Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Game of Inches

Welcome to those of you here from the Disability Blog Carnival!

I have often written about strangers and the things they say or do when they encounter Maggie in her wheelchair.  Often those encounters are strange, but sometimes they  are quite pleasant.  The other day a woman watched as I loaded Maggie and her wheelchair into the van and she said, “Wow, she is a lucky girl.” I smiled. That’s not something I hear very often.  The woman was referring to Maggies’ ability to be out in the community thanks to the adapted van. And she was right, Maggie and I are both lucky to have it. It’s good to be reminded of that sometimes.

 It was funny, though, because as this woman marveled at the automatic ramp starting to lower itself, I was swearing under my breath. Someone had parked partially obstructing the wheelchair area next to the handicapped zone and I knew there wasn’t going to be enough room to load Maggie without moving the car.  It was only a matter of inches, but it makes all the difference in the world.

The ramp on Maggie’s van is 52inches long. The chair, with Maggie in it is another twenty four inches. There 
needs to be enough room to lower the ramp and then clear the chair off  the end of it.  That means we need a minimum of 76 inches, or 6’4” of space to get in and out of the van.  If someone parks  even a few inches into that space I cannot get her out. If it’s close, I can get her all the way to the end of the ramp and pick up her chair and lift it  just an inch or two over the lip at the end of the ramp.  Maggie is little, but with the chair and the equipment this is  about 200 lbs. Since my shoulder injury and subsequent surgery, I decided this is not a smart thing to do.

An additional 6 ft is space is hard to come by in San Francisco.  It seems every inch of this city has something on it. When parking at the curb, we have to make certain there isn’t a tree, a pole or a newspaper rack blocking the ramp. (see picture).There is nothing more exciting than finding a great parking place  and nothing more deflating than realizing it won’t work because you can’t get the lift open.

 Sometimes there is plenty of room, but some unseen and very small obstruction interferes with the proper operation of the ramp. Bricks and sidewalk breaks are the biggest issues. The ramp gets stuck on the edge of a brick and fails to open completely as in the second picture.  My husband was marveling at the damage to the front of my leather shoes. He couldn’t figure out what I was doing until he saw my remedy for fixing the ramp when its stuck on something. Rather than bend over and lift the heavy ramp, I simply put my foot under the ramp where it’s stuck on the bricks or cement and flip it open over the tiny obstruction. Wreaks havoc with the shoes, but saves the shoulder.  

Though she doesn’t have independence,(and I sincerely wish she did)  Maggie is luckier than many others who require the use of an adapted vehicle because she has someone to deal with things like this. I can hop in and back up the van a few feet, or kick the ramp loose from the bricks. A more independent wheelchair user could not do that.  If, for example,  someone is able enough to drive their own van, they have to be able to get in and out of it. If s/he can’t get into the car that small infraction or obstruction can be insurmountable.

A couple of inches can make the difference between total independence and total exclusion.   


  1. Excellent explanation of how small things make a big difference.

    Wishing you had linked back to the Disability Blog Carnival since I came here first.

  2. I will put in a link as soon as it's up for this month, I promise

  3. Thank you so much for posting this! I've encountered many of the same issues you are speaking of with my daughter and our wheelchair accessible van in Houston.

    We actually have a full size van with an EZ Lock lift system. Fortunately it's flat already when it's out (except for lip that prevents wheelchair from rolling out over the edge) so sometimes if we have to lower it on curbs we still have enough clearance for her to be wheeled off of it.

    However, our biggest issue is that many of the striped areas between van accessible parking spots are not wide enough for full clearance when another vehicle is parked in the next spot. We have to lift her chair up over the lift as well to finish getting her off the lift. You are so right about how several inches can make a huge difference. It's nice to know someone else understands. Have a great day! ~Deborah

  4. Amen. It's not just other drivers, it's the numbskulls in planning who somehow miss that pole or tree. Wonderful illustration of what true access means.

  5. What you are saying is so true! A couple of inches can make a great difference for Maggie, and helps her to get on and off the van. I am glad you’re reminded that you are lucky to have a wheelchair accessible van. Sometimes, we aren’t aware of how blessed we are because we tend to focus on the things that makes us sad. I hope you will always see the world like a little child. And that is living without worries.


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