I will never forget that bathroom break. We were living in Minnesota and I was taking some graduate classes in education. Having a bladder the size of a grape, I of course had to run out mid lecture to relieve myself. As I threw open the door, I almost crashed into a fellow student. I quickly apologized and began to go around her to the stall. I didn’t get far before realizing that she wasn’t that close to the door because she was using the sink, trying to go herself, or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. She had been trying to leave and could not. I awkwardly asked her if I could help her with the door and was caught off guard by her response. (obviously these are not her exact words, but you get that). She too had needed to escape a lecture to use the facilities. Unfortunately though, an hour had elapsed since she had used the restroom, her lecture had ended and she had missed an important review for an upcoming exam. Why? Because the supposedly “wheelchair accessible” bathroom in our building became her prison. There was no way anyone, I don’t care if they could bench press a million pounds, could have opened that door from a seated position. It was ridiculous. And I could see that what I had initially perceived as her sadness and my need to show compassion wasn’t it at all. She wasn’t sad. That girl was pissed off. And shouldn’t she be? And you know what, I think she wanted me to be too. Shouldn’t I be? So we opened that door and stormed out together, ready to bring it, and angry that with all the dollars we were paying for our education they couldn’t manage to put in a door that could logically be opened by anyone. We wanted to give “the man” a piece of our minds. But did we? Or did I for that matter? Nope. I want back to lecture, got bored and completely spaced out for the remaining 30 minutes.
Today the girls and I ventured downtown to go to the aquarium. I had a stroller for Molé and BQ on the “buggy board.” Much better for the bus and train. As I was lugging the children from bus to train and then more trains, up and down escalators, searching for the correct elevators to get me to such and such platform and trying to maneuver the stroller on and off the train and bus I was beyond frustrated. What a pain! How in the world would anyone think any of this is accessible to a mom with a stroller when it clearly is not!? I started to wonder if any of it would even be possible for someone in a wheelchair, traveling alone and needing to go the same route. The answer is a big fat NO WAY. We live in a very old city and its attempts as being accessible are pretty much laughable. In the past I would say this makes me a bit sad. But now, it really just makes me angry.
Wouldn’t it just be better on everyone if we called it like it is? Rather than a little blue sign with a white drawing of someone in a wheelchair, why don’t we add a big question mark. Basically, “Um, well, yah we sort of tweaked some stuff, but haven’t really checked it out, so yah know, good luck with that.” Sort of a choose your own adventure concept. I wonder how many others like that student I met in the bathroom have been fooled into believing that little blue sign only to be left behind. It’s ridiculous. The Hallmark store at the mall near my house that has all of its cards up a set of stairs after you enter, ridiculous. Our church that doesn’t have an elevator or any ramps other than the one up to the front door yet has classes and meetings upstairs and in the basement, ridiculous. My apartment with its stairs at every entrance, ridiculous. And the aquarium with its really cool top of the big tank viewing area that’s only accessible by stairs, ridiculous.
I don’t really have an answer and obviously I’ve never experienced this personally. It’s just on my heart tonight and I needed an avenue to express my frustration. How can we truly create access for all without it being an afterthought? Some sloppy inadequate job that looks like something a five year old threw together. It isn’t about checking boxes on a form so that you can proudly display that little blue sign, is it? I hope not. I don’t ever want to meet someone in the bathroom, or any other place for that matter, because of cut corners. I highly doubt it would have taken much time to have someone test out that door prior to completion of the restroom.
Maybe I’ll go back to be junior high days of removing public signs (true confessions. i really liked the “wash your hands before going back to work” ones found in bathrooms. they were usually up with double sided sticky tape and came off easily. i know, really random form of rebellion). This time I’m targeting you, little light blue sign and your so called “accessible” establishments. You’ve been warned- it’s either fix it or buy a lot of nails.