Last week we left Lady X in a service hallway, 20 minutes late to meet her friend at a restaurant for lunch. Why was she late? Because she encountered access issues with her cab driver, and the absence of a truly accessible ramp to get down to the restaurant courtyard.
Lady X uses a motorized mobility scooter because of physical difficulties. Her co-pilot is her PTSD dog, Saben. We first met Lady X and Sir Saben in This post about her experience working with a service dog that doesn’t fit peoples’ expectations when they think “service dog.” Now she’s sharing her perspective on the gap between the wheelchair accessibility regulations in the Americans with Disabilities act (1990) and modern construction trends.
Let’s continue following Lady X on her harrowing adventure through the 21st century.
Lady x is late, tired, and frustrated. She’s texted her friend letting her know about the delays, but that doesn’t make things much better. She’s just rolled up to the service door that should let her into the restaurant from the back hallway she’s forced to use because of the steep, narrow ramp in front. The door looks heavy. It’s a fire door, it should be heavy.
And it doesn’t have an automatic opening system.
“What if they have employees in wheelchairs?” Lady x wonders. “What about convenience? It’d be easier to move carts and tables and whatever through here if they’d just bother to install the automatic opening button…”
She grabs the handle and heaves it open. She has to reverse the scooter for a couple feet to get it open wide enough that she can then roll through, awkwardly keeping her arm extended to prevent it from crashing back closed on her.
She’s through! The smell of grilled meat and tempo of exotic music lifts her spirits, but only for a second. Now she has to try to find pathways between tables and chairs wide enough for her scooter. In order to accommodate her body type, need to carry things with her (like. Purse or backpack), and remain stable on turns the scooter has a wide base. And unfortunately, navigating tight indoor obstacle courses is a daily frustration for Lady x.
She’s had trouble in stores with aisle displays, racks or pallets of products left in the aisles, and departments so crowded with products the aisles themselves are just too narrow for her to get through. Clothes racks barely shoulder-width apart, tight turns around island displays, and self-check-out stations crowded so close together she can’t fit between peoples’ shopping carts don’t lead to her customer satisfaction.
Kind customers scoot their chairs and tables around to help Lady X scoot on through, and she finally finds her friend, who’s claimed a table and cleared a moat of empty space around one side of it so Lady X can fit comfortably. Lady X rolls on up to the table and eases her way painfully into a chair, and heaves an exasperated sigh of relief. She’s tired, late, and hangry.
She pours out her frustrations to her friend, who promptly writes a blog post or two about it. This disconnect between legislation and reality is an issue that affects more than 3 million Americans.
The food comes, the friends eat and drink and rest in each other’s company for a little while. They talk about Books and Job-hunting and Axe-throwing. You know, normal friend stuff. A couple of glasses of ice water in, Lady X decides she needs to use the restroom before she leaves to pick up her car from the shop. She moves carefully from chair to scooter , and again makes the arduous journey through the dense forest of chairs and tables.
And the little narrow side hallway to the restrooms is too narrow for her scooter. She parks it next to the entrance, grateful there’s just enough space that she’s not blocking it entirely, and eases onto her feet. It’s a painful, slow, unsteady journey down the short hallway; she’s one of the lucky ones who can leave her mobility aid behind for short distances!
Ok, things have got to get better, you’re thinking. You know that the ADA provides Regulations for accessibility in bathrooms, right? That’s why there’s always that one large stall at the far end with the bars in it?
How many of you have noticed that the accessible bathroom stall is almost always the farthest from the door? Just like handicapped parking spaces are often quite distant from building entrances or ramps to get up onto sidewalks, these technically meet ADA requirements but are prohibitive for people using manual wheelchairs, walkers, or stability canes. The trek saps extra energy they can’t afford to spend.
Lady X makes it into the restroom and finds the handicapped stall, slides the lock, and grabs the support bar. It’s at a steep angle, and there’s only one. Getting turned around and down and back up off the commode challenged her balance and physical strength, but this isn’t exactly an optional activity. She managed, but had to take 10-second breaks at every step to catch her breath and stabilize herself.
There was no bar near the hand dryer, and no space under the sink to pull her scooter up to, even if she had been able to get it back here.
Little Saben, trotting alongside her as she struggles through this modern labyrinth, gently paws her leg because he’s noticed she’s getting really stressed. She’s at risk of a migraine or panic attack. She needs to focus on him for a minute when she returns to her scooter, take some deep breaths and pet his fuzzy head before she’s ready to tackle the return trip to her table.
Can you imagine living with the knowledge that something as simple as meeting a friend for lunch could put you at risk for physical injury, triggering past trauma, or the humiliation of not making it to the bathroom? Any one of those events could prevent you from returning to work for the afternoon, which would cut into your income and damage your reputation as a valuable employee.
Thanks for riding along with Lady X these past couple of weeks. I could probably write another three posts about this subject, going into excruciating detail of inadequate measurements, wheelchair manufacturing statistics, and dozens of other discrepancies between legislation and the needs of the wheeled public. This discrepancy is one of the many reasons why employment among adults with permanent disabilities is so agonizingly low.
Today your favorite blindfluencer challenges you to pick an obstacle in your life and turn it into a quest.
2 thoughts on “Wheelchair Womp Womp Part II: Obstacles the ADA Fails to Remove”
I’m in the UK, but frequently have similar problems. Just want to give a shout out to the RSC in Stratford-on-Avon, who have wheelchair spaces and/or the opportunity to sit in end of row stalls while someone parks your electric mobility scooter and brings it back at the interval and end of performance. Unlike most shops and restaurants, which are a nightmare.
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I love hearing about when people get it right. That’s really what I prefer to write most of the time. Thanks for sharing this!