What's the Message?
Saturday, October 10, 2015 at 9:40PM
Judith Nitchie in ADA, Aging, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, POTS, accessibility, accommodations, advocacy, ambulation, mobility, obstacles, wheelchairs


What's wrong with this picture?


As if to reinforce the self-cancelling signage (above), the 'accessible' exit to the mall's parking garage is locked. What now? Where do we go?

The automatic door opener to the pharmacy is blocked by a large trash can. It's a heavy door for an able-bodied person. For someone in a wheelchair it might as well be a solid wall.

Mary takes her 85 year old mother Sylvie, who is wheelchair bound and oxygen dependent, shopping. They need a bathroom fast. They are directed to elevators and multiple crisscrosses the length of the store; but Mary's biggest challenge is to manipulate the wheelchair through a heavy, inaccessible door to the hallway that leads to the accessible bathroom. Clearly there is no way a person in a wheelchair without an assistant or superhuman strength could reach the bathroom by this route.

What do we do about these obstacles? The 'way in' to the pharmacy is out of reach. You can't get to the bathroom unless you have the ability to manage a weighted door. The 'accessible' door to the parking garage is locked with no posted alternate route. Vehicles block the sidewalk ramps my neighbor depends on to get home.

Good that these handicap assists-door openers, sidewalk ramps, etc. are springing up everywhere. But that trash can, that locked door, blocked sidewalk ramps, the heavy doors to get to the accessibility....

These seemingly small things can make a huge difference in quality of life. And yet we don't see them. I didn't see them, not really, before I got ill.

I ask my neighbor who has lived with Cerebral Palsy all of his life: "Why don't we all notice? Why didn't I?" Victor responds, "People don't notice because they never had to."

Can we learn to notice before we have to, before it gets personal? Let's try.

And what to do with these new eyes of ours? Share what you see with your people. If you are able, push the trash can out of the way. Don't block the sidewalk ramp. Give up your bus seat if someone needs it more. Open the door for someone less able. Don't wait for the next person to take care of it.

Notice before you have to. Maybe by the time you need it, we can reliably assume accessibility.


Article originally appeared on chronic illness, grief and loss counseling and therapy in San Francisco, California (http://www.chronicillnesssf.com/).
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