Sunday, April 24, 2016


Image description: A power wheelchair wheel encountering a stepplette.
I discovered a phenomenon yesterday that I don't think I've actually either seen or understood before. It had me thinking and rethinking about why people do what they do and act the way they act. We had gone out for some fresh air and sunshine. No particular destination, we were just in the mood to wander. As such we came upon a place where we thought we'd stop in for tea. I'd done the accessi-glance and seen that it could be accessible.

Could be only because the accessible door was blocked with stuff that had been pushed aside because people were coming in through the space left when a huge sliding window had been pushed aside. I couldn't go through the same way because, while the door was ramped, the window was not and there was a small step up for two-footers which was an impassible barrier for me in my chair. To make matters more complicated, we discovered that the accessible door had not been unlocked.

Someone from inside came, upon seeing Joe struggle with the door, and inform him, and me, that we could enter through the window. I chimed up and said that I couldn't get in through the window. I think they thought I meant that the space wasn't wide enough, the fellow assured me that there was plenty of room. I told him that I realized it was wide enough but I couldn't get over the step. He looked confused. So did a fellow standing with his wife out on the sidewalk smoking. He entered first, she second, they both informed me that there wasn't a step there.

OK, maybe 'step' was the wrong word because it certainly wasn't a regular sized step. It was a 'mini-step' or a 'steplette' perhaps. Nonetheless, it was perfectly obvious that a wheelchair couldn't get over the barrier, whatever it was called.

And that's when it hit me.

"Perfectly obvious."

I sat there, deep in realization, as now three people tried convincing me that the window was accessible and that I should just ride right in. They didn't see it, it wasn't obvious, to them there was no barrier and they didn't know how to look at a barrier as would be experienced by anyone else. This is why people always say, it wasn't until I 'had to use a wheelchair' or 'pushed someone in a wheelchair' that I saw barriers. They don't see what they don't need to see. Finally, Joe made a joke about my chair not being equipped to go 'off-roading' while pointing at the step-cum-lip that they saw it, as if for the first time.

Perhaps this is why they get so annoyed with us disabled folks because we keep talking about things they can't see. We keep pointing out obvious things ... I once wrote that we 'point out the obvious to the oblivious' ... but I think I may never have been more accurate. They actually can't see what we are talking about, they can't abstract our words into pictures. To them, who have access pretty much everywhere, it seems like carping and complaining and kvetching.

When they saw what the issue was, people were quick to help, and apologetic for being completely unaware of the barrier that was posed by the window opening. The manager promised that the door would always remain open and clear. They wanted to be accessible and had thought they were.

We got in, had tea, and exited through the accessible door easily. Getting out was a helluva lot less dramatic than had been getting in. And, I can do with less drama.


Frank_V said...

When I was much younger, I lived on the third floor, no elevator. I took the bus and subway. Now I'm fifty-two years old, and even one step, can cause HUGE problems.

Because I can walk with a can (and hiking staff when outside), even friends and family think I'm being finicky when I ask "Are there ANY stairs? What about the bathroom?". They confuse "anti-social" with "anti-stairs".

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

You have reminded me that I have to make a point with someone at Princeton U. They have ramps over stairs between the chapel and the library - but the ramps are almost at a 45° angle. Unbelievably steep and short.

I have found ways to go around, and accepted help from a student when I had to go down with my walker once, but they may look accessible to someone who thinks ramps=accessible, and they are completely unusable by anyone not in tiptop physical condition, possibly with a stroller or bike.

NOT accessible, but LOOKS accessible, is the new INaccessible.

I should take some photos.

Unknown said...

Such patience you and Joe had, to work this through with the oblivious....I hope it was a good cup of tea! Clairesmum

CapriUni said...

Dave -- Here's a poem I've been working on, recently. I just finished my fourth draft, a few minutes before reading this post. So, considering the topic, this seems as good a place for its public debut as any:


For some, the world fits like a tailored suit.
They trust that they can slip into a room
And that the space will drape so easily
Their shoulders hardly feel the weight at all.
And every sentence seamlessly unfurls
Its meaning to their minds without a snag.
As best they can recall, there's been no need
To notice where the edges don't quite match,
Or where there is a tangle, or a pinch.

Except for us, their patterns do not fit.
And so, with care, we thread our way around,
Each cutting knots, and fixing ragged seams
With homemade sheers and needles we have found.
Thus, stitch by stitch, we fashion our own lives.
We shift the space. They notice that, and frown.
And tug their collars with itchy discontent.
But when they come upon the pathways we have made,
They'll find a world made graceful through our craft.

Dave Hingsburger said...


That's a fantastic poem! It manages to say, beautifully, what I feel so much of the time.

CapriUni said...

Dave -- Thanks.

I've been trying, for years, to figure out a way to explain "Disability Pride" to my Typically-Abled kith and kin. It's so hard for them to understand that the condition of disability is a human condition, and one of the things that makes humanity so rich and wonderful.

I mean -- we're the preeminent life-hackers. We've adapted our brains specifically for problem solving. Where would they be without us?!