He admitted at first he didn't understand why it was there. Then it was explained to him that if you are in a wheelchair and have to press the button to open the door, quite often you don't have time to get out of the way of the door opening and you get hit with the door. I am ashamed to admit, I hadn't thought of that either. This condo had considered many mobility issues and had included them at no extra cost. I was impressed until we got to the laundry room. Most condos now don't have room for the traditional washer and dryer. They only have room for the stacking sets. Great for space saving , but think about it for a moment. If you are in a wheelchair, how on earth are you supposed to reach the top buttons to turn on the machine? It is impossible. Unless you have a poking stick like Homer Simpson. The you just have to cross your fingers and hope you didn't just wash your best wool sweater in the hottest setting since you can't see that far up to see what button you are pressing. I don't understand how a builder who had seemed to have thought of everything could overlook something so basic.
Here is the part that I am embarrassed to admit I had never even thought of. Before school started, I took my daughter to get her hair cut. As I was waiting for her  a woman came into the shop. She looked around and then asked if they were able to accommodate a child in a wheelchair. The lady was assured they were able to so the lady went out to her van. She then maneuvered her child and his wheelchair out of the van and into the shop. Until that moment, it had never occurred to me that something we think is so simple, such as getting a haircut, actually requires planning on the part of someone with a mobility issue. I had never before really looked at a barber shop to see how much space is between chairs. Is there enough room for a wheelchair? How do you cut the hair of a child in a wheelchair? Is the barber comfortable enough to do it?
While I am thankful that I am relatively healthy I am also feeling very self involved. How could I not notice these things before? I wonder how many other people have never thought of these things either. How patient must people with mobility issues be to live with this every day and not constantly complain. I don't think I could do it. Could you?