You?ve probably heard all this before, but it bears repeating again. In our society today, much needs to be done to make life a little easier getting around for people in wheelchairs, walkers, forearm crutches, and even the elderly. It is true that at one time we rarely saw people with limited independence using sidewalks, leaving buildings and homes, going about towns as if they were a visible part of our society. Admittedly, things have changed a lot, but things need to improve even more.
First of all I would like to say that I am not a person with a physical disability. However, I do live with someone who was born with a disability. Sometimes I see the challenges through her eyes and the frustration that exists from day to day living in a world that is constructed for people of physical ability.
I am sure that I could come up with much more of the few things that I will talk about here, but I do hope to make a few points on things that are not easily examined by those of us with complete independence. I mean, why think about such things when we don?t have to live with limitations day in and day out?
Sidewalks, for instance, are not built for people who have a hard time getting around. Yes, some sidewalks have ramps, which do make things a little easier for someone in a wheelchair to get from point A to point B. Unless you?ve been out there with someone in a wheelchair or walker, however, you wouldn?t notice that the way sidewalks were put together were not well thought out.
For example, my daughter and I like to go to the corner store near our home, which should have meant one direct crossing at the streetlights. The location we cross offers a ramp of some sort, on one corner, but when you reach the other side, there is none. Either we are forced to walk on the edge of a busy street to get to the store once we reach the other side or we have need to cross two lights on the opposite side of the street to walk on a sidewalk that has a ramp. This means we have to go to the store the long way from the other side when the store itself is on our side. Why should a person of disability or anyone for that matter have to go the long way to use a ramp to get someplace and why should anyone have to walk on a busy street simply because someone neglected to put a ramp. Sometimes sidewalks are built on once side of the street only so that a person who needs to get somewhere must go the long way to get to their destination. This just doesn?t make sense.
To get to the store, we need to wait for the light to turn green. When it finally does, there are only a few seconds to get to the other side. If my daughter could run, she would, just to make it to the other side before the light turns red. She can?t. And why should she. No one runs to get to the other side to keep time with the light. The light changes even before anyone, including me, can make it through. I could understand if this was a race to get to the finish line, but this is everyday living for her and for people like her. It?s bad enough that we have to wait an eternity for the light to change in our favour, only to see it fade fast once it does. This creates fear and anxiety for her to cross at the lights.
Once we reach the store, I see what she faces in many existing businesses ? high counters. They?re not going to change everything in society for just a few people — you might be thinking. This is the way things are and they?d better adapt. It?s easy to think such things when you aren?t the one living with limitations. Of course, things would be different if you were walking a mile in their moccasins.
Then she has the experience of not being able to go to the back of stores because obstacles stand in the middle of floors or because the rows were built too narrow. Or she can?t enter stores at all because the doors are made too narrow or the doors are too heavy to open. If you had to stand on forearms crutches or had to manoeuvre a wheelchair, you would probably find this just as challenging. Only we don?t think about this because this isn?t our life. It?s theirs to live. Why should we bother worrying about such things.
A couple of not-so-neat things happen in stores that makes me wonder if people even consider what it would be like for them if they had to live through this. In one case, we went into a large retailer and requested a wheelchair to bring our daughter into the store. Our car is too small and the chair is too heavy for us to transport. In addition, we know that many stores carry wheelchairs now for consumers to use when shopping. (Yes, there are special busses, but sometime we want to go together as a family just like the average family). In this once incident, I walked into the store requesting a wheelchair so that our daughter could come shopping with us. The clerk?s response was stunning; ?You do realize that we aren?t supposed to allow you to take the wheelchair out of the store.? Think about this for a minute. How are we supposed to get her from the car into the store if we aren?t supposed to take the wheelchair outside? A store representative did apologize once we asked them this very important question.
The other incident that still makes me scratch my head with doubt about the common sense of certain people happened one day when my brother-in-law came to visit us from out of town. He too was born with a physical disability. We decided to go for a walk in a mall and requested two wheelchairs. Both he and my daughter can use the wheelchairs without assistance and neither requires powered ones. In this situation, we were stupefied. Forced to swallow their dignity, both my daughter and brother-in-law were forced to use chairs, which required assistance from us. Neither chair had hand held wheels that they could push for themselves throughout the mall. So much for their independence and dignity. I think someone was trying to protect their property and prevent thefts of wheelchairs; consequently, they decided to acquire these sit-and-be-pushed-by-others wheelchairs. Otherwise, they would have chairs vanishing underneath their noses. Picture this, physically challenged individuals stealing wheelchairs right under the mall staff?s noses. This would be ?chair way robbery? at its worst.
Normally, people think doorways are nothing to really complain about as they deal with them daily. Even the average person may find doors troublesome to get through at times if entering buildings with no automatic doors. Imagine a person who already has limitations. Some doors are so heavy even elderly people struggle to get in and out of buildings. If you have to handle forearms crutches, a walker or a wheelchair, if you are elderly, or if you are a mother with an infant in tow, this proves even more a challenge. Imagine if you can?t see what?s on the other side of that heavy door because your disability includes shortness of stature. There you are standing struggling to open this heavy metal door and someone pushes through from the other side at the speed of light.
Then there are ramps that are so steep that it?s impossible to use them. At the onset, they may look as though the owner of the building had them built to make the building more accessible. My daughter and I have concluded that these ?Mount Rushmore? ramps are placed there for deliveries only and not to make life easier for people with disabilities.
The other odd thing about ramps is that they are placed in the most ridiculous places. In one case, the ramps are placed at the drive through where people in cars pick up their orders at the windows. In another case, the ramp is placed at the far end of the building where one has to park a good distance from the entrance.
Why not give priority to serving people of disability first at cash register counters? This may be a hard pill to swallow for people in a hurry to get from one place to the other. Some places have already gotten the idea of making things easier by providing carts for people in wheelchairs or electric scooters. Some have built lower counters. They offer counters for eight items or less. Why can?t they have counters for people of disability?
This next thing on my list isn?t necessarily just about people in wheelchairs. It could be for someone in crutches, someone in a walker, mothers with babies in strollers. Mainly it?s about elderly people with brittle bones; people who cannot free stand on their own, or just anyone who has trouble standing. Maybe it?s just me, but do bus drivers take off like a shot or stop on a dime to maintain their schedules? It?s rather scary to watch an elderly person board the bus, attempting to sit down before the driver steps on the gas. It?s also rather frightening to see them jerk to a stop with a mother and her baby in tow. Imagine a person with a walker or someone with crutches.
The bottom line is that much more can be done to ease the lives of people who struggle everyday through no fault of their own. Let?s do something to make their lives easier. Let?s make it happen.