The (In)Accessibility of Places

"You're really not missing out on much, it's just a big glass tube that goes all the way down. You can see the same things from down here." 
The rest of my friends had raced up the spiral staircase that wrapped around an enormous see-through tube at the New England aquarium. We were all on a sixth-grade field trip and for some reason or other the elevator wasn't working, or things were still under construction. I can't remember the reason but the point was that what should have been accessible to me was not.

For many of us who use wheelchairs this is a daily life occurrence. Now that I am older I recognize that I need to take the initiative to figure out whether a place or an event is accessible or not. This can be as simple as looking up a location on or calling ahead of time to make sure that all elevators etc are in working order. As a city dweller I have found that researching in advance is particularly helpful when traveling on public transportation. Looking things up to make sure that all elevators are in working order or what alternative travel routes may be can save hours of hassle later on; though I will say that it is slightly inconvenient that I am not able to just head out the door and know with 98% certainty that I will be able to get to my destination without any major loops.

As a young child I was usually with an adult who would be able to carry me or help to lift my wheelchair up a few steps, or over a curb cut. Since I went to school in a suburb of Boston, growing up we had numerous field trips of the historical sites around the city - as you could probably assume many of those sites were back in the days of colonial and revolutionary times. Cobble stone walkways, historical buildings unable to be renovated, old foot bridges, nature walks, battle fields, forts, or old ships were some of the frequent attractions that our class would troop through. I would dread filling out the work-sheets as I stayed behind or had to go alllll the way around and through some ridiculous entrance to get to where everyone else was. Other times I would just stay put and not even attempt to roll through a colonial house that had a doorway that looked like it was about to collapse.

Now that I'm older I can still have someone carry me into a building or lift my wheelchair it's just... a little.. silly. Okay, a lot silly, in my opinion. Recently I met someone who does panorama shots of different locations - one of which happened to be one of my favorite places in all of Boston: The Boston Public Library. My grandparents worked there for decades and I had grown up in their home. I remember my parents would set me down on the floor of the children's room and let me crawl around pulling books off the shelves, but I had never seen what is known as the 'old entrance' to the library due to the marble staircases. At least not until almost two decades later when I came across the panorama on the website here.
Finally! I could see the entrance of the building that had allowed me into so many other worlds and the lives of characters both real and fiction. To be able to see that as an adult after the tremendous impact the library had on me as a child was almost shocking; I was in awe of technology, the skills of the photographer, and the full circle that viewing the images brought me. All the memories slammed into me like waves and days after I first found the image I found myself returning to poke around it again. (What's neat about the panoramas is that viewers can click around the image as if they were standing at the location themselves). And that's when an idea struck me -
I want(ed) every place that wasn't accessible to have panoramic views available to visitors! Though this will certainly take awhile and not every location will allow pictures to be taken, it's an idea and I believe one that is feasible. I have long since overcome the anger and resentment I used to hold towards historical sites that were not accessible, it's still disappointing and a bummer but in an odd way I have great hope, curiosity, and excitement for the boundary that these places set up in front of me. It's not so much a wall that keeps me out so much as I recognize it as a technique for preservation, it's a mystery that I have respect for because I am unable to experience it... yet.

Accessing inaccessibility:

  • Research in advance and plan ahead,  this usually involves contacting locations
  • Sometimes you will have to ask ahead of time for a map or a tour that includes all the accessible routes/entrances
  • Some events are not always safe for someone with O.I. (i.e. public pillow fights) but letting event coordinators know in advance can allow necessary precautions to be taken to allow maximum participation
  • Many concerts will have special wheelchair seating locations already marked out, these areas also allow individuals to bring friends with them as well
  • If the wheelchair is a school-aged child, having a buddy or a close friend go with him or her through accessible entrances/routes will help kids to feel less isolated
  • If possible, travel to new places and locations where you are uncertain of accessibility with a family or friend
  • Sometimes you will have to be innovative and make the place accessible yourself! I have gone to buy a plank of wood from Home Depot to create a ramp at friends' houses, or sat in office chairs with wheels, been pulled in wagons etc. 

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