The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did so much to improve the life of people with disabilities, including reasonable accommodations in the workplace and physical access to pretty much everything. There are, of course, those who have taken advantage of things and demanded ridiculous accommodations for questionable disabilities as well as those who have made a living “setting up” business owners who haven’t provided access in accordance with the law. They are, however, the minority. The ADA went a long way to really including disabled individuals into society.
It is probably greedy to want more, but I do.
What I want cannot be legislated. It will likely take a couple of generations of raising society’s collective consciousness before it can be achieved. The access assured by the ADA is a great start, but what I want is more than an ability to get into a room or building. I want Maggie and her chair to be welcomed when she gets there. I want PRACCESS – or practical access.
Maggie’s wheelchair is big and cumbersome. No one knows that better than we do. Ramps or elevators get this big chair into the building, but the groans and exasperation when we arrive are something less than welcoming. It happens everywhere and most people are completely unaware they are doing it. We hear comments like, there really isn’t much room here or you are going to have to move, or why don’t you leave her over there etc. It’s not that people are being mean (usually) it’s that there really isn’t room. Often a fully accessible event will have no practical way for wheelchairs to get around or even to get the door opened. Wheelchair users can get in the building, but cannot participate in the event or activity because they are in the way.
We hear it at the hospital all the time and that is particularly frustrating. Yes I realize space is tight, but we aren’t using the chair to be difficult. When I went into the recovery room the other day it happened twice. As I gathered everything to leave the surgical waiting area, the attendant said, “you can leave that here.” Surgical waiting in on the first floor and the recovery room in on four. I just smiled and said, “unless they did something AMAZING during this test, I’m going to need it to get her out of here.” She said, Oh, right. When I arrived on the fourth floor, there was an audible groan when they saw the wheelchair. I just smiled again – but it was fake. Obviously I have to have the chair there. They found a place – but only because the next bed space was empty.
I am not suggesting for one moment that every single place in the world needs to fit Maggies’ wheelchair comfortably. That is not practical. I know that from my own house. I am constantly shifting things around to make Maggie fit in someplace. When we do go places Maggie is always off to the side or way in the back because she’s just in the way otherwise. It is frustrating because it prevents wheelchair users from being full participants. A better attitude toward the inconvenience a wheelchair presents would be most welcome. If you think it’s inconvenient to accommodate the chair, try living with one.
Just smile and make a little room. That will go a long way toward making someone feel welcome. Space will always be an issue in our ever more crowded world, but it should not prevent “pracess.”