Navigating the World in a Wheelchair
By Crystal McClure
One of the greatest challenges an individual with a disability faces is the issue of accessibility. Even today, there are still many places that are not fully accessible to those with disabilities; specifically those who use wheelchairs. Wheelchair-friendly establishments continue to be the exception rather than the rule.
Accessibility in the Home
As a child, I was often unaware of how often my wheelchair made it difficult for me to visit certain places. My parents did everything they could to ensure that my wheelchair did not cause me to be left out of many life experiences. They made modifications where necessary so places and things were accessible. My dad built ramps into our house so I could enter and exit the house on my own. When I reached my teen years, he made sure the bathroom was modified so I could do things on my own. Each time my grandfather built a new home for himself and my grandmother, he always made sure that I could get through all doors and hallways inside the house. I am very grateful to my family for always keeping an eye out for accessibility issues, whether in the home or out in public.
When I became an adult and had the privilege of purchasing my own home, only minor modifications had to be made. A ramp was installed to allow me to enter and exit. My dad installed a new high rise toilet so I would be able to use the bathroom without the need for a toilet chair over the commode at all times. This has made living on my own so much easier.
Challenges of Public Restrooms
Often, one of the biggest frustrations for those who use wheelchairs is public restrooms. During my childhood, my mother had to lift me on and off the toilet. Most times we would use a regular stall, which meant the door would not shut because of my wheelchair. This made me very nervous and I would hold it or not be able to use the restroom even though I really needed to go.
Many times, public restrooms are not big enough to accommodate larger-than-average wheelchairs, and in some cases, are not even designed to accommodate a regular size chair. This has been my experience in restaurants and hotels. Just as when I was a child, I have been in restaurants where my wheelchair barely fit into the stall and I could not close the door. When faced with this obstacle, I request to speak to the manager and am often told the restroom meets the required code.
While I understand public places meet code by having the handrails and a wider stall, that does not always mean that it is accessible for someone in a wheelchair. In my personal experience, the handrails are of no use to me as they are up too high and too far away from the toilet. When I do try to use them, I end up pulling my wheelchair under them instead of being able to pivot my body as needed. This has also caused me to jam my knees under a toilet paper holder.
Another issue I have with restrooms is my wheelchair sliding across the floor when I transfer. I have fallen many times because of this. It is very difficult to transfer when the toilet is standard height. Hotel showers are also not wheelchair accessible in many cases. This means that unless the person has someone with them who can lift them safely in and out of the bathtub, they have to sponge bathe and wash their hair in the sink.
Simple Steps to Improve Wheelchair Accessibility
There are some things that can be done to help improve accessibility for wheelchairs in public restrooms. First, persons building the restroom should make sure the stall is big enough to accommodate any size wheelchair and even scooters. Next, place rubber non-skid mats in front of the toilets. This will help secure the wheelchair into place so that it does not roll out or away from the user when he or she is transferring. Finally, all toilets in handicap stalls should be higher than a standard toilet. This will also help with the ease of transferring and reduce the chance that a handicapped person will fall.
Often times, the main door to the restroom is heavy and difficult to open in a wheelchair. I have been in some restrooms where the main door had a push button for opening. This would benefit accessibility for the disabled in all restrooms. If these steps were taken to ensure accessibility for those in wheelchairs, more issues such as these would likely be noticed and addressed.
As the caregiver of a child with a disability, you have the right to speak up and bring accessibility issues to the attention of management. Do not be afraid to be that voice your child needs you to be! As they say, it only takes one person speaking up to make a change. So, let’s speak up and see a change made for the benefit of the wheelchair community.
Have you or your child had frustrating experiences with wheelchair accessibility? Do you have any creative solutions or suggestions? Let us know in the comments!
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