Differently Abled

A dear friend came to dinner last week. She had a health crisis a while back, and for months used a wheelchair. She has progressed to a walker but keeps working on improving her balance.

During our conversation, I realized that I hadn’t given much thought to what “handicapped accessible” means. Sure, reserved parking spaces are great (show your permit) and nothing wrong with giving up a seat next to the subway door. But there is no one “accessible” that works for all conditions.

She told me she went to an event where people knew she would be attending. When she arrived, she was told “Look, we have a ramp for you.” She looked over and saw the steep incline which wasn’t a problem to ascend but would be to descend. While they had the best of intentions, it works better for her to take the stairs, as long as there’s a sturdy handrail. It had crossed my mind to get a ramp to our front door for her visit but when I listened to her, I was glad I hadn’t.

She spent the night at the Hilton in one of the rooms set aside for the disabled.

“I don’t know what they were thinking putting it on the fourth floor. If there was a fire or emergency (and I thought or earthquake) It would take me so long to get out of the building with the elevators out of service that I could get killed.”

Someone wasn’t thinking.

So what’s the lesson? Ask. Run your designs by people who are supposed to end up the beneficiaries. Ask what would be the best way to make your building or home easiest to navigate, even if it’s only for one night.

For me, it’s lesson learned.

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