It’s fascinating how very different two towns can be when they’re only a half hour away from each other. My first two years of being disabled were spent living in one town. During those two years I went from doctor to doctor who ultimately ended up saying they could no longer help me and then would pass me on to a new one. Most refused to accept that I was permanently disabled and thus would either not write me a handicap placard at all or would give me a temporary one for three months.
So for every three months I scurried over to the town clerk to renew the placard. The town clerk was up a few stairs so half the time I was allowed to wait at the bottom of the stairs while an employee brought the paperwork up for me. The other half of the time, an employee just pointed at the stairs and I would go up grudgingly. Without fail, there was always some sort of skiing joke from either the staff or a random passerby. I still haven’t the slightest clue what about me has ever screamed “skier”.
For every three months over the course of the year, not one thing pointed to an accessible entrance. There was no sign, no obvious ramp into the clerk’s office, and no one had ever mentioned the fact that there was an accessible entrance. I dreaded going. I never wanted to go up the stairs; usually it wasn’t a good idea, but asking for help from someone who clearly looks like they’re not willing to give it isn’t any easier.
It wasn’t until the last time I went that I found out that there was a ramp. It was hidden on the side, out of sight from the main entrance. I never used it but knowing it was there could have entirely changed much of my difficulty with getting my handicap placard renewed.
But by then it was too late. I moved to a new town. I got a form filled out for a permanent placard by a doctor who was surprised that none of the other doctors had yet filled out such a form. I then put in my GPS and headed off to the new town clerk. The place was clearly bigger and its entrance was completely ramped with no curbs or steps. The doorways were wide and everything was placed so that anyone could get through easily. The town clerk brought me into her office with ease and checked over the paperwork.
On the way out she held the doors open and said, “We’re trying to get door openers for here, but they’re trying to tell us that they’re too expensive. But we’re still fighting them.”
Now, door openers aren’t something I usually need unless the doors are unbelievably heavy or in bathrooms (because really who wants to touch those doorknobs?). But I know other people need them and benefit from them. The thing that was really shocking was how nice it felt that someone else was doing the fighting. Someone else was wading through the legal issues. Someone else was dealing with people who don’t care about accessibility.
It wasn’t my problem.
Logically, it shouldn’t ever be my problem. Twenty years since the ADA passed and there’s still not a ramp for everywhere I go. That lack of accessibility tends to make it my problem. I’m the one who has to voice my concerns to management. I’m the one who has to ask businesses and potential employers if their places are wheelchair accessible. When they say no, it’s often left up to me to come up with the solution. Still, I’m no lawyer. I don’t know how to force businesses to be accessible; I can only point out their problems.
So when someone else mentions that they’re doing the fighting? I’m shocked. I’m relieved. It’s not my problem to deal with. It’s one less battle to fight.