It's There for a Reason

"Sandy the school spends like thousands of dollars to get this accessible equipment and then you don't use it. Could you please just... use it?" Asked the staff member behind me as we exited the brick building. I pushed ahead on my joystick, instinctively timed the roll so that I could lift my hands up, push against the doors with both palms, and fling it open just in time to return my wrist to the joystick and seamlessly roll through.
"But the automatic button makes the doors open so slowly! I'd rather just do it myself." The staff person had pushed the handicap button anyway and I could hear the low hum of the automatic doors being held open, you know, just in case someone might take 12 hours to exit; at that point I was already up the ramp and on the sidewalk half way to the dining hall.
I rarely use any accessible equipment. This includes trays that are supposed to be on my wheelchair, any arm or headrests are quickly taken off, and most useless to me is the grab bar in all accessible bathroom stalls. Sometimes when the toilet roll is 500 ft away from me I twist a bit of toilet paper onto the grab bar before getting onto the seat, but otherwise there is never any 'grabbing' of the grab bar on my part. Always I recognize what's there but I enjoy the challenge of NOT using what's there and figuring it out "on my own." Once in awhile though such 'challenges' have literally gotten me stuck, here's one such incident:

Just a note: In Boston the public transportation is called the "T" or the subway. 

I firmly believe that public transportation anywhere, for anyone in a wheelchair, is just a convoluted maze. The mess of outbound, inbound, express trains, elevators to underpasses, elevators to mezzanine, elevators to street level, broken elevators, shuttle buses and special stop subways get me frantically confused. Usually I feel like I'm a mouse running around an underground maze in an experiment for humans when I use the T. So that afternoon was no different.
My disability T pass was ready in hand and, like usual, I went to go tap my card on the accessible gate. I tapped and immediately the embarrassingly awkward "error" noise blurted from the machine. I read the error message on the gate screen: THIS GATE IS NOT IN FUNCTION. PLEASE SEE ATTENDANT FOR ASSISTANCE. As usual, the little booth where a T personnel should be sitting in was empty. I waited a few minutes and still no one came down the stairs. Looking around I spotted an Emergency Box with a red button; I didn't think my situation would be considered an emergency but there was no one else around. So I let out a hesitant sigh and pushed it. Candy wrapper noise came through, and then a few squeaks and some other garbled static. I thought it was probably all the ghosts of the rodents who lost their sorry lives in between the tracks trying to communicate with me; a minute passed and still there was no human voice. Exasperated and not wanting to be late for my meeting I reached THAT point.

"Alright, screw this, I'm just gonna go through the regular gate."
I went to tap my card on the non-accessible gate and it slid open. Unlike most power wheelchairs mine is fairly compact and small; it can turn on a dime and had gotten through some tight corners and entrances before. I trusted that my Silver Bullet wouldn't let me down this time. My wheels slid through the first 5 inches of the gate and then I was stuck. Not just stuck, I was wedged in. As I tried to move the joystick forward or back I could hear the squeaking of my rubber tires against the metal, it was like putting a cork back into the wine bottle - as snug as could be. I began using my arms to push against the sides of the metal gates while using my elbow to guide the joystick through but it was a no-go. I began rocking back and forth in my seat, slamming my back into the seat in hopes of getting something to budge. Finally, after a few intense moments where I flirted with whiplash I was set free. By then a few others had come down to the platform and pretended to not notice my awkward predicament. Quickly I wheeled around, headed towards the elevator to the street level and sped towards the next nearest subway station.

Accessibility Suggestions:

  • I've come to understand that it's true, in most situations, the accessible equipment isn't exactly set to an appropriate size for someone with O.I. But, as I should have in the above situation, assess carefully and don't completely undermine the logic of all public accessibility equipment. 
  • It's important to not "what if..." your life away and to be constantly thinking about "what if this happens.." or "what if that happens..." it's better to have some idea of solutions that might work in more common situations. I.e. who to contact if an elevator is broken, or can you call a friend look up the information for you? What happens if you are injured on the train? What happens if your wheelchair malfunctions? 
  • If you are someone who is older and more experienced with public accessibility, you will probably come to find that many employees aren't sure how to work accessible equipment themselves. Though this can be frustrating it might not always be their fault (maybe someone didn't train them?!). So if you do know how the equipment works guide them through the process, and help them figure it out with you.
  • There are countless places that say they are accessible but, well, may have missed the mark a bit. In some instances the issue might be age of the building, it's a historical site, or budget problems. Whatever is preventing the problem, be sure to let the building managers (or other staff member) know you realize it but it is still "disappointing" or "unfortunate.." Expressing your dissatisfaction in a constructive manner is important to let others in the community know that this cannot be ignored.
  • When elevators break, or "regular" public entrance seems impossible - never underestimate the power of the loading dock at a store, mall, or other large gathering area. 

Posted in , , , . Bookmark the permalink. RSS feed for this post.

One Response to It's There for a Reason

  1. Interesting take on public transportation accessible settings. I've seen my sister, who lives with OI, also getting frustrated, and a bit out of whack with transportation in Los Angeles. I also agree with the mass of confusion thrown at people with disabilities when they embark on urban public transportation. But please, never underestimate the usefulness of special equipment to make life more accessible. It keeps people like you off of serious injuries. Just be careful, and always use tight downs, or seatbelts.


Copyright © 2011 Perfectly Imperfecta. Powered by Blogger.