“It’s Over There — Just Out of Reach”

“Could I please talk to the manager?” I asked our server after she took our drink order.

“Aw, geez,” said my grandson, slapping the cover shut on his menu. “There goes my appetite.”

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What the 22-year-old doesn’t have an appetite for is sitting there while his grandmother suggests how facilities could be made better for differently abled customers. In this case, it was an unreachable soap dispenser — something that could be remedied by installing one lower down and to the side of the washbasin area or by simply placing a bottle of liquid soap on the vanity.

Rather innocuous, I thought.

Then, since my easily embarrassed grandson had stepped out to take a phone call, I also asked the manager why public bathrooms favored open-front toilet seats. If you can’t stand up, the crotch of your skivvies tends to get caught on the seat when you attempt to put them back on. (He didn’t know, either.)

And suggested that the toilet paper dispenser be moved to above the grab bar. When it’s below the bar, and the toilet is already higher than a standard one, then you’re kind of standing on your head to try and get the toilet paper out. Sometimes I can, sometimes I have to frantically dig through my purse for whatever I can ferret out: tissues, napkins, sales receipts…

Yeah, I know…ewwwww!

“Ever wonder why you don’t see many of us around?” I’ll sometimes ask a friend. “It’s because we can’t find a bathroom.”

That’s only about half a joke. There may be bathrooms, but not all of them are accessible — not even the ones that claim to be accessible.

Take one of my favorite family owned restaurants, for example. Bless the owners, they built a whole new accessible bathroom. At least, I’ll take their word for it: I can’t get in to find out. The ramp from the lower level to the upper level (where the bathroom is) is too steep and the hallway on the upper level that could take me there is too narrow.

A local hotel where I met some friends for lunch one day proudly advertised accessibility on the doors of its two public bathrooms. Reality, however, told a different tale. The “handicapped” stalls were no wider than the regular ones. The only difference was added grab bars on both sides. I suppose that would do the trick if you could ambulate and needed to use them for balance or to lean on.

In those bathrooms, there was no room to turn the scooter around and back in. If there had been, there would have been no room in the stall to turn the scooter seat around to transfer over to the (open-front) toilet seat.

Backing up? Even in some bathrooms with a large stall for the handicapped, there is no room inside to maneuver the scooter around and I’ve had to back my way into the stall — sometimes beginning at the bathroom door.

Hotel bathrooms aren’t much better, and I always make sure I’m well showered before leaving on a trip. Roll-in showers aren’t always zero-entry, and the shower heads…well…in an accessible bathroom with a roll-in shower, the showerhead is generally on a slider bar so it can be moved up or down. How many times have I suggested that housekeeping be told to leave the showerheads at the bottom of the slider? I’ve lost count.

My point is, if you can stand up, you can move the showerhead up. If you cannot stand up, there is no way you can reach the showerhead to move it down.

Fortunately, I rarely travel alone. But will I ever be able to?

And on a recent trip, I ran into a new obstacle: A sink that was set so far back, I couldn’t reach it to brush my teeth. Not even having a companion along could help with that.

  • jim snell

    Excellent Jan. I while not working my way thru the difficulties you face being motorized but I also found many of the things you mention as well. Basically all set up for the “normal” folks ( at least they can all stand on their heads and drink a glass of water -no sweat! and no clue for anybody with tough handicaps and what they face wending their way thru this minefield and unable to contort their way through – no sweat!

  • Lynda Cook

    I am not in a chair all the time–yet. But I had surgery on my right ankle and could not put any weight on it. I have a muscle problem, especially in my thighs, which makes it hard to stand up anyway. The orthotic building was brand new and the handicp stall was big enough to turn a manuel chair around. However, the toilet was so low I felt like I was sitting in the floor. There was no way I could pull myself up because my left leg wouldn’t allow me. If a lady who worked in a nursing home and knew how to get me up hadn’t been there I would still be there a year later. Well, maybe not but I sure thought so at the time. How could a brand new building do so well with part of it and so bad with another part?