Monday, September 7, 2009

Wheelchair Accessability - A more personal journey

This is not my usual "travel" entry but it surely relates to certain availabilities for wheelchair travelers. Oh: and don't be shocked - this one contains some bathroom pictures!

Thanks to a fracture of the leg and a jamming of my shoulder and elbow I have been in a wheelchair, unable to properly use crutches and unable to put weight on that leg, for about 4 weeks. During those 4 weeks we already had travel plans in place many months before the fracture occurred so we figured we would still try to travel. This meant making some changes to our reservations such as requesting wheelchair accessible rooms. What I experienced is that "we" do not fully consider the needs of our wheelchair bound persons.

First observation: maybe it's just me but I believe no wheelchair accessible room should have carpet. Moving a wheelchair around a carpeted room takes a lot of effort! We have wood flooring in our house for which I am now doubly thankful. My wheelchair glides across the floor quite well.

My first hotel experience was a a "suites" hotel in Anaheim. The bathroom was plenty roomy enough to move the wheelchair about. However, the bathtub/shower combination was the everyday variety with no accessibility for a wheelchair bound person. Seriously. There was no bench in the tub to allow sitting down - nothing other than the usual metal bars for holding on to. Since I couldn't put weight on my leg there was no way to get in the tub/shower; and even if I could there was no shower bench to sit on. I ended up sitting on the edge of the tub: sitting on the shower curtain so no water got out on the floor. It also meant I had to sit close to the shower head so the shower nozzle was reachable.

My second experience was a a hotel in Goodyear, Arizona. Again, they missed the mark with the carpet. The bathroom was roomy enough but the tub/shower was not roll in but there was a fold down bench so I was able to "scooch" over from the wheelchair to the shower. But again, the shower nozzle wasn't close. The thing I started to notice here was the sink.

The sink was not out where it was easily accessible to someone confined to a wheelchair. I had to pull my self up over the sink so toothpaste didn't dribble down my chin ( OK, so I do that when I'm on two good legs, but then that's MY fault! LOL!).

Next was at a "resort" in Mesa, Arizona. This one was so close to perfect I had to give it one thumbs up on the KarenT scale. The bathroom was HUGE, the shower was roll-in with fold down bench in the shower AND the toilet had handles screwed on the seat so I could easily use them to boost myself up. This place only missed by not putting the bench closer to the shower nozzle. I had to rest it on the mental handle to reach it. The other miss was having thick carpeting in the rest of the unit.

Wow! The only place I saw this configuration.

Three weeks into the injury we journey by train to Seattle, Washington for a couple Angel/Mariner games. The hotel we stayed at is right across the street from Safeco Field so it was soooo convenient and easy on the wheelchair. The room missed on the carpet of course and the bathroom was just big enough to move the wheelchair around. Despite this I had to give it a thumbs up on the KarenT scale for the shower alone. The shower was not only roll in but the pull down bench was positioned close to the shower nozzle so I didn't have to pull it out and rest it on the metal handles. OMG. Talk about heaven in a shower.....LOL!! If I have to criticize that shower it would be the shower curtain. It couldn't stay in place no matter what. Oh well. And I apologize but I was so amazed I forgot to snap a picture!

I want to make a side note here about the baseball stadiums I've been in since I fractured my leg. First,I had tickets months ago to all these games. That meant I had to exchange the tickets for handicap accessible which was never a problem at any of the three stadiums: Angel Stadium, Chase Field in Phoenix and Safeco Field in Seattle. They were all wheelchair friendly and had elevators for getting to the upper levels. I saw parts of all those stadiums I would never have seen before so I thank each of them for their friendliness and wheelchair accessibility.

During our city travels most people are kind and many people offered to help me/us (remember poor Chet pushed me all over!) in difficult spots. I learned Seattle's Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market area AND their waterfront area are not very wheelchair friendly. Of course these are older areas and they didnt have to worry about the ADA. The street access ramps are small and rough with the street asphalt often broken where it meets the ramp making it difficult to traverse in a wheelchair. In addition many of the sidewalks slant downwards from the building level to the curb level also making it difficult to manuever a wheelchair. I never did find wheelchair accessible restrooms in Pike Place Market. The restrooms we did find were located at the top of some stairs. The ramps to the different levels are way to steep to safely move a wheelchair down. I can't imagine trying to roll UP one of those ramps....let alone trying to push a wheelchair up the ramp. Whew!

A full month after the injury we are on the train from Seattle back to Oxnard. Before we left for Seattle the Orthopedist had said I could start putting a little weight on my leg for short periods of time. That came at the right time because in order to get from our train seats to the restroom was so much easier on two feet. I have to say here we were on the lower level so we missed the views from the observation car with all the big windows. Anyway, I was able to hold on to seats and luggage racks to get myself to the restroom. I have to say that people who ride the trains really need to be more cognizant of the handicapped people who may be on their train. Most people pay no attention to them or their needs.

Back home we ventured out to a local Farmers Market where most folks were watchful and tolerant of my chair. At the local grocery store even the employees working the floor were very helpful and even offered to get something for me that was above chair level that I could not easily reach. Very nice!

So that's my lament on wheelchair accessibility and hope it opens some eyes to the needs of others. I have learned so much about others circumstances that I hope I am never again so disrespectful of others (well, I hope I never was). I am now an advocate for persons in wheelchairs - ask my husband. Poor guy has listened to my rants and raves over this issue. I have actually sat in my wheelchair on the street and watched people WALK by, talking, laughing, but not worried about HOW they're getting to their destination. How lucky they are - and they don't even know it.

So don't take if for granted that you will always have everything you need because circumstances can change in a blink. Take time to make things easier and better for others: you might be in their shoes some day.

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