(from Tankchair.com, the wheelchair for those refusing to be stopped)
I know how hard it is to be “challenged” in today’s mobile society, but I got to learn that reality as a fluke. Quite simply, everyone in my immediate family learned the hardships faced by the wheelchair-bound via a most unusual circumstance—when we marshaled my older daughter, in a wheelchair, on a tour of Boston’s Freedom Trail.
She wanted to go to Boston for an outing she thought might be her last…for quite some time (she was 6 and ½ months pregnant with twins). As her Mom, I wanted to enable her wish. Given the constraints of her situation (her doctor had ruled out ‘intense’ walking), I came up with the idea we’d wheel her around the city. In this way, she wouldn’t have to waddle.
With that in mind, I borrowed a wheelchair from a friend, and we proceeded on our excursion. We left our car parked at Quincy Station. From there, we took the T into the city, to avoid heavier traffic at the core.
It was never easy getting through mass-transit barriers designed for pedestrian traffic, as we found gates (for those in wheelchairs) often inoperable or hard to maneuver. We sometimes got the wheelchair hung up in the mechanism, where we weren’t able to move forward or back.
Everything seemed designed to work mechanically…or not at all. We saw few folks in official capacity, ready to help. Once we maneuvered entry ports, we accessed elevators that were cramped for 5 of us (with chair). In addition, they reeked of urine. We sucked in our collective breath, as we endured the ride.
The actual trains posed a more daunting problem. The “on” ramps were often a football field’s distance away, making us wonder how anyone whose physical being was compromised could negotiate the distance. Yes, public transportation had made accommodations for the physically-challenged, but the irony was: the physically-challenged needed to expend herculean effort to utilize them.
We got on and off the train but only because we worked together, prompting us to consider the hardship for a single person in a chair accomplishing that feat– against a clock designed for able-bodied individuals.
Once out of the tunnels, we rode along streets and sidewalks choked with tourists. At one point, our younger daughter (24) nearly pitched her older sister out of her seat, when she accidentally hit a too-high ridge in a cobblestone walkway.
Smooth going for the mobile chair was nonexistent and we knew: High-traffic situations on a workday would only compound difficulties. Crowds swelling the pavement would disallow pedestrians seeing the wheelchair—until too late—prompting trip-ups and inevitable collisions.
This day-long event was an eye-opening experience, making all of us sensitive to the considerable hurdles a wheelchair-bound person faces.
So, this writer supports a movement to address the needs of the physically-challenged, now, as they attempt to travel. As stewards of our era, we can effect changes that will positively affect quality of life for many. That’s the moral reason.
Then, there’s the practical: As Baby Boomers age, they will lose mobility but demand flexibility of movement (they are the largest percentage of the population). They will be out and about in record numbers. Their sheer numbers will mandate changes be made, making travel for the physically-challenged more accessible and easier.
It’s just smart to get ahead of that curve.
Biddy suggests: If you really want to know the experience of the physically-challenged, as they go about daily life: Ride a mile on their wheels.