Trapped. I can’t tell you how often I can’t get in or out of buildings, many of which are technically accessible.
The number of obstacles that show up is…astounding. I would never have thought about it before I became disabled. I have been trapped outside in the pouring rain hoping for someone else to be going into the building I’m standing in front of and let me in. I have had to wait for someone to finish what they’re doing and come unlock a gate. I have been stuck outside because the electric door opener was disabled because it was very cold out and someone decided that having the door opener working let in too much cold air.
First, there’s the most typical one – a heavy door. Now, I understand that most folks in wheelchairs don’t like having the good samaritan rush over and open doors for them. They’ve got their own way to get through the door that they’re quite used to, thankyouverymuch. Coming to their ‘rescue’ actually means getting in their way and often making the door navigation harder. It also means burdening them with the expectation that they’re going to be tremendously grateful for the insignificant action.
In light of this, I am often hesitant to point out that I DO need doors opened for me. Simply opening doors is a risk for me – will I dislocate my fingers, my wrist, my shoulder? Pull a muscle in my back? Opening doors is one of the most frequent sources of injury for me. So for me, having someone pull open a door is a tremendous help…but should I have to wait for that?
You see, many businesses seem to just assume that we PWDs will be happy with inconveniences and waits for people to come fix things.
The worst case of this that I have spotted in my area are the shopping cart traps.
I live in an urban area. Understandably, this means that stores deal with theft of their carts.
The best way to deal with this, as far as I can see, is to use the magnetic wheel locks on carts. You do this, and you can protect your carts without actually inconveniencing anyone significantly. The drawback of course is that these systems are expensive to put in.
There are 2 common lowtech solutions.
The first is the tall pole attached to the cart. It goes up too high to go through the door, so the carts are trapped in the store. For me, this is a bit of an inconvenience – crutches and carrying bags do not blend well, so I end up very awkward on my trip to the car, and have a fairly significant risk of tangling myself up and stumbling. However, it is so much better than the other low-tech solution that I do not complain.
The second solution is to set up a little area surrounded by posts outside of the supermarket. Now here’s the thing: if the posts are close enough together to keep shopping carts in, they are also close enough together to keep wheelchairs in (or out). These relatively narrow spaces are also difficult for people with crutches or service dogs to navigate, and can be very confusing for the service dogs.
Okay, so places like this obviously have to have a gate that opens wider. But because they are terrified of losing their shopping carts…the gates are padlocked closed. This means that a PWD in a wheelchair has to ask someone going into the store to please inform an employee that they need to be let in. I’m sure you can imagine how long this can take.
In theory, to the letter of the law, this place passes as accessible, but is it really accessible if PWDs have to request admission and wait for someone to come allow them to enter? It’s tremendously unwelcoming and makes a person feel like a second class citizen. Everyone else can just walk in, but PWDs have to sit there and wait, and hope that the customer who said they’d tell an employee to let them in remembers, and that the employee remembers and has time to do it…
When I recently addressed a grocery store about this, they offered the fact that a local regular could request a key to the gate as ‘evidence’ that there wasn’t a problem – obviously PWD customers who are not locals just don’t matter.
Pseudo-accessibility is unfortunately common and hurtful to deal with. We need real accessibility, and real treatment as human beings. This is a place where the law will not do anything so we, as individuals, must express our feelings about this terrible practice so that it will change.
And it can be changed. One of my law school buildings now has an electric door opener it didn’t have before, simply because I spoke up and sent a lot of emails. We can make change happen, but it requires making people who are AB understand that we need it.
Fight ableism and demand equality!