A few months ago, my phone flashed up with a notice. A new post in our family group chat featured a photo of my sister-in-law and her husband’s spanking new deck, along with the words “Patio is open for business.”
They’ve been working on home remodeling tasks, as have many other people throughout this pandemic. However, this deck had a feature that many others do not: a flawlessly graded ramp. Because they understand that even one step is too many for a wheelchair user, their design incorporated a properly graded ramp.
And with that one gesture, I knew I was welcome as well. I was not born into a minority group. However, a three-meter fall at the site of our house expansion in 2016 rendered my legs worthless and forced me to use a wheelchair full-time.
Prior to then, as an able-bodied, white, non-transgender, straight woman, I never had to deal with the truth that the world was not designed for me. So imagine my astonishment when, after my accident, I re-entered the world on wheels and discovered that my value to society had plummeted.
I never anticipated I’d be late for my daughter’s swimming lesson, circling the parking lot in tears since the few accessible parking places at the community center were all gone. Before I became paralyzed, I never imagined my life would change in such a way that these difficulties would be brought to light for me and for others who know and love me.
But then I became paralyzed, and I discovered that my responsibilities as a father and a partner had not changed. It didn’t stop me from going shopping, attending events, or visiting restaurants and hotels. What it did affect was the perspective through which I viewed the world. I saw myself as an afterthought through the lens of handicap.
Providing wheelchair accessibility in our communities and companies demonstrates that individuals in wheelchairs are valued. It demonstrates that society recognizes the worth of my company and that I was not overlooked during the planning process. It conveys to wheelchair users the importance of their existence.
I’m not simply referring to ramps and elevators. It also includes paved walkways and playgrounds with solid surfaces. It’s standard-height tables and countertops rather than bar-height counters, as well as bathrooms with wide, automated doors and grab bars. It’s more parking places that are appropriately wide, with curb cuts that aren’t positioned in such a way that a parked car blocks the entrance point.
It’s a matter of planning ahead of time and knowing that persons in wheelchairs deserve equal access. When the effort becomes personal, these solutions become more visible, which is why my sister-in-law and her husband designed their new deck with a ramp. However, not everyone has a family member or a close friend who is confined to a wheelchair. Not everyone has a personal connection that elevates the subject of wheelchair accessibility from the abstract to the concrete.
So let me play the role of the person you know in a chair. A lady, a wife, and a mother who is merely trying to acquire groceries, play with her children at the playground, meet friends for supper, and maybe, one day, catch a post-pandemic concert.
If you have that link, you may be more likely to notice when a ramp is disguised as a storage space, or you may think twice before pulling into the accessible parking slot, even for a moment. You’ll be another set of eyes on the world’s wheelchair accessibility, assisting society is becoming more inclusive.