Just as every human is different, the same holds for the people with disabilities in the world. You can call me differently-abled, a disabled person, or a person with a disability; just do not call me late for dinner. However, we are all like snowflakes meaning no two people with disabilities are the same. This fact means if you plan to invite us to join you, it is best to make preparations and include us in the planning as we know our requirements. Every person with a disability struggles differently, creating a brutal battle to make inclusive plans for everyone.
I called to make an appointment at a law office and learned that I must ask for details after my inquiry. I asked the receptionist if their offices were accessible, she replied, of course, like I was asking if she can cut her food. Her quip after my follow-up query quickly put me in a quandary as I was puzzled. I clarified by asking if there are steps to access her facility, and she said, yes, we have a flight of steps. This situation reminded me once again that most people have no idea what ADA truly means or even who requires it.
If you have never used a wheelchair from the seated position, you probably have no clue about the needs. Us wheeled warriors are not merely asking for things for the cool factor but because they help make our lives more independently manageable. Then I rolled up next to some steep steps with a ramp that was just as steep next to it, and I was disappointed. I understood that the organization who built this ramp had never used a wheelchair and probably never saw one in action.
I pondered my accessibility options when I rolled into the bathroom of this fast-food restaurant. I went into the accessible stall and found the grab bar was missing, and it appeared it had been gone for a while. I spoke to the manager, who said it recently came down, and they were waiting for the repairman to rehang it. I bit my tongue and said nothing even though signs showed the contrary to his claim for this missing mechanism. I returned several months later for lunch during another outing and saw the grab bar was still down. This golden arches facility should be ashamed of itself, yet sadly, there is no enforcement for the truly non-existent requirements.
I rolled into the neurology clinic to see my neurologist as I had no health insurance. After my appointment, I needed to use the restroom before the car ride home. I opened the bathroom door, and the room was set up very well for a wheelchair as it was a large room with one commode and sink. I would expect nothing less from a hospital neurology clinic where many patients use wheelchairs. I held the door with one hand, and with my other hand, I began to try to push myself into the room with no luck. A woman saw me struggling and held the door for me, and I continued to struggle for several minutes with no progress. This is a hospital, no less with an ADA compliant bathroom on the inside but no way to get through the door. Let me clarify that I had a narrow chair, and this was a hospital.
The following is my understanding of the rules laid out by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 as it was explained to me. The ADA regulations are mandated for government facilities and only suggestions for everyone else. Private property like restaurants and shopping malls are not required to implement these standards. Do not get me wrong to be inclusive to all potential customers; most companies wisely use these standards. However, some businesses apply these orders more loosely as they do not want to spend the needed money.
So when you visit a non-government building, and the accessibility options are few and far between, stay calm. At this point, find the manager and explain what is missing and the benefits to many of said item. They probably do not want to spend the money on every medical device out there but explain your reasoning, and hopefully, they will acquiesce. If they understand how the equipment would help many possible customers, it only makes sense to buy it. Sadly, we have to poke and prod for some companies to do the right thing, yet I hope in the future things will just be.
Afternote: To all those who do not use a wheelchair, you may have empathy for us wheeled wonders, but your understanding is more important. Merely being around or even living with an individual using one of these mechanical marvels is not enough to teach you real knowledge. I have recently seen many videos on Youtube of people taking the wheelchair for a day challenge. I saw a video of a woman who uses a chair, and her long time husband took this twenty-four-hour dare. He was amazed after how much his knowledge grew after experiencing life from the seated position. Think about it this way: How much can you learn about driving a car sitting in the passenger seat? If you dare to take the wheelchair for a day or even half a day challenge, let me know. I would love to hear from you about your experience.
People with disabilities want to be welcomed too.