author: yumi shier | contributor
We live in an ableist society, and it sucks. I’m a disabled person, I’m feeling salty, and I have some things to say.
Disabled people are a minority, be it mentally or physically. I can’t say anything for people in the former group, but I have been physically handicapped all my life. For the most part, I had a pretty normal life, and I got around pretty easily without any assistance. However, this past year or so, things got worse, and now I require a walker to get around comfortably. Using one hasn’t really affected my day to day, either, so adjusting to it was pretty okay.
However, using a walker means I can’t use my hands. You never realize how much you use your hands for things until you have them occupied for a lot of your day. Pushing around a walker means I can’t hold things while walking around. It comes with pockets, and I created a cupholder, but I’ve come to loathe doors with all of my being.
This is coming mostly from my campus experience. Sure, there are automatic doors at every entrance, but you know what sucks about them? They take four-thousand years to open. How long have I had to stand at a door, waiting for it to creep open wide enough to slip through? And then you have a crowd waiting for you to get through so they can speed walk past, as if I can make it go any faster.
While I can’t always use my hands when moving, I can still step back and yank the door open to speed things up. But people using wheelchairs can’t do that. I’ve talked to a few wheelchair users who have all agreed that the door problem is a real one. The only plus about automatic doors is that they stay open at the point when you push the button, so to the people who hold the door for me and are clearly rushing, thank you – pushing the button will hold it open so you can go on your way. I know you have places to be.
The other issue with doors is the floor underneath them. Again, most people won’t notice, but my walker catches on gaps and stops dead, which is super dangerous for me. That gap between the carpet you wipe your feet on and door frame? I have to lift my walker up to get over it, and it sucks. And I’m pretty sure wheelchairs can get caught in those, too. Sometimes the ground outside the door is uneven and has cracks or holes; same problem. Then you have to unstick yourself, and people are waiting, and – sorry, sorry, give me a second.
Bathrooms are a problem too, which people don’t realize. Campus has been getting better about accessibility, but there are still issues. For me to use a bathroom, I have to first find a bathroom without doors (doors I can’t open). Luther’s been great about this – they have accessible bathrooms that even have a little occupied light. Best bathrooms. However, from what I’ve seen, all the accessible bathrooms on campus are only on the main floor. Which is a pain when you have class on not the main floor (which is where most classrooms are). Something that happened to me recently was that someone had occupied the handicap stall. This wasn’t a problem at first. I stood and waited in RIC’s lovely doorless bathroom because my walker won’t fit in standard stalls. Hell, half the time they don’t fit people in general. But this particular incident irked me because the person in the one stall I could use was on her phone, having a good old chat with someone and clearly wasn’t going to end it any time soon. So I turned around and left, because screw it. Not every building has bathrooms without doors or automatic doors, so it was either circle campus to as far as Riddell, or just go home. I chose the latter.
Now, I can still use my legs, even if they are defective. The people who can’t have an even rougher time (having gone through surgery, I did have a temporary experience with this). You know what a solution would be? Make all stalls accessible. Less toilets, sure, but at least we have multiple options per bathroom, instead of the one, which is a fifty-fifty chance to begin with.
And then there’s commuting between campus and Campion and FNU. People have always complained about the trek, and let me join in. Make tunnels. At least to FNU. Everyone wants it. Not just disabled people. Or at least make a sheltered path so that people don’t risk freezing to death in winter. Do something with our money that isn’t a pointless million-dollar sign.
Generally, people have been pretty cool about seeing a disabled person and lending a hand. Several people have asked if I need help, or didn’t complain when I asked them to grab something for me. I have friends who walk with me who know that they need to hold a door open for me, and don’t complain. Thank you, those people.
To the people who see me, because people with mobility aids of any kind are very, very hard to ignore, and yet cut across me and drop the door just as I get there: what? Like, you must have consciously made that decision. You can’t just ignore the fact I use a walker. And maybe you have to run to class or something, fine. But to ignore a disabled person? You know who you are. And I hope you feel the glares I give your back the whole way to wherever you’re going. Feel guilty – you’re an asshole.
Knowing the things I deal with just walking around campus, be considerate. Hold the door for people. Don’t use accessible bathroom stalls if you don’t need to. Make our lives a little easier. Don’t be an ass.