Mobility is something we take for granted

Joan Hedrick / Times-News correspondent

Most people take their mobility for granted. When it is simple to step on and off of curbs, walk through a mall or parking lot, walk up and down steps and use public restrooms, then it is easy to forget that an increasing number of citizens have difficulty with activities that are a part of daily life for most of us. According to The Community Tool Box, a service of the Work Group for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas, approximately 18 percent of the population has “some level of disability.”  This percentage jumps to 72 percent for people aged 80 and above.
Facilities that are poorly planned prevent those who need modifications from leading independent, productive lives. Recently, my family has had firsthand experience with poorly planned facilities and the problems that they cause. My mother is recovering from surgery that has severely limited her mobility and it has amazed my family how hard it has been for us to do the normal family activities that we enjoy and how impossible it has been for my mother to do things independently. What we have experienced has made us much more aware of what life is like for people with special challenges and needs.
For instance, when we went shopping at a local retailer, the employees were very nice in locating a motorized cart for my mom to drive, yet she could not use the restroom while there, even though it is supposedly handicapped accessible. First, she was unable to open the heavy, wooden door while in her wheelchair. How was she supposed to enter the restroom?
Once someone opened the door for her, she discovered that the handicapped accessible stall was not at the front of the facility, but at the back. This meant that she had to wheel her chair past people entering and leaving the other stalls and past people washing or drying their hands. There is not enough room for this unless the facility is empty.
On a busy Saturday, it was definitely not empty. In order to enter the handicapped accessible stall, she had to open the door to the stall and wheel herself inside. This wasn’t too hard because she was using a smaller, traditional wheelchair, yet it would be next to impossible for someone using a larger, motorized wheelchair. She discovered that there was barely enough room to wheel the wheelchair inside of the stall, and unless she was able to stand on her own and lock the door behind her, then she had no way of locking the door. A larger wheelchair would not fit inside the stall with the door closed, so what do those customers do?
Leaving the stall was no simpler. She barely had room to adjust her clothing and then had to balance on the seat of the chair and open the door in order to back out. Basically, she had to be a gymnast just to use the handicapped accessible restroom at a large retail store that undoubtedly has customers in wheel chairs shopping there.
Many other facilities have proven no simpler.
“I wonder who designed these supposedly accessible facilities?” is a question my family has asked again and again. They usually do not seem to have been designed by anyone who would actually need to use them. One example is heavy doors that cannot be opened by the disabled person to enter or leave. We’ve read stories of disabled people becoming trapped inside the restrooms of restaurants, office buildings, movies and other places. Spaces that are not large enough to be used independently or in privacy are common. Stores and buildings that have ramps, but cannot be entered independently by a person in a wheelchair are the norm. How is such a customer supposed to use the accessible facilities if they cannot even enter? Essentially, a person in a wheelchair is severely limited in their activities unless they have another person along with them to give them the accessibility that public places state they provide.  How many of us would want to base our daily lives on the assumption that someone we do not know will assist us?  I believe that most of us would feel stripped of our dignity in these situations.
My family took a vacation that promised the facilities were accessible, yet when we arrived, my mother was unable to use the recreational and swimming area. This really dampened the experience for us and it seems unfair that we paid the same rates as other vacationers and were told that my mother would be able to do things there that she was unable to do.
People with mobility problems benefit the most from water exercise, yet at the majority of swimming pools, they cannot enter. My family will never forget these experiences.  We hope that others will pay closer attention to creating and remodeling spaces that are truly accessible for all mobility levels and all ages so that more people can lead independent, productive lives in our society.

 Joan Hedrick is a senior at Weaver Academy and a Teens & Twenties writer.



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