Accessibility, or a lack thereof.

As I’ve written previously, I had a fall in May and suffered a badly broken ankle and extensive ligament damage. The recovery period required me to be off of my feet for 3 months. In that time, I used both crutches and a scooter to get around. I preferred the scooter over the crutches, hands down. It made transportation so much easier, but it brought up new issues. I hate to admit that I had never thought too much about accessibility before. This whole experience really opened my eyes to issues that others face on a daily basis.

In no particular order:

  • Carpet pile can really slow a person down! I visited several locations that had plush, high pile carpet. This made it very difficult for me to push my scooter, which tired me out very quickly. My architect husband told me that when he designs certain building types, he needs to spec low pile carpet for this very reason.
  • Thresholds were my nemesis! Anytime I had to move from one room to another with a threshold, I had to be very mindful and slow down even more. Thresholds were like speed bumps for my scooter. In some places, the thresholds were impossible, er impassible. Slabs of marble without eased edges are very difficult to get wheels to roll over.
  • “Accessible” showers in hotels vary quite a bit. I stayed in accessible rooms at two hotels. In the average hotel chain, the shower was merely a regular tub shower with a lot of grab bars installed. I had to lower myself down to sit on the floor of the tub to shower with the handheld showerhead (yuck). With all of the upper body strength needed to lower myself down and pull myself up, I felt like a contestant on Ninja Warrior. At the upper-end hotel chain, the shower was a stall shower with a fold-down seat. This was a lot more convenient to get in and out of, but there was no separator on the floor to divide the shower from the rest of the bathroom. Every time I showered, the entire bathroom floor got soaked and I had to lay towels down so that I wouldn’t slip on the wet floor. Eventually, the hotel staff saw my towels all over the floor and put down a strip of foam to block the water but it didn’t help. Neither shower scenario was ideal for a person with accessibility concerns.
  • To my surprise, not all buildings have accessible bathrooms. I had a doctor appointment and there wasn’t an accessible bathroom in the entire building. It was rather difficult maneuvering my scooter into the bathroom. There was a very heavy wood door. I had to get my scooter over the raised threshold and into the small bathroom. The stalls were all small, so I could not go into one with my scooter. I had to leave it in the main area of the bathroom and hop on one foot into the stall. This one trip to the bathroom was tiring! It was shocking to me that this situation existed in a building full of medical practices.
  • Ramps are not always pitched very well. I nearly fell many times because ramps were pitched too steeply. A few times I had to drag my good foot by the side of my scooter to slow me down because I couldn’t slow down with just the brake on my scooter.
  • There are pitfalls everywhere! I had to be on the lookout for things that my wheels would get stuck on. I took a photo of an uneven drain in the floor of my hotel room. It was so sunken into the floor that my wheel would get stuck and not come back out. I’d have to lift my scooter up to get out of that canyon to move forward. This was just an example, but I got stuck in a lot of places. Cracks in sidewalks, gaps in elevators, soft ground, and so on.
  • Sometimes I just had to face the fact that I couldn’t go somewhere because my scooter wouldn’t fit, or I couldn’t traverse the location in crutches, or I simply couldn’t get a ride. It crushed me to admit that I couldn’t do everything that I wanted to do. It made me sad that I couldn’t go everywhere I wanted to go. I had to cancel plans, including some trips and conferences. The loss of independence was the hardest for me to deal with.

The purpose of this post isn’t to complain. This post isn’t meant to trivialize the struggle that people with real and permanent disabilities face each and every day. This experience truly opened my eyes to what others go through. It’s made me more compassionate and understanding. It will help me empathize with students who deal with physical limitations in my classroom, making me a better teacher.

I thought I had taken more photos along the way, but I guess I didn’t. At least I got a few! 🙂