Almost everything I do now takes more planning than it did before, more awareness of the steps to make it happen and of the way space does or does not accommodate doing it at all. I say this not to whine or complain, just noticing how things have changed for me.
I never paid that much attention to how physically disabled people navigated their world. Oh, sometimes I’d notice Braille dots on signs or would see the blue signs with little white wheelchairs for special parking that seemed to be ignored by many in parking lots anyway. Bathrooms had maybe one stall larger than the others, usually with a broken latch or without toilet paper. Restaurants and stores had everything very close together and I never thought how someone in a wheelchair, or on crutches, or using a walker would get around.
But I notice that stuff now. And before I do anything or go anywhere away from home, I have to plan it out – and some things just don’t happen because they’re not feasible.
My complex is very conscious of mobility issues and the need to accommodate them, yet the doors to the public bathrooms and the trash areas don’t stay open when we use them. And the threshold to the main door is hard to manage on my own; I need someone to give me a push to help me get through.
When I go out to an appointment, I wonder if I can use the bathroom. Is there a special larger bathroom or stall with grab bars? How tall is the toilet? Will I be able to stand up by myself if I use it? The one at home is very tall and I have lots of bars to help me stand. Last week at the doctor, I had major trouble figuring out how to get up. So the alternative is to stop drinking and don’t take diuretics several hours before leaving home so I don’t NEED to use the bathroom at all.
The only store I’ve been to since August is a fancy grocery store near my complex, with wide aisles and helpful staff. But I think about places I used to shop regularly and know that I couldn’t manage them now; aisles are too narrow and cluttered to accommodate a chair and even someone using a walker would have difficulties. I don’t have to be able to go everywhere, but I do need to know what I can and can’t do.
I’m also very aware that people using mobility aids are slower and need more assistance – and that other people around them are impatient and in a hurry. We hate to cause traffic jams and be in the way but we really don’t have a choice, and we need you to be patient with us. And if we tell you we don’t want to go out somewhere, know that we have good reasons to be wary. We need to know how it will work, and that we can be part of the outing while not causing problems for you.
And you need to be planning, too. Do you know how you would get up from a fall, especially if you live alone? Have you thought about getting one of those Med-Alert systems? Do you have a cane or a walker in a closet or know where you can get one on short notice? Do you know if your doorways are wide enough for a walker to get through? Do you have grab bars up in your bathroom? Think about it.