When you hear these words, do you automatically picture a wheelchair? The handicapped placard, the handicapped parking space -- the very symbol of handicapped accessibility is the wheelchair.
In my last post, I wrote about the inaccessibility of a supposedly “handicapped accessible” hotel room, and the difficulties one would encounter if using a wheelchair. The fact is, some of us don't need a wheelchair on a regular basis. Many people with multiple sclerosis use walkers and canes. Many others use no mobility aids, but have a less visible handicap. We have an entirely different set of difficulties in a public setting.
My unusual handicap is that remaining on my feet for any length of time is excruciating, even when using a cane. Long lines or large crowds are an overwhelming obstacle for me. Even when I don't need the cane, standing in place is extremely difficult for me, yet there is no outward sign of trouble. I can appear the picture of health, even while struggling to remain upright. This forces me to make a quick exit whenever possible.
Our town recently held a yearly festival, which is the social highlight of the year, bringing in many out-of-towners. I searched the official website for information about handicapped accessibility, but found nothing. It was not possible to park close enough or to maneuver through the tight crowds in my condition. I don't fault the town, because I couldn't figure out how they might have done better, given the size and scope of this festival.
For that reason, I have finally decided to purchase a cane which opens into a stool. I have put this off for a long time because I find these canes unwieldy, unattractive, and unfeminine, but I can no longer allow vanity to get in the way of progress. I call it progress whenever I am pro-active in maintaining my independence.
It would be extremely helpful if department stores, malls, and other public venues had more places to sit and rest for a few moments. If they did, I would be more inclined to visit these establishments regularly. Retailers and businesses have no way of knowing about people with invisible handicaps, and I can't blame them for their lack of knowledge. They simply need to be educated on this subject.
How do we go about giving them this education? I, for one, do not wish to hit anyone over the head with it. I would like to simply inform businesses that if they provide a few inexpensive accommodations, I will be in a better position to patronize them. A polite letter, explaining the situation and requesting changes, might go a long way toward that goal. Businesses want customers, and we are potential customers. With that in mind, I am on my way to becoming a polite advocate for the invisibly disabled, for lack of a better term. It may seem like a small matter, but to someone like me -- and possibly you -- it is a pretty big deal.
Please share your experiences regarding public accessibility, as well as your suggestions for improvements.
Published On: May 19, 2008