Until I became handicapped myself, it never really occurred to me how inaccessible much of the world is. It may appear at first glance as though accessibility is something that people think about a great deal and put a massive amount of effort into making a reality. Sadly, upon closer examination it becomes clear that accessibility is often just an illusion, sometimes a rather dangerous one.
From handicapped spaces with sidewalks blocked by concrete barriers and curbs, to shops fitted with motorized carts and no space to use them, to a million other little things no one ever thought of, handicap accessibility is at best partial.
Take the motorized carts found in most large department stores and groceries these days. What a great thing to offer your customers, right? I mean after all you know your store is large, anyone with limited walking abilities is going to have a hard time shopping. Offering mobility limited shoppers a motorized cart is a great idea, I really couldn’t agree more. But when the thought about using a motorized cart in your store stops at the door, it can become more frustrating than you can imagine.
Have you ever tried to use one of those carts? If you have I bet you have run into something, somewhere in the store, or you had to backtrack in order to get where you wanted to go. The fact is, between clothing racks, aisle displays, and end caps, many stores are not really navigable for the motorized cart.
I have yet to drive one through a clothing department without moving racks. Yep that’s right, you heard me right, I move the racks. No, I don’t get up and push them out of my way, the cart does it for me, as I swear and become frustrated. Because, once again, I’m stuck in a clothing department. Now, I’m pigheaded enough to go ahead and make a path through those racks. Imagine all the well-behaved proper folks driving those? They must avoid those areas all-together or risk becoming stuck. So Grammy can go to Target, but she can’t shop for clothes there. That’s not accessibility.
The next, most frequent, frustration I run into in public is handicap accessible bathrooms. Don’t get me wrong, handicap accessible bathrooms are generally properly sized and definitely essential for navigating out in the world. The last thing anyone wants is for someone to not be able to access a bathroom if they need to. I’m grateful that the world is full of them. However, it baffles me that nowhere is there a way to wash your hands inside a handicap stall. Consider this, being a person who uses a cane, crutches or wheelchair. You go into the handicap stall, do your business, flush and get ready to leave. Now you have to touch the arms of your wheelchair or the handles of your crutches or cane, so you can get to a sink outside the stall and wash your hands. Anyone else grossed out? What if I told you that most canes these days have a spongy handle? Pretty disgusting huh? A simple hand sanitizer dispenser near the toilet would help greatly to lower my gross out level.
While we are discussing bathroom struggles, how about those doors? If you are weak, using crutches, a wheelchair or a cane, doors are likely one of your biggest struggles. When I go into a public restroom at a restaurant, I tell the people I’m with send someone if you don’t see me in 10 minutes. Why? Because I’ve been trapped in the bathroom more than once. Heavy fire doors, while understandably helpful in a fire situation, are a massive pain in the ass if you are handicapped. In the day and age where we have automated practically everything, can we please also automate the doors? I have nightmares about being trapped in a bathroom. At the very least, I think we can agree that all medical facilities should have accessible doors. Believe it or not, the local bone density scanning center does not have handicap accessible door button. Crazy huh?
Speaking of crazy, there is nothing filled with much more crazy than handicapped parking. Between people parking where they shouldn’t and spaces that were never really designed for handicapped people (a sign does not create accessibility), we have a really loooong way to go to solve this most common issue. Take a closer look at those spaces, where are they? Some are on the wrong side of the building, with ramps and doors accessible for wheelchair users on the opposite end of the building. Some have lovely concrete barriers between them and the sidewalk. A massive barrier to anyone with wheels or a balance issue. Many more are snugged up next to broken curbs, crumbling medians, and potholes. Minor irritations if you have no physical limitations, dangerous pitfalls if you are mobility challenged.
While we are on the subject of danger in accessibility, lets take a closer look at ramps and entryways. Before I became handicapped I never really paid much attention to these things. I took for granted when I saw a ramp that it was functional and safe. I didn’t need to use them, so I never really looked close. You’d be shocked how many ramps are not really accessible. Frequently the bottom of the ramp or entrance to the ramp is deteriorated and eroded. I’ve even seen many ramps that end with a small step, I wish I was kidding.
Other ramps are so steep you’d have to be a daredevil to take a run at them. It’s a matter of attending to detail.
Existence of a ramp doesn’t provide access unless the ramp is safe and accessible. All year. This means not attending to ice at the bottom of your ramp makes it inaccessible. You’d be shocked how many times I’ve had to point that out when I’ve gotten inside an establishment. It’s like people somehow think those in wheelchairs who’ll be using that ramp can’t slip.
Sure, they are less likely to fall down, but they also might not be able to come in and shop at your store or eat at your restaurant. If they do come in, they may slide into your parking lot or the street at the end of that icy ramp. Not great options. Salt the ramp when you salt the stairs.
Having limited mobility comes with a lot of challenges. Taking a little time to look at your place of business from the perspective of someone with limited mobility can make a huge difference. Every little thing we can do to make each other’s lives less of a challenge can be a huge deal to someone who is struggling everyday.
Do you struggle with limited mobility? What do you find frustrating and inaccessible?