When getting Around in a Wheelchair, Accessibility is Always an Issue
Imagine this scenario: You're with a group of friends, going down a city sidewalk trying to figure out a place to eat. One of your friends suddenly remembers a great place just over on the next block, and so you all head over there. But as soon as you arrive, you realize something is wrong— the restaurant door is up a few steps off of the sidewalk, and you are in a wheelchair. "Not a problem," your friends say, and they carry you up as you try to hide your embarrassment. Once inside, however, it doesn't stop. You have to constantly ask people to move their chairs just so you can reach your table, and you dread even attempting to use the restroom there because it is down a narrow hallway through a sea of other tables. You sigh. This isn't the first time you've had accessibility issues, and it won't be the last.
This particular situation is fictional, but it is based on the experiences that many wheelchair-bound people have every day.
Background on Wheelchair Accessibility Standards
n 1990, the newly passed Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gave disabled citizens increased access to public transportation, businesses and work places within the U.S. This act ensured that disabled citizens were not discriminated against because of their disabilities, and public buildings constructed or remodeled since 1990 have multiple requirements for handicap accessibility. But even today, people in wheelchairs often face difficulties in getting around and going certain places.
The common accessibility issues mostly deal with space to maneuver - restaurant tables and chairs may be too close together, public transportation is too crowded and often lacks ramps, fire escape routes often involve stairs or ladders, retail store clothes racks don't have enough space between them; the list goes on. Often times, if a building hasn't had any work done on it since before the 90's, it may not even have the necessary ramps, elevators or wide doorways.
But the problems often start within the home. People living in older or smaller apartment buildings with no elevators undoubtedly face consistent problems. Consider when they patients first return from the hospital in a wheelchair, unable to even get to their door without someone carrying them or helping them every step of the way. Even many apartment buildings that do have elevators often have sharp turns in hallways or small-width doors that aren't suitable for wheelchairs to get through. Less than half (39.3 percent) live in houses that are only one level, as reported by the University of California's Disability Statistics Center.
Fortunately, there are many ways to increase handicap accessibility in both homes and public places. Ramps can easily be placed over steps, and electric lifts for stairs can be installed on just about any staircase. Doorways can be widened, and bars can be installed in bathrooms. For public buildings and facilities, the full list of minimum accessibility requirements can be viewed here.
Many people eventually adapt incredibly well to getting around in a wheelchair. It's a matter of being resourceful, adapting to new environments, and overcoming the challenges that now exist in the formerly mindless everyday tasks that we take for granted.
If you are newly injured, your physical therapy and/or rehabilitation center will most likely have all the information you need on making your home wheelchair-friendly. Websites like Adaptive Access also have a lot of helpful how-to's and advice on remodeling for accessibility. Remember, becoming wheelchair-bound just means you have to make adjustments, not change your entire life, just continue to live it to it's fullest.
Post Author: Brianna Gunter
This article is presented as part of an informative series of blog posts from the Miami Heat Wheels Project. The Miami Heat Wheels wheelchair basketball players will provide a series of how-to's in the near future to help others adapt to common challenges faced by wheelchair users.
The Miami Heat Wheels Project aims to educate, motivate and inspire all audiences to work hard and rise above the challenges they face in their lives. If you enjoyed this article, you can find more inspiration and information on the Miami Heat Wheels Blog, or support our efforts by getting involved with the Miami Heat Wheels Project.
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