It's Always an Adventure

Of the many ridiculously random skills that I have, one my friends enjoy is my knack for turning everyday events into an adventure. They might think they're just bringing Sandy along for the conversation when they're going to buy errands, but little do they know that instead they'll take a trip down the cargo elevator and then trek across what seems like a snowy Alaskan tundra to go back to the dorms. Whether it's getting stuck in a snowbank, looking for appropriate curb cuts, finding accessible entrances, or getting wheelchair lifts to work - what should be a simple mundane task always manages to become some humorously awkward hoopla.

Well, this one time when we went to go see a movie it was no different:

We were told that the movie we were seeing in would be upstairs, and the dreaded words "follow me, we'll take the lift..." were uttered from the usher's mouth. 
This is just my opinion but whenever I need to follow anyone to "THE LIFT" I begin to get a bit annoyed. There is probably a lot behind architectural codes and building requirements that I don't understand, but why can't we replace those shifty tin boxes that jolt up and down 5 ft at a turtle's pace with an elevator? Or better yet just a ramp of some kind? I'm sure every wheelchair user knows what I'm talking about. You roll into, quite literally a box, and the metal door slams shut. Immediately you feel like you're in a cage, or maybe some kind of amusement park ride - like this particular one at the movie theater. After a series of cranks, slides, flips, and pulling the lap bar across me - the usher had locked me inside of the metal box. This particular lift hung onto the railings of the stairwell, which by the way, was accessed by going down a rather shady hallway. And isn't it always accessed via some shady hallway?! She then took the control box which was attached to the contraption by a cord that looked like it belonged to an old fashioned telephone. The bungee jump cord was spiraled and tangled a bit, but nevertheless she got it to work. She flipped the ON switch, and pressed the magical red button - from somewhere lights began to flash, and - I kid you not - a THEME song began to play. And did you ever notice the uncertain silence that accompanies these situations? You, as the wheelchair user, appear too confident in your silence as you sit there self-assured that Yes, This Is Just Another Day In My Life - while the operator of the machine silently responds with: Yeah, I Am Just Doing My Job. Usually only a "are you ready? Here we go" is exchanged between the two parties. She walked along side me as the tin box ascended the staircase. I felt a bit like an animal being walked with a leash attached to me. 

The contraption spun around a turn on the stairwell and glided to the top of the staircase. She unlatched, unlocked, slid open, lifted up, pressed OFF, and soon I was released from the tin box. My friend and I went into Theater 1 and sat happily watching a big screen for the full 2 hours of the movie. But then we it was time to go back downstairs. 
It was someone different who operated the clanging box this time. Not thinking that it would be an issue, I told my friend that he could wait for me in the lobby and that I would meet him there in a bit. This someone different secured me into the box in the same way the first person did. Except somehow she had gotten the bungee cord wrapped around the gears of the contraption, or something like that. The point was that after 5 minutes nothing was moving, I was still at the top, patiently awaiting for the theme music to turn back on and for my slow descent to the lobby. As she fussed and tugged at the bungee cord I attempted to put a helpful look on my face. But contorting my face muscles into one of patience and calm is, I will admit, rather difficult for me. Especially when in my mind I began to play Worst Case Scenarios in my head. Would I be stuck here for hours? Will I have to leave my wheelchair here? What if this stupid box suddenly breaks on the staircase with me in it?! Will I plunge to my death? And on and on I went... 
It wasn't long after that I exchanged a few frantic text messages with my friend. We decided that he would carry me out of my wheelchair and sit me down on the bench in the lobby. It was deemed safer for the staff at the movie theater to figure out how to get my wheelchair down without me in it. 
"Sandy it's going to be okay. This doesn't really make sense - they are saying that your wheelchair might have been too heavy for the lift to begin with but you went up the staircase without a problem, going down should have been easier." My good friend sat next to me in the lobby and tried to calm me down. I sat there silent, I'm sure he could hear the wheels in my head squeaking away with a frenzy of worry and a bit of embarrassment. I thought to myself: We were just seeing a movie. Why does everything need to be such a hassle with me?! I told him that I felt bad, that it was embarrassing, that I couldn't believe this was actually happening. 

"Hi, so it's your wheelchair eh? Are you okay?" A paramedic crouched down next to me, she had blue latex gloves on. I told her that I was totally fine, that I was just chilling with my complimentary water bottle and now, 15 min later my friend and I were just hanging out with some free movie tickets the manager had given us. And why is it that emergency personnel always ask the most obvious questions? Clearly I am okay! Clearly my wheelchair is stuck. And even more so, clearly, more than 2 people were needed to carry my power wheelchair down the 2 flights of stairs. 
They called "man power" in for back-up and in a few minutes a firetruck had pulled up to the front of the theater. In walked several muscular firemen. They walked in confidently, were directed to where the problem was and though I still had to wait helplessly on the bench, just seeing them made me more hopeful. Within a few minutes of their arrival they came through the door, then they came around the concession stand and I saw a firefighter steering my wheelchair over to me. I smiled, but my grin of relief didn't come until after my friend had put me back into my wheelchair. Everything was working, everything felt the same, I was glad to have my independence literally back under me. 

Trouble-Shooting in Public:
  • Life happens and especially with public accessibility devices you can't always expect them to work 100% of the time. You can only hope and do your best to remain calm. I've learned that it doesn't change the situation much if you are sitting there frantic with worry and embarrassment over the situation
  • Tell yourself that things will work themselves out sooner or later. There are emergency personnel, elevator technicians, staff, caring friends, and your own knowledge - amongst all of that a solution will be found!
  • If your wheelchair does need to be carried or moved down/up stairs or into/out of a building - I have found it safer for me to NOT be in the seat while the chair is being moved. Have a friend or a staff person you feel confident with help seat you somewhere else that is away and safe from the commotion. 
  • Though I didn't know it at the time, I now know that it's helpful to know how much your wheelchair weighs so that you can tell employees or emergency workers what to expect
  • Don't feel embarrassed! I have learned that it's the responsibility of the place to have their equipment functioning and in working order. 
  • Making a fuss and aggravating the situation even more so as it is happening tends to put everyone involved on edge and the entire situation can become tenser. If you choose to do so, you can appropriately express your disappointment or concern with how things were handled after the problem has been solved. 

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