Friday, November 25, 2011

Moving Staircase From Hell

One of the biggest challenges of having a disability, is living the life one has without becoming constantly angry or bitter. Never, one realizes in a moment of flashing perception, because of disability, but because of needless, often stupid, barriers. We are staying in a hotel attached to a shopping center. There are escalators that go down into the shopping center, but the elevators, for some inexplicable reason, have been sealed up. they are replaced with a very long, very steep, set of ramps that go down into the mall itself. I had finished work for the day and wanted to get out of the hotel, where I present again the next day, the last day of my lectures, just to signify that the day was over. Oh, and to shop a bit.

I knew I could get down the ramps, though long and steep, though they'd had slalom gates put in to stop skateboarders and to wildly inconvenience wheelchair users. But I knew, equally, I couldn't get back up, they were far too long, far too steep. I haven't been on an escalator in five years, but Joe advised that they were narrow so I could hold on both sides, that the steps ran flat for several feet before they began to raise, did I want to try. I knew that I couldn't go down them, that's just far too dangerous, but up might be possible. We went to the shopping center.

We both tried to figure out why they would have installed nice, new, lovely escalators and sealed off the elevators. How anyone could think that 'ramp' always meant 'accessibility' .... when these clearly weren't. But we went. We needed a couple of things, I found a terrific presents for Joe and for Ruby and for Susan and Belinda and Shannon, even found something little and something nice for me. All in all a success. So we went to the escalator. Luckily no one was around so I could take a good snoop. I thought maybe I could. Then I remember that choice was removed, I had come down, this was the only way up. Sometimes having only one option is really quiet a motivator.

I got up, got over to the escalator, Timed the movement and then reached forward for the sides, and stepped on. I had a good brace, holding on to each side, but feared the top. I loose balance and fall so easily. But I focused on stepping off. I made the step and then was propelled off the escalator. I had no sense of space and went reeling around trying to find a wall, or a guardrail or something to hold on to, to give me purchase,my heart was going crazy, I was terrified. Joe arrived seconds later. It was then I realized that there were two escalators and I had one more. Again, I repeated the procedure, the top now was fear filled. My body doesn't know how to regain balance at the top. 'Fall forward' I order myself. I flew off the top and then noticed that there was a little fence around the top of this one I got hold of it and stood firm. Joe got me into the chair and I almost cried with relief.

True, I got to do what I wanted to do. True I negotiated the barriers. So why don't I feel something other than anger? I suppose that maybe I didn't like the fear that was attached to it. Not the fear riding up, but the fear that comes from being at the top of a staircase, moving or otherwise, with no balance and with a momentary feeling that if I can't find something I'm tumbling over, and the stairs might have made a quicker exit down than they were a ride up. We came up to our room, even though friends were waiting for us in the bar, because I wanted to catch my breath, loose the fear, stomp out a brewing anger ... and enter to an evening of chat and fellowship not carrying anything more than the anticipation of a good time.

It was work, but it's work that I will always try to find the energy to do. Because I don't want
to ever, give up and just put up with the barriers needlessly placed in my way. I never want to become resigned to the way that things are. But neither do I want have these things in the center of my mind while the three spirits of anger, resentment and bitterness stir up the mixing pot of emotions in my chest. Barriers, built by architectural bullies and concrete hearted city planners, exist for the sole purpose of being smashed down - I know that. That means I have to be willing to swing the hammer. But, now's not the time. We went down to the bar, I ordered a cup of tea, and the chat turned to what it should have been all along, friends simply talking, planning the future, and laughing.

At one point, when we were all laughing, I think I heard the tiniest crack form in one of those barriers. It might have been it's little heart breaking because it was built to be a barrier but all it turned out to be was an annoying little piece of my day.


Martijn vS said...

It sounds like quite the achievement, glad you made it to the top.
Escalators are daunting things, I only take them on when I'm with someone to back me up. I use a manual chair and am able to stay seated, front wheels on 1 step, back wheels 1 step lower and hold on to the armrail. (Of course that isn't suitable or doable for every wheelchairuser, I know).

One time I attempted to take on one on my own. I got punished for that by falling backwards, miraculously unscathe. Never again have I done it solo.

Hope I haven;t scared you too much Dave ;)

Penelope said...

I was going to say that I have done in the past something similar to Martijn using my manual wheelchair. I have actually successfully gone up 2 escalators without someone behind me, but I don't ever want to do that again. I could possible now do it with a spotter holding the handles on my chair, but I also now have a shoulder injury that makes my holding on close to impossible.

If you ever want to see techniques, there are quite a few videos on youtube showing manual wheelchair users on escalators.

Susan said...

You put my heart in my mouth with your description of that hairy ride. Whew! But I had to smile a little too.

Hopping on and off an escalator has always been scary for me too - even though I don't have any (apparent) reason for it to be. Those things are like giant monsters ready to suck you into that little space that fits together like teeth - where the stairs flatten and disappear into at the top and bottom (I'm always afraid the hem of my pants or shoelace could get caught in there). And if that weren't enough, there's always the threat of being thrown off balance as you try to step off while doing your best to fake some kind of grace and aplomb, hoping no-one is aware of your inner struggle. I'm glad you made it, and I hope you never have to do that again.

But I do have to congratulate your determination and panache in making the decision to "go". I hope that hitting the sweet spot (I have no doubt you will) will be worth all that!

I loved that Joe said, "Do you want to try?" And I wonder how that made him feel when you said, "Yes". He's a brave man too... :)

Tamara said...

I just can't imagine. I've apparently had a fear of elevators since I was very young. Once, I've been told, I didn't get on one with my mom in a busy department store; and she had to rely on strangers to stay with me until she could get back down to get me. I think I would have succumbed to the fear. My feet still tingle when I get on one - especially the one at the ballpark that is like two stories up - and full of people _ and some stop at the top and look around. Scary!!!!

I just have a really difficult time understanding why anyone would design ramps that aren't really accessible and why elevators would be sealed off.

Rosemary said...

Dear Dave,
I have the same issues with escalators. My fear is so deep now, I get too worked up to even consider them.

I do not understand why life has to be so difficult. At times, I just stay home rather than face the barriers. I know that is so wrong, but it does happen.

Shan said...

Escalators? Barriers? What? I stopped reading at "I found a terrific presents for Joe and for Ruby and for Susan and Belinda and Shannon".

"Ooooh!" I said to myself, "Presents for me!"


trainspotter said...

Thank you Dave, your timing on this blog post couldn't have been more perfect!

This last week seemed to be a week of barriers for me (and those I love). The worst part is, as you pointed out, so many of the barriers are needless and stupid. The barriers I see mean nothing to anyone else, would not inconvenience others (in the grand scheme of things) but makes those who they apply to feel powerless and without value.

As I sat here today feeling low and defeated, my husband tried to point out all the ways I/we've successfully negotiated so many of these barriers. This just made me angrier! But I guess if we become angry and bitter, the barriers have done their job and more- they've stopped us from life.

I'm going to have a tea now and relax. Tomorrow, I'm going to spend time with the people I love and share a good laugh. Next week, I'll nagotiate the barriers I must and smash down the ones I can.

Thanks again for taking the time to write! That annoying piece of your day was not wasted... it helped me.

Belinda said...

What Shan said! :)

Spiral Staircases said...

Well good for you. There is no need to feel alone in this. I think you might well be supprised how many people are scared of them. Me included! I might work up a ladder all day but escalators are a different world.