Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Numbers Game


What's in a number?

If I was a child that would be a 'jingle jangle' of pennies.

If I was a dog that would be a 'need to bury' of bones.

If I was a bird that would be a 'peck peck peck' of crumbs.

178 of anything is a lot.

This morning on my way to work the bus took a circuitous route. We were going to pick someone up way over in a part of town I've never been to before. We drove through residential neighbourhood after residential neighbourhood. I was tired. I was bored. Suddenly I notice, as if with new eyes, that all the houses had stairs leading up to the front door. If I had friends or family in any one of these houses, I would not be able to visit them - ever. I'd never sip tea with them. I'd never laugh while looking over old photographs. I'd never put a comforting arm over sobbing shoulders. Never. Ever.

So I started to count. Blocks. How many blocks would go by before there was a house with an accessible entrance for someone in a wheelchair? I decided not to count apartment buildings, but that didn't matter, none of the blocks I counted had a new apartment building with a flat entrance. So block after block passed by. Suddenly I was up to 65 then 90 then 133 then 158. I was astonished. I looked at house after house. Home to all, except people like me. Finally, on block 179 was a small, sad little house that had a flat entrance. I was relieved. Partly because the search was over, partly because my fingers were tired from counting.

178 blocks without an accessible house.

Then, consumed by my informal study. I started counting to see how many houses on a typical block. The first block there were 21, the second block there were 17 the third block there were 32. So that averages 23.33 houses per block. Now let's multiply. That's 4153 inaccessible houses to 1 accessible house. By accessible house, I'm being generous with the definition - here it just means 'can get into'.

I don't know about you but when I am out and about, I notice more and more people struggling to walk as age 'f''s you over. You know adding the 'f' which converts agile to fragile. I see more and more walkers, and canes, and braces and scooters and chairs. Where do these people live? I don't know the answer. But this morning I saw 4153 places with a 'no disabled allowed' notice. What you call stairs, I call exclusion.

Potato, PotAto.


Bronwyn said...

I think about that a lot because I live in an old Victorian house with stairs and absolutely no way for a person in a wheelchair to enter. I can't do anything about it because I rent and it's somewhere I can afford, but it's often on my mind.

Glee said...

In Britain ALL new built houses MUST have a flat entrance. It's LAW! Not hard to make a law like that and not hard to do if everyone has to do it. There should be no optional selfishness allowed.

I live in Australia and they have brought in voluntary codes for making new builds "visitable". But it is voluntary so I bet no one will do it! I can't visit any of my friends I had before I started using a wheelchair full time. None of them come to see me now that I can't get into their houses. Needless to say they are not my friends anymore. My sister built a new house with step at the front and back and no accessible shower or toilet. WTF is that about?!!!

In contrast a new (old) friend that has come back into my life over the last ten years has put little permanent ramps at his doors and reorganised his furniture so I can visit his house.

Clay said...

I'm afraid you couldn't come visit me either, Dave. Four steps just to get to the porch, and then 17 steps up the stairs to my new apartment.

For now, it isn't a problem for me, but I've wondered how long until it will be. (I'm 64.)

Andrea S. said...

You could come into my apartment.

But--we had to look hard to find an apartment where a wheelchair rider could at least come in the door and up to the living room / dining area, bedroom etc. We screened out a lot of apartments that had steps in front, or leading up from the lobby. (Some buildings that look accessible in front turn out to have only the lobby area accessible!)

And even here, the bathroom still isn't accessible, you would have to go down to the lobby area to use the public facilities there. (Actually I should double check that, which I should have done already.)

I don't understand why all designers aren't taught about Universal Design as part of the standard curriculum. I mean. It's meant to be UNIVERSAL design. It's not UNIVERSAL design if you only bother to use its principles as an afterthought. So many of these buildings simply don't have to be designed this way. It *is* tricky in a place that is hilly (my apartment building has an entrance on the second floor and on the basement floor because it's on a hill) ... but surely it shouldn't be impossible if only people had bothered to apply a little ... let me coin a word ... compassination (compassion + imagination ... imagination that becomes active because the person doing the imagining bothered to have a little heart and decency).

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I am sad to say that my house looks like on of those unvisitable ones. When my mother-in-law was alive my husband built a portable ramp that made our side door accessible. It kind of worked okay but she had to have strong men pushing her up because it was pretty steep. For his friend who now uses a wheelchair we cannot use the portable ramp because he is a big man and the ramp is too steep. So we just recently had my husband's 60th birthday at an accessible church hall so his friend could attend. It actually worked out really well for everyone. But you are right Dave - we can't have them over for a visit any more.

Exclusion in private homes is bad enough - how about newly built public buildings? The college I work for is just building a whole bunch of completely inaccessible new residences. I am at a loss as to how they can get away with this given the AODA but apparently there was a way. I am learning that budget is used as an excuse for exclusion.

Thanks for another thought provoking post

Anonymous said...

Here's a question for those of you who need accessible housing. Because it is so limited, what do you think of others taking it who do not need it full time? I am not a wheelchair user. I moved across the country for work a year or so ago and bought a new home. It was important to me that it be accessible simply out of principle, since the last three places I had rented, I had been unable to invite certain friends or relatives over, and that really bothered me. So I decided that the first place I bought had to be accessible. But when looking for a place, I realized how hard they are to find, and now I almost feel guilty for taking a place that someone else may have needed more than I do. (It is particularly odd since I'm still relatively new here and don't even have any friends here who use wheelchairs.)

Liz Miller said...

I want to thank you again, Dave, for being the impetus behind my successful effort to get the Loudoun County Democratic Committee into accessible offices.

I'm looking forward to the day when all buildings are accessible. May it be soon.

Belinda said...

Checking in at last from Israel. I'm going to start paying attention here if not counting. But a shout out to the Dan Boutique Hotel in Jerusalem, where we are staying. They employ a woman with "severe disabilities" and who uses a wheelchair, in their office as a demonstration of their commitment to social responsibility.

Kristine said...

The 178 number doesn't surprise me even a little bit. In interest of the number game, I just tried to count the number of friends and family members' houses I've ever been able to visit, at any point in my life. In order to fill up the fingers on both hands, I had to stretch the definition to include extremely precarious and unsafe ramp situations, and houses that belonged to "a friend of a friend of a friend" and I went to an event there once.

Private housing inaccessibility is actually much harder for me to deal with than public. You don't want to make your store accessible? Fine, then I won't shop there. But what do I say to all the inaccessible homes? Fine, we just won't be friends? It's always made it very hard for me to make friends. Friendly acquaintances have group gatherings at their houses all the time, and give me the sad shoulder shrug, "Sorry, you know I'd invite you if I could." Except, I don't know that. Hanging out with me always takes special effort and planning, but you only make that kind of effort of you're a real friend. And you don't become a real friend, if we don't first get to know each other through the casual group get-togethers, which I'm always excluded from. Rinse, repeat. But I'll stop rambling and venting now...

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon, I think its wonderful that you considered the need to invite and be able to invite those with disabilities to your home. I think just by looking for accessible housing you make the need plain. Our first house was not accessible and we determined that our second one would be. Thankfully, as while in the second home I became disabled. We now live in the city because, though the house was accessible, we lived on a gravel road far from any stores or services - I found this isolating. People should never feel guilty for doing the right thing.

Ashley's Mom said...

Which is one of the very reasons I have started a new blog - It's not just houses that are not accessible. It seems to be many, many places in my neighborhood, my community, my state....etc.

I want to raise awareness. The response from the establishments I have reviewed have been positive for the most part, but we'll see if any change really happens.

TheNerd said...

You could get into my house, Dave, but you'd have no luck using my bathroom. It's too teeny and L-shaped and cramped, and there's a several-inch step into the shower. And you would have as much fun as I do reaching the light switches which are mounted about 5 feet up, well above my head. I've thought about changing that but honestly as I'm renting and I can deal, I haven't. As it's about 60 years old I can forgive that, but only because I can reach.

I'd have to clear snow and ice out of the way but you guys would be welcome anytime as far as I'm concerned. Just make a pit stop first. :)

Rachel said...

Oops, I didn't know I was logged into my blog account linked to my so-far non-started blog. Oops. That above post was me, the somewhat argumentative one!

Anonymous said...

I've said for years that all new architecture students should spend a week in a wheelchair, maybe it would help things change.


Lene Andersen said...

Yep. Yepyepyep.

I grew up in Denmark and although most older buildings have steps to the front, as well as more than one story, so many newer homes (even when I left almost 30 years ago) were bungalows. Trying to find a house in Toronto where I could live, as well, was a real challenge. What's wrong with bungalows?

Susan said...

That's why, as we're putting in a new bathroom in the main level of our house (currently underway), we're making sure there's a wide doorway. And while we're at it, while adding a small deck to the back door this spring, we're adding a ramp at the same time. Because, when you come to a wiener roast at the Stewart house, it shouldn't matter if you're on wheels or a you're a two footer; you should only be peeing behind a bush because you want to, not because you're forced to. There won't be an elevator up to the second floor, or down to the basement, but at least people on wheels will have access to the most important rooms in the house - bathroom, kitchen and laundry! :)

Ettina said...

My house isn't accessible, and my best friend is in a power chair. I just visit her at her place. It's easier anyway because my house is a mess, and I've gotten negative comments from other friends when I brought them over. Plus I live out of town, so it's quite a trip.

I don't think every house should be required to be accessible, but it should certainly be more than 1 out of 4,000 and some houses! (And what do you bet that one house was renovated at the owners' cost for a specific person's needs, rather than being originally designed that way? My friend's house quite obviously didn't have a huge ramp in front when it was first made, nor did it have a home-made lift over the basement stairs.)