Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Air Was Blue

Sometimes I wonder if it's just me.

I guess not.

Since becoming a wheelchair user I've been astounded and frustrated by the, sometimes, inexplicable behaviour of those without disabilities. There are many examples but today I'm talking about doors. Yes. Doors. I first noticed it at the subway. The stop near us has four doors, one of which is the automatic accessible door, the kind that opens at the touch of a button. It's right at the top of the ramp so it's well placed. It's really, really, really difficult to get in or out of that door because the thousands of people who use the subway prefer to use that door. There are three other doors, but they pour through that one. It doesn't make sense because most of them don't use the ramp, which is long and narrow. They go through that door and then filter round to the stairs which are situated right in front of the other three doors. There are times when I just can't get in or out, we have to wait for a break in the constant stream or Joe has to go and physically block people so I can get into or out of the subway. People can become incredibly hostile when he does this and I worry sometimes that he's going to be struck.

The same is true down at the accessible doors at the Eaton Centre. They are great wide doors and, again, getting in or out is very, very, difficult. Here there are a multitude of door possibilities for everyone else. This is the only entry that's easily accessible. There are other doors but they don't have the button, Joe has to be with me to hold them open and they are a bit narrow for my chair. So we prefer the accessible door but again we have to have a degree of assertiveness in order to get through the door.

We've both talked about this phenomenon and Joe's even asked me if I was going to blog about it. I never had because I wondered if this was a 'just me' thing - or if others with disabilities found the same thing, having access but battling to use it. So, it was just something I'd let go.

Until this weekend.

Joe had gone to do some banking, I'd headed over to the Bay to pick something up. I scooted back to meet him. I came into the bank and was sitting waiting for one of the two big doors to swing open for me. As I was waiting a tall, young, man finished at the bank machine and had positioned himself waiting for me to get through the door. He stood there looking impatient. An elderly woman, dressed in tweeds, was doing her banking sitting on her walker. As she finished she turned around. She noted the man standing, impatient. She noted me waiting for the door to swing fully open.

She spoke.

She spoke in one of those deep, dark, voices full of pavement become gravel.

"There are two fucking doors."

Everyone was stunned. She was looking at him hard. The kind of look that mothers give children. The kind of look that only mothers can give. I could see by the set of her shoulders that she had had enough. And she was right. There WERE two doors. Yet he stood there waiting for me, obviously waiting for me, to come through the automatic door. She said what I realized I'd longed to say over and over again.

I wonder if it's easier to advocate for someone else than it is to advocate for yourself.

But, I'll tell you this. Never before have I been so glad to have someone speak up and speak out on my behalf. I didn't care if everyone thought what she said was vulgar or inappropriate or whatever. I just cared that she saw someone trying to shame me by being PURPOSEFULLY and UNNECESSARILY inconvenienced.

Because, of course, there were two fucking doors.


Anonymous said...

Reading your post there was so much YES! and THINK! and EMPATHY! running through my head.


Andrea S. said...

It's not just you.

These days, when I need to use the phone while away from home and office, I whip out my mobile phone and send a text message or email. But before today's mobile phones could handle text, I had to go looking for one of the rare public phones that has a TTY (text telephone) built in. In the US, you usually only find these in places like airports, metro/subway systems in DC, and other locations where the volume of people passing through is extremely high. (In many other countries, even developed countries, you might not find these in public phones at all.)

I cannot count the number of times I would finally find where the one accessible phone within a mile is located only to see a hearing person monopolizing it--even though there are other phones they could use (that I cannot) right next to it.

Some people do get off the phone and use another when I politely ask. A couple have gotten nasty and kept me waiting for ages.

clairesmum said...

My experience ( with a non visible disability) is that it is much easier for me to advocate for others than for myself . It's a different case, I don't have to disclose my personal situation. I'm glad she spoke up the way she did - freedom for worrying about what others think can be one of the gifts of the older ages.

clairesmum said...

Oops - I mean freedom FROM worrying.

joanne said...

I've noticed with age that people tend to have less tolerance for b.s......I was glad that this woman spoke up for you....sometimes you just need to cut to the core of the matter....I don't think the gentleman involved in the matter would have gotten the message unless it was that blunt...some people need to be hit with it. I do agree, I think it's easier to advocate for others vs. advocating for yourself.

Penny Schwent said...

I take my daughter out a lot, pushing her in her chair, and when Dad's not with us I have a very difficult time getting her into places unless there is an accessible door. I too have noticed that even when there's a bank of door everyone seems to feel the need to go through the only door I can get through without help. The same is true when there's an elevator right next to the escalator, people without young kids, strollers or wheelchairs pile into the elevator and I'm often left waiting for the next time. I'm not old enough (yet) to have the guts to do it out loud but in my mind I'm saying the same thing that woman said...There are two fucking doors!


Anonymous said...

You're right on with your blog post. Just shows, barrier-free access is better for everyone--now if we could only get everything built that way.

Anonymous said...

As aTAB, I have to say that many accessibility issues I've never even noticed before (and probably still don't sometimes). I am not typically impatient with people trying to come through doors regardless of disability, etc, but I could see myself going through an accessible door not even realizing it was the only
One or that I was holding up progress for someone with a disabity.
I did notice something ridiculous today at the Dept of Motor Vehicles. There is an "accessible" entrance/exit, and the door from the outdoors to the foyer had an automatic push button as you described. The probl is that the door from the foyer into the actual service area has no such button. (???)
I'm also not confident that any of the roped-off lines or most of the passageways are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. I will be honest and say I would not have noticed there was no button on the second door had I
Not been trying to push a stroller through the door, but you can bet I'll be on the lookout now. This is a disgrace.

CapriUni said...

I have an online friend who has an icon she uses to illustrate her journal posts. It reads: "I don't mind the able-bodied, as long as they act disabled in public."

Makes me laugh, because it's true. How do you act disabled? Well, first off, keep alert for access routes, and how people move through a space.

Anonymous said...

Re, Penny's story about elevator vs escalators

This reminds me of an incident I experienced during a time I was temporarily on crutches. There was a huge crowd of people waiting for the elevator down to the metro even though the escalator was only a few steps away and plainly visible. They crammed into the elevator so quickly I had no chance to get anywhere near to the elevator. My one good leg, and my arms leaning on the crutches, were rapidly becoming tired so I was very frustrated and angry. There was still a huge crowd of people left over waiting for the elevator to come back up. I did get the next elevator, but only because I rushed a lot faster than felt safe for me and put more weight on the recovering foot than it was really ready for, so it was scary and painful.

How come more parents don't teach their children/teens to show more consideration toward others waiting for the elevator who may need it more urgently than them? Ditto for taking the reserved seating for disabled people on public transport.

Andrea S

Anonymous said...

A few things a wheelchair using friend has taught me:

When waiting to cross the street, or waiting at a street corner, be conscious of whether you might be blocking a wheelchair user's only access to the curb cut that allows them to leave or enter the sidewalk.

When using a large laundry facility in which some of the washers/dryers are on the floor (and thus accessible for wheelchair riders) while others are higher up (and thus not accessible for them), try to take the ones higher up. Only use the lower ones if there are no other options. If able bodied people hog up all the lower washing machines then they could be blocking access for the next wheelchair rider who comes in to do laundry. Since only half the machines may be accessible for them, they have fewer options than standing/walking people do.

Don't hog the only wheelchair accessible toilet without a good reason (such as, no other toilets available). And ESPECIALLY not if you intend to take an unusually long time (eg, to change clothes or something). You just can't know if a wheelchair rider might arrive right after you've taken their toilet.

Ditto for reserved parking: even just five minutes to dash into the store and out again could still make a disabled driver give up and go home. Because how do they know that you really will be out in five minutes and not 20 or 30 like the last time they waited for someone else? Or if you claim to be willing to move it ... well, how are they supposed to come into the store and find you if you have not given them a space near enough to the store to park their car while they do that? How are they supposed to read your mind to know that you are even prepared to move in the first place? Or, what if they are sick enough that they can't wait five minutes for space to free up? (Some wheelchair riders use wheelchairs due to chronic health conditions that may involve high levels of fatigue and pain)

Anonymous said...

To the TAB "Anonymous" who posted right before Capri Uni, thank you for sharing today. Knowing that there are at least some people reading these comments and learning from them helps motivate me to share my experiences in the hope that the time I take to do so serves some productive purpose.

Andrea S.

Sue @ Cakeballs, cookies and more said...

Oh I know it, I work here in toronto too and people don't care. They are too self absorbed to think of others. no one holds the door for people any more, and I would say most people use the automatic doors rather than the ones that they can very easily use themselves.

JosiahD said...

I think this is a reason it's so vitally important to teach universal design as a value to architects and other designers.

Because all the options should be accessible. Separating stuff into regular things and accessible things really doesn't work well.

And people should be less clueless and more respectful and more aware of not hogging the accessible stuff, but the spaces also really need to stop being designed in ways that create that problem.

It's really good that someone told someone off for that sort of obnoxiousness -- wish someone would *also* yell at the designers who build space so that only a tiny percentage of it is useable.

Anonymous said...

"Don't hog the only wheelchair accessible toilet without a good reason"

Yes! I don't know how many times I've sat waiting in front of a line of empty stalls while someone able bodied used the only accessible one. What on earth keeps someone in there for ten or more minutes?


Anonymous said...

The door issue is a frustrating one. Often there is one double decent sliding door into the mall entrance I prefer - which is flanked by "ordinary doors". People always take the path of least resistance and use the auto doors which means they cut me off or surge in front of me. It can shake you up a bit as I have to choose my way carefully. So inconsiderate of others.

And of all the times I have waited for apparent (I know there are many invisible disabilities) able bodied folks to exit the handicapped toilet to find me waiting - of all the people I have run into so far - only ONE said sorry. She was in there for ages!

I'm not as polite as you Dave - I usually make a comment outloud.

Mary said...

Oooh. I agree with you that it's annoying to have people who don't need them making access features less accessible, and I absolutely applaud the commenters pointing out universal design principles.


I believe that every person reading this who is (or once was) fully conventionally mobile, will have experienced the thing where one door is being used, so you confidently stroll up to the other one, grasp the handle, push, pull, push, and discover it's locked.

And if you're unlucky, then some equally feisty member of the public - a member of the public who under other circumstances might have said "there are two fucking doors" - glares at you and says something along the lines of "you'll just have to use this door like the rest of us mere mortals," or "would it kill you to be a little bit patient?"

No one wants to spang face-first into a locked door. So instead we follow other people through a proven route.

Anonymous said...

Mary ... Yes ... BUT, there is a difference between

Patiently waiting for the proven route to become free, without doing anything that makes it look or sound like you're exasperated at the disabled person ahead of you

versus ...

Waiting for the disabled person while huffing and fuming in visible, audible impatience.

It's not wrong to wait, even if there might be other ways you could go through instead. But it can be annoying when a person who does have other ways to go through the door if they're in such a tearing hurry instead acts hostile toward the disabled person whom they blame for taking up space in the world.

It's not the waiting that annoys (unless it somehow actively blocks access for the person with a disability), it's the hostility that can sometimes come with it.

L. said...

I agree in particular with JosiahD, Mary, and the anonymous who posted after her (as well as many other who posted along the same themes).

In general I think this problem results because the doors that are made accessible are the central/main ones that people are most likely to notice or use, and because people tend to take the path of no resistance, as most of us are lazy.

I know my kids always gravitate to doors opened by the accessibility buttons, because they love the automated feature. And, even though, being non-disabled, I try not to hit the buttons much in order to avoid using unnecessary electricity, sometimes I find myself using them too, out of preoccupation, tiredness, or being in a hurry.

There is probably a way to better design placement of these features so that people will more equally distribute themselves toward all available doors.

But, also, people should get out of their own heads enough to notice a wheelchair user or other disabled person who needs to get through the accessible doors. And specifically making a point of being all offended that a disabled person has the temerity to use a door is just being an asshole. Every time I read about these people (and you seem to meet so very many of them!) I am aghast. Who is so self-important and awful to others?

Ettina said...

I do often use accessible doors, elevators, etc in preference of others, just because it's easier. (Not washrooms though, I only take the disabled stall if all others are taken, because I know I tend to take a long time in the bathroom and can't see if someone is waiting.) But when I see a disabled person needing the thing, I'm quick to move out of the way and let them use it. For example, if I was waiting for an elevator and someone on crutches or in a wheelchair approached, I'd let them on first, and join them if there was room.

I also very often hold doors for people, disabled or not, who look to be heading through and are close enough that holding the door isn't a big inconvenience.