Several years ago, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal written by Fay Vincent, the former CEO of Columbia Pictures Industries and Commissioner of Major League Baseball. Mr. Vincent described in the article a number of situations that highlight difficulties faced by disabled individuals in today’s society. Mr. Vincent is in a wheelchair.
Specifically, he described the difficulty of accessing facilities which don’t offer handicapped bathrooms, and hotels with inadequate accessible rooms. In the article, he stated that he was stunned by the number of doors in offices and other public places that aren’t wide enough for his wheelchair, and by the number of door sills that make wheelchair use difficult. I certainly can relate to that. It’s common to find restaurants and other public buildings that do not have double doors, or doors that easily accommodate a wheelchair. We tend not to patronize those places if at all possible. What’s absolutely amazing however, is how many doctors and other medical offices have issues with narrow doors, and tight, 90° turns. Our typical scenario in these situations is to ask for someone to hold the door open so my wife can drive my wheelchair carefully through. Before doing that however, it is typically necessary to first rearrange furniture in the waiting room so we can get in. Once in the waiting room, it is another battle to get back to the examining room. If there is a high door sill as well, that compounds the problem.
Reaction to Vincent’s article was predictably pro and con. Some of the reaction of readers, whom you assume are a little more progressive in their thinking given the publication, was pretty revealing of the lack of understanding in this area. Consider these responses.
“I believe the ADA to be an overreach and over burdensome.”
“George HW Bush made a HUGE mistake with this bill. This law has forced closure of some long run businesses and been a HUGE waste of taxpayer money.”
“The ADA is a bridge too far.”
“My father, may he rest in peace, was handicapped. He always found a way to overcome his infirmity.”
I will let you draw your own conclusions regarding most of these responses, but to the final response, I would say this to the writer. If you were to ask your father his opinion on the ADA, I have no doubt he would have been a proponent. After all, we are all just one life-changing incident away from being the beneficiary of such legislation. Fay Vincent concluded his article by saying he was not looking for sympathy, only better understanding. “Riding in a wheelchair can permit me new vistas,” he said, “but I need some help in some small ways. The big stuff, including ramps and elevators is done and welcome. I think the little things require little more than some good people paying attention.”
I would conclude with this thought. A requirement for every student studying architecture should be that they spend 100 hours in a wheelchair, in order to get a first-hand understanding of living life as a disabled person. After all, we ask those studying to be a teacher to spend time in the classroom in order to get familiar with their environment, and I’ll bet if you ask any of them, they are better teachers as a result!
Slice of Life series articles are those that share the special experiences of those living in a wheelchair in a way that is witty, informational, poignant and even inspirational. Do you have a story? Share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.