Quick note: accessibility and typical people

I wrote this yesterday, and didn’t post it because I figured it was just me being cranky. It’s not the biggest issue in my life right now with respect to being a sister to Lily. And then I saw a post on FWD/Foward that dealt with accessibility. So I decided maybe it was worth posting. Here you go…

I had reason to visit a new building today, and to need to wait in a hallway for awhile. During that time, I noticed several people triggering an automatic door opener. After moving closer, I realized that these fast-walking folks were pushing a familiar button with a picture of a stick figure wheelchair user. Then I noticed that I was somewhat frustrated with the situation – many able-bodied people using an accessibility feature as a convenience. (One gentleman actually smacked the button on his way through.) Even worse, the button seemed unusually high up – conveniently placed for a person walking, but perhaps not as much use for someone in a chair or using a walker. (However, I will admit that this is largely speculation on my part. I didn’t measure it or anything.)

Don’t get me wrong – if the convenience factor is enough to motivate designs that improve accessibility, I’m not going to demand that those features be removed. Good for everyone is good for everyone. But knowing how hard it can be as a helper to a PWD to navigate pedestrian space…well, I found myself resenting that people who could open a push-bar door didn’t, and how invisible my struggles – and even more, those of people with conditions affecting mobility – were to them as they breezed on through.

I once dated someone who tried to pay me a compliment because I’d held the door open for a woman struggling to maneuver a stroller into a cafe door. I replied that I was motivated to act because many people have failed to help me when I’ve been out with Lily in her wheelchair.* In my mind, at that time, I had a vivid image of trying to get the chair through the door of the coffee shop up the road from home, where we sometimes walk to get muffins (for her) and croissants (for me), plus coffee and/or treats for our parents. I had to use my feet, knees, elbows, and backside to help her inside one day, when there were several people inside and outside the cafe, and nobody even looked like they were willing to help.

It’s also always interesting to negotiate areas with poor or absent sidewalk with the wheelchair. Ditto trying to push her up the slope of our local river levee, which is a popular place for people who run or ride bikes, although there is a much easier access point further up the river, so maybe I shouldn’t complain as much about that.

* It doesn’t help that Lily is, uh, not her most graceful when we’re trying to get her through difficult terrain. She fusses. Often she complains that we’re not getting to our destination fast enough.

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