Tuesday, 14 September 2010

A Very Enlightening Day

The first thing I wondered was how I was going to keep my hands clean for meals. I could wash them, but then I would just have to touch the 'dirty' hubs to wheel myself to wherever I would be eating. I solved the problem by taking a couple of pieces of paper towel and using them as gloves until I got to where I was going. My sleeves also kept rubbing on the wheels and were quite dingy by the end of the day. Tighter fitting sleeves would solve that problem.

A day in a wheelchair is one of the disability awareness assignments for a class at school. It was far more of an experience than I had imagined.

Inside the University itself, life was easy. The floors are smooth and there are elevators to take you from one level to another. The wheelchair ramps, however, are quite steep and I had a hard time rolling myself up. I don't know what someone with little upper body strength would do, especially if they had no one to push them. I was very puzzled about the doors on the wheelchair accessible washrooms; they all had automatic hinges but not door openers. It was very difficult to get inside.And I was quite surprised that the shortest way between the University and Health Sciences Centre proper did not have automatic doors on the University side. People passing through with me held the doors for me.

I was a little worried about taking the bus as classmates had told stories about difficulties they had for this part of the day, but my bus driver was extremely helpful. He flipped the ramp out as soon as he saw me, and offered a hand when I slewed off course pushing myself up into the bus. I grabbed the rails on the doors instead of his hand as I was worried he would hurt his back; he was standing in a very awkward position for pulling. He took my ticket after I was fully on board, and asked where I wanted to get off. When we reached Corydon, he dropped the bus and the ramp and I was on my way.

The sidewalks between Stafford and Harrow sloped terribly toward the street. I was mildly aware of this before but in the chair, I could only push with the arm on the downhill side to attempt to keep myself going straight. Someone with less arm strength could not do it alone-they would wind up on the street, after falling off the edge of the curb.

When I got to my office, the wheelchair ramp was much too steep to roll up; I had to grab the rails to pull myself to the top. The doors to the building were both automatic with both hand and foot buttons. I found it easier to use the foot controls. I couldn't reach the phone to dial in, so one of the Admin. Assistants opened the door. When I got inside, my co-workers were all horrified to suddenly see me on my new wheels. There were many double- and triple-takes. I was able to get to all areas of my office except my desk. That would have to be changed, but that was no surprise. I didn't try to use the bathroom, but I expect it might be a bit of a problem as it does not have an automatic door.

My next stop was Grant Park Mall. I tried to get in through the McNally-Robinson door, but the outside door opens out and they are not automatic. I was backing away to go and try a different entrance when I man crossed from the parking lot and opened the door for me. The inside door opened in, so I put my feet against them and pushed until I was far enough inside to grab the door frame and pull myself inside. McNallys has wide enough aisles that I could get around easily but I wouldn't be able to reach the top shelves. I don't think I would be able to get up to the childrens' section; I've never seen and elevator but if I wanted something, I am sure a staff person would fetch it for me.

I took the wheelchair ramp down to the level where Safeway, Tim's and the Liquor Store are found. It is a three stage ramp. The first two stages are a very gentle slope but you gain great speed on the last leg. Going back up, I had to pull myself using the side rails for the 'fast' section but the other two I could wheel up.

Safeway's aisles are wide and easy to navigate. I would have to have help with things from the top shelves, but anyone under 5'4" needs help with that. The liquor store had everything within easy reach (what does this say?)

Access to the house, as expected, would need to be modified. A wheelchair ramp or scissor jack would have to be installed, and the front yard would have to be levelled.
I could access the bedrooms, kitchen and living room but could not make it into the bathroom or close to the kitchen sink until the Geek modified the foot rests..In order to use the bathroom a transfer pole or ceiling-track hoyer would have to be installed. The bathtub needs a bath bench or said hoyer. The sink was easy to reach, but we made it that way when we did the bathroom renovations.

I would have to move some file boxes to access the closet in my bedroom and the clothes rods would have to be lowered. I couldn't see into the top drawer of my dresser, but I know where everything is in that drawer.

I could use the sink in the kitchen because it is butterfly shaped. I could cook on the stove as it is right now if the pots were not too tall. Both would have to be lowered for optimal use. I could not reach the top shelf of the 'fridge, or any of the cupboard shelves except the lowest ones in the pantry.

We would need a stair lift to access the basement as I'm not sure where we would put laundry appliances on the main floor. Once in the basement a slight ramp would get me into my sewing room.

The wheelchair itself was extremely uncomfortable. The arm rests were about two inches too high causing me to hunch my shoulders. The back was too narrow and again, my shoulders suffered by being rolled forward. There was no lumbar support and the footrests extended much too far forward. This put a great deal of strain on my lower back and my neck when I pushed myself around. When the Geek modified the footrests my feet were tucked underneath me so I could protect my back a little better and move around the house more easily. The wheelchair also needed positraction. If I was on uneven ground, the one wheel with less weight would spin and I would be stuck. That is what has happened in the picture below. I had to wait for the Geek to come and push me free. (You can also see how my shoulders are pushed forward.)
We took a little walk around the neighbourhood. The sidewalks are terribly uneven -the Geek pushed me because I don't think I would have been able to push myself. The neighbours were shocked to see me as well. I was happy to reassure them that the wheelchair was only temporary.

The strangest thing about the whole day was how strangers looked at me. While there were many who were happy to open the door and help if I asked, the large majority of people looked right through me. I don't know if they didn't want to intrude, or maybe they didn't know how to talk to a disabled person. It was very odd.

So what did I learn? Many of the approaches to the street are in horrible repair and in some cases you can't even tell there is an approach. The sidewalks are terribly uneven and many slope toward the street. Wheelchair ramps are very steep. If I didn't have a great deal of upper body strength, I would not have been able to go to half of the places I did.

Other than my neck and my back, my thenar eminences hurt the most. I must have been gripping the hubs on the wheels harder than I thought.

All in all, I hope to never have to live in a wheelchair. I could manage at home, and that the homes of friends and family, but the outside world leaves much to be desired.

The city has hired a couple of Occupational Therapists but I think all city officials should have to spend a day in a wheelchair. It is an eye-opener.

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