By Jan Chait | August 15, 2007 9:37 am
If people pay attention while they’re driving the way they do when they’re walking, we’re in a melluva hess.
Wait a minute: We do. How many of us have looked for cars while driving and missed the motorcycles and bicycles? In much the same way, people crowding city sidewalks tend to look only for other people and not for wheelchairs or mobility scooters.
In the past few days, I’ve used a scooter both in Chicago, on a trip with my grandson, and in New York City, where I was with my husband. Along the way, I found out just how disabled-friendly we are, from people to streets to doors to stores to hotel rooms. It both annoyed and angered me while, at the same time, opening my eyes.
I have arthritis and, while I can walk short distances, shlepping through a city isn’t in the cards. Hence, the scooter rental.
Chicago wasn’t too bad, except for the crowds of people, who tended not to watch where they were going and were forever almost tripping over the scooter, and one store where the doors didn’t line up and the aisles were too crowded to ride through. However, our hotel room was spacious, with ample room to park the scooter, and with plenty of accessible electrical outlets to charge the scooter, my cell phone, and the receiver for my continuous glucose monitor.
New York City was a different matter.
I’d booked an upscale hotel (it was on sale) just off Times Square. Because our plane got in early, we stopped by to check our luggage before taking off to bum around town and grab lunch. When we returned to check into the hotel, my husband took care of the details while I sat on the scooter and waited.
Apparently, the clerk saw the scooter and decided we needed an accessible room, Hubby said, “Sure, why not?” and the deed was done. You’ll notice nobody asked me. It reminded me of going out to lunch with a friend who is blind and the server asking me what she wanted. “I don’t know; why don’t you ask her?” I would say. My theory is that if I wanted an accessible room I would have asked for one when I booked our stay at the hotel.
Anyway, we were suddenly being transferred to the upscale hotel’s even more upscale hotel a couple of doors down the street, where we found ourselves in a room with an accessible bathroom (but not room) in a hotel that was, well…inaccessible.
There were three ways to get into that hotel: via an inside passageway from the original hotel—which included three steps, but no ramp; through revolving doors that were too small for a scooter; or through a regular door that stayed locked from the outside. For me to get to my accessible room in the inaccessible hotel meant that I had to go to the accessible hotel and ask a doorman there to let me into the inaccessible hotel it had exiled me to.
The room was small, with only one place to park the scooter: between the sofa and a table. Most of the outlets were connected to the switch that turned lights on and off, some of which were sans on-off switches. Therefore, if you turned off the lights, the outlets also went dead. Not good for charging the scooter. There were five outlets that would allow us to both charge the scooter and turn out all the lights for the night. Two outlets were in the closet (no room for the scooter), one was behind a table (difficult to reach and you had to unplug the lamp), and two were at floor level (also difficult to reach, especially after the scooter was parked) between the sofa and the table. We didn’t discover the last two for a day or so because they were behind the drapes.
Luckily, I’m mobile, or I would never have been able to get to the appropriate outlets, once we found them.
While the bathroom had a walk-in shower with a seat that folded down from the wall, the hand-held shower wand didn’t work and the one mounted on the wall was positioned so that the water hit you in the face. If I’d had to use the seat, my face and half of my body would be squeaky clean. Luckily, I can shower standing up. I don’t know what people who need to use the seat do.
Outside, I spent a lot of time doing the curb-cut tango. Steps include the “oblivious people cut-around”; the “pothole, utility truck and lamp post avoidance”; and the “angle side-step,” which involves fighting through crowds of people at an angle because the curb cut on the other side of the street is about six feet to the side of the first one. Occasionally, there was an attempted gymnastics move when somebody stepped in front of me and nearly became airborne.
Some subway stations are accessible—if you can locate the elevator and if you don’t stay out too late (which would be after the elevators shut down for the night).
I’ll forgive the numerous frustrations in Greenwich Village, where we went to see Web Editor Tara Dairman’s play: It would be impossible to make that place accessible and still keep its character—not to mention its commerce, which seems to be concentrated either upstairs or downstairs. However, if there’s a place with a bathroom on the ground level, please let me (and my painfully overloaded bladder) know before I revisit the area.
I had to ask a clerk at a major department store to please let me spend money, since he was ignoring me despite my having a basketful of merchandise to buy. (I’m mobility impaired, not penniless.) I entered another store, only to be confronted with steps leading down to the floor. When I commented that the place appeared to be inaccessible, the employee standing guard at the top of the steps responded with a wordless shrug. At another place, one man kindly held a door open for me, only to have another man walk through right in front of me. At least he saw me, so he went around the scooter instead of walking into it. I stared down people standing smack dab in the middle of a curb cut while I sitting in the street risking being hit by large vehicles. My knee is scraped because I was trying to (1) hold a Frappuccino, (2) open a door, and (3) operate the scooter (which involves pushing on a lever) at the same time, while being handicapped by having only two hands.
One fun thing, however, was having a police officer escort me across the street in the middle of a parade. Hordes of spectators prevented me from crossing at the corners, but I managed to find a low curb to get into the street and the police officer came to my rescue.
I also managed—after two days of complaining to the security officer, hotel manager and concierge—to have the door to the upscale hotel’s upscale hotel fixed. While I had to spend my time in a (partially) accessible room in an inaccessible hotel, at least I feel that I paved the way for those who come after me.
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