So what does the word “access” mean to you? Stop a moment and think about, it’s ok I’ll wait…I’m just writing this after all.
I’m a geek and a computer geek at that, so before all this happened, I usually looked at the word from that context…access to the interwebs, to accounts, to machines. I fully and freely admit, I never thought of it from a perspective of simply living life. Up until a year ago I never realized how much I was considering the word in such a miniscule and sideways context. Access is about something very basic, a fundamental principle that we all take for granted…until it’s taken away from us.
Now before I get into the deep and heavy philosophy let me explain what brought this up. Obviously, I’ve been learning a lot about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to access for the disabled. You’ve seen me rant about bathrooms and broken elevators and streets that are barely safe to walk on, let alone wheel on. However, last week I had my first circumstance where I got angry enough to send off an email to a business, lambasting them for their “access”. Or in this case, the complete lack there of.
Who was it you ask? Eh no need to get into that…let’s just say…second word is what I work on, first word is the country I live in so proudly, and it was on the street named after a US President…see if you can figure it out from there (no cheating Arthur!). I went to this store, a simple retail outlet, to pick up some parts…only to find no apparent disabled parking, poles in front of the doors, no easy access buttons. Ok, fine, no big deal I can deal with those, I’ve figured out how to grab a door and do an interesting back and forth shuttle that uses the chair’s momentum to open a door for me. Fine.
However, once you were into the main foyer you were confronted with…a turnstile. That’s it. No gate, no other means of getting into the store. Oh there was an exit door, but there was no handle on the outside of it, so that was useless. I sat there for about five minutes, literally dumbfounded that any place still would have ONLY a turnstile to get into the store…I felt like I had shifted back into the 70’s for some reason. No one came to see if I needed help, no one offered if there was another method to get in…and in truth, that would have completely missed the point that had me so angry.
Now in one bit of fairness to this place, when I emailed them via their feedback@ account, I actually got a phone call from the store manager in less than an hour. He was apologetic, tried to explain it was an older store and that there were plans to improve the access. That’s where things went a bit off the rails. He gave me his name, the name of the other store managers and offered that all I had to do was call and they would have someone watch for me, just like many of their other clients in wheelchairs do.
Call ahead…to keep an eye out for me.
This is when it struck me, a year after the wheelchair had become so vital to my life, what access REALLY means.
Access means being able to do the basic things in life, just like everyone else (within reason…I’m not asking the Scenic Caves in Collingwood to make them trails and the caves accessible for crying out loud. I’ll gladly sit and read a book by the water thank you). I don’t want special treatment. I don’t want someone to have to look out for me. I don’t want that to be needed for me to do something as simple as getting into a store. Hell I don’t even need a button to automatically open the door, but I’m a bit lucky in that regards and there are those in chairs who do need that…so…
What does access mean? It’s means having access to a place a business, to a street, to a mall, to anywhere that I want to spend money…and do it without making a spectacle of myself. I already get stared at by kids wondering what the chair is…and that I can handle and smile at and patiently explain. When a business though just doesn’t get it, when it doesn’t understand that I shouldn’t have to call ahead to get access to their place to DO business…well now they are just telling me they don’t want my business. Somehow mine just isn’t as important as someone without a disability.
I truly appreciate when someone, without prompting or need, offers to hold a door, or help me load my chair in my car, or push me through a snow-covered street. That is something I never expect of anyone to do, but that I truly appreciate when it happens and is offered. I never, ever want to have to REQUIRE that assistance though. I don’t want to have to give advance warning…and I don’t want to be made a spectacle of…”look we come out to help the nice man in the wheelchair”.
Perhaps its a bit of an overreaction, I recognize that…and just over a year ago I would have wondered what the big deal was.
Now? That word has a whole new meaning for me, for my wife, for my friends. There are a lot of good people out there who need just a bit of accommodation for them to live their lives as normally as possible. Take a look around…is your office, your retail space, your business, ready to let someone use it if they can’t walk in on two legs?
Rant done. Long standing (no pun intended) and needed.