We’ve all seen these signs. ‘Handicap Parking Only’ or ‘Handicap Accessible’. These signs have become a standard instillation in our society, and rightfully so. It is estimated that 30.6 million people in the US have a walking disability—difficulty walking or climbing stairs, or used a wheelchair, cane, crutches or walker. That’s a lot of people. That being said, as someone who is healthy, and not ‘handicapped’, accessibility is not something that you think about…there isn’t a need to. It is not until you are in a position where such accessibility is needed, that you realize society is hardly accessible at all.
I was born with a leg disability named Genu valgum*…which is just the ‘fancy’ way of saying I was born with knock-knees. It was not until my freshman year in high school that this presented a problem. Because my legs were so misaligned, my knee-caps were being pushed out of place, resulting in severe arthritis. At 15, I had surgery to correct this problem. Each leg was surgically broken and I had to wear an external fixator for 6 months—12 months no walking. Although surgery did relieve my knee-problems, it did not solve them. Just recently (August 2014), I had yet another surgery. Again, my leg was surgically broken and a metal rod was inserted to help stabilize my bone. Long story short, it was not until I had these surgeries and experienced what it is like to be fully dependent on someone or something, that I realized handicap accessibility is much more than simply pushing the ‘handicapped button’ for fun.
There are people who are solely reliant on the use of handicap parking, wheelchair ramps, and handicap door buttons. While you might see the handicap logo seemingly often, in actuality, the amount of buildings or locations that are handicap accessible is scarce. Or, if there is handicap accessibility, it is outdated or broken, or not compatible with all wheelchairs. For instance, when at a family function, I was told that the building was handicap accessible, especially being that the gathering was on the third floor. Keeping this in mind, I arrived to the building looking for an elevator, only to discover that there was no elevator, but the building did have a mobile lift that would transport me up three flights of stairs. That was the first problem. The second problem: when trying to wheel on to the lift, we soon found out that the lift was not compatible for my wheelchair—it didn’t fit. The third problem is what broke the ‘camel’s back’. After I transferred into a different chair, and was on the lift, we realized that the lift wheels were worn, and could not grasp the stairs properly. We realized this as I began to fall down the stairs to my death. While this might sound dramatic, I assure you, if I had not been caught by a security guard, I and the equipment would have fallen down three flights of stairs and I would not be able to write this post.
So why am I writing this? To raise awareness…
If you see someone who is disabled, and perhaps struggling with what they are doing, offer a helping hand. Don’t be like the girl who let the door slam in my face, seeing that I was by myself and in a wheelchair, obviously struggling with trying to get into the movie theater. One, not only is it rude, but it shows a lack of character and compassion. If you see that you are in a building that is not handicap accessible, inform a manager or the business owner, letting them know that this is a problem that urgently needs to be fixed. Do something.