Perreault and Blaine Waterman talk to Bob Guter
about the pros and cons of rolling rather than walking, with photographs
by Mark McBeth.
Bob: I think our topic
is a good one for BENT because it combines the practical with the
emotional in ways that most crip readers will recognize. Even guys
who don't use a chair should find a lot to identify with here.
Let me begin by asking
you, Blaine, how long you've been using some kind of motorized assist.
I've had a disability all my life and was
walking with crutches from about the age of seven. But in the mid-90s
my walking ability started to decrease. In fact it was decreasing
for years before I really noticed. In the summer of 1997 I went
on a trip to Santa Monica and was walking along the big boulevard
there, when I realized for the first time that I couldn't walk the
way I used to; I was exhausted after two blocks, which before would
not have been a long walk for me. I think it was that fall when
I applied for the insurance paperwork to get a motorized chair.
Bob: What kind of insurance
do you have? Readers may be interested from a practical point of
Blaine: I have an HMO.
Health Net is the exact name, although it might have been called
something different at that point, because they keep merging every
six months, but now it's called Health Net. They agreed to pay half
the cost of a motorized chair and I had to cough up the rest. The
total was $8000, which I ended up putting together from several
sources: I used some of my own money, my brother gave me some money,
and an aunt loaned me a bunch of money (which was nice, but I had
to pay her back). I got the wheelchair in the spring of 1998, by
which time I needed it even more than I had in the fall. The irony
was that I had to say, for insurance purposes, that I could barely
walk a block, which at the time was not literally true. By the time
I got the wheelchair it was true. So I guess my statement
was a . . .
Bob: A self-fulfilling
Blaine: Later that fall
I needed some surgery, which really, really pushed me over the edge,
so I was a total wreck by the time the wheelchair came.
or Scooter, Bells and Whistles**
Bob: Do you use an electric
wheelchair or a scooter?
Blaine: I was advised
against getting a scooter by the people at Wheelchairs of Berkeley.
They told me that scooters were more appropriate for people who
make light use of the mobility device. They said a motorized chair
was a much better choice.
Bob: When you got the
chair, was it specially designed or modified for you at all, or
is it an off-the-shelf model?
Blaine: My insurance
refused to pay for most of the available options, so the only personalized
features are a slightly wider seat and a back that angles at 110
degrees to account for my serious slouch.
Bob: I want to ask you
in a few minutes how it's worked out and whether it's met your expectations,
how it's changed you sense of mobility, but first I want to ask
Michael to give us his account in parallel form.
had been thinking about getting a power wheelchair for the last
two to three years, but every time I would think about it, it seemed
like too much of an effort, emotionally, to deal with all the stuff
that goes along with it. Then along came the United Airlines bankruptcy,
and I figured that I'd better think about getting the power chair
while I still had a job and still had insurance. So it was the practical,
financial aspect that motivated me to get going and do it.
that if I got a power chair I would eventually need a lift-equipped
van, but that would have been a horrendous task to undertake all
at once, because I barely could cope with the idea of the power
wheelchair. I decided to break it down into pieces and just get
the chair for starters, allow myself the chance to get used to the
chair and adjusted to it, all of this before I had the critical
need to have one.
I've been having trouble
walking more than a half block without feeling very fatigued. Lower
back pain has been on the increase, too. So about a half a block
is as much as I can really walk comfortably, and that might finish
me off for the rest of the day.
in the Workplace**
Bob: There's an interesting
wrinkle in your case because you have been using a power chair at
work for how long?
Michael: A scooter. I've
been using a scooter at work for the last eleven years because in
some places the distance from my desk to my destination is a quarter
of a mile.
Bob: It's like working
in a warehouse.
Michael: Yeah, it's a
mammoth maintenance center for United Airlines, where the distance
I have to travel is the width of about five planes, wing-tip-to-wing-tip.
When my boss wanted me to change functions at a certain point I
told him I could do it only if provided access, and they got me
Bob: Did United pay for
Michael: Yes, it's a
company-owned piece of property that I get to use.
Bob: Has it proved satisfactory?
Michael: At first it
was less reliable than I would have hoped, but it's been reliable
for years now. More difficult was the adjustment period that involved
people suddenly reacting very differently to me than they had before.
Bob: Why don't you go
on and tell us about the more personal aspects of the transition
and then I'll ask Blaine how using a chair has changed his relations
Michael: When I was walking
and using a cane I would have to be careful with every step; I was
always looking at the floor and people were more or less obstacles
in my path. Since I've had the scooter I've been able to make eye
contact with people and smile and say hello and make passing comments,
and I feel much more relaxed walking in the hallway.
Bob: Or rolling.
Michael: Or rolling.
Well, yeah. The funny thing is that using the scooter at work makes
things much easier than it ever was walking, but people think it's
much harder for me.
Bob: In the scooter?!
Michael: Before the scooter,
for example, people would never hold doors open for me, even if
I was carrying things.
Bob: When you were walking,
were you using any kind of aids at all?
Michael: Just my braces
and my cane, but people were so used to seeing me that I became
invisible. It's as if it took the scooter to make them realize that,
"Yes. This guy is really disabled." Still, very few people responded
appropriately, in my opinion, to what the scooter implied. I think
probably less than five people said the equivalent of, "Gee! It's
about time! You've needed that for a long time, haven't you? It
really opens up possibilities in employment here."
Bob: How did you feel
about that kind of comment?
Michael: I felt that
that was real, that it was a meaningful recognition of genuine difficulties
that had practical solutions. Whereas othersone woman I've
been a passing acquaintance with for yearscouldn't cope. The
first time she saw me using the scooter I was backing onto the elevator
when she was in it to leave work, and she bolted! Just because she
couldn't cope withwell, I don't know what she couldn't
cope with, but she just bolted. And I'd seen her so many times before
and it wasn't a problem. A number of people, quite a few, would
flatten themselves against the wall in the corridor, acting as if
they were about to be hit. They did it in a humorous way, but I
still didn't like it.
Bob: I guess there's
only one possible response to that, "Up against the wall, able bodies."
Michael: Something like
that. Yeah. And other people would make jokes about, "Can we have
a ride?" Or, "Gee! You are so lucky to have that!"
Bob: Don't you think
they were being humorous because they were uncomfortable by this
transition of yours?
Michael: Sure. But I
didn't like it anyway!
Bob: Blaine, has using
a chair at work changed how you do your work, how people respond
In my case it didn't change things much, because I don't really
use the chair at work. The distances at the library, where I work,
are not that great, and for me to go and help people, which I do
sometimes, get books or things off the shelf, it's harder to do
in a wheelchair. So the wheelchair is not a big factor except in
getting to and from work, where it's a very big factor.
Bob: Tell us about that.
Blaine: First let me
tell you about the interpersonal aspects. Before the chair, when
I was using forearm crutches, I was bent over and walking in a very
different gait and style than most people are used to, so it was
clear that I was disabled. Yet in stores or other places where I
needed help, people would often not offer to help. Maybe they weren't
sure what kind of help I needed. In the power wheelchair, people
assume, I think, that I can do nothing. The irony is I'm less disabled
in the wheelchair in most situations than I was on crutches, but
I look more disabled to people that don't know me and they unhesitatingly
offer me assistance, which by and large I prefer. I found that if
you're having to ask people for help constantly and tell them what
to do it's awkward.
I know that people's
personalities are different, but I hated asking constantly, always
fearing that someone might say no (which hardly ever happened).
I did worry a little about what people at work would say, because
to me it was such a big change. I was surprised that in my work
situation, which as I've said was quite different from Michael's,
there was essentially no reaction at all.
Bob: Did you have to
ask for any kind of accommodation?
Blaine: We had to make
sure that I got a big enough cubicle, because some are smaller and
some are shared by two people, so I got a cubicle to myself, one
large enough to be a convenient, safe place to leave my wheelchair.
Bob: Sounds like it was
all very amiable, but just something that had to be paid attention
Blaine: Right. Right.
Bob: Let me ask both
of you, Michael first, to talk about the emotional aspect of making
the transition from walking to rolling.
Michael: I found it to
be very tough. I found the anticipation of getting my chair much
harder than actually having it, at least so farbut I've only
had it for six weeks now.
Bob: And Blaine, you've
had yours for?
Blaine: Five years.
Michael: I've had my
scooter at work for the last eleven years, but there it's different,
because I encounter the same people all the time and I'm totally
familiar with the layout. Once people get used to me and the scooter
at work, most of them know how to handle it. Physically, too, there's
not much that's unexpected. Everything is flat, the doors are fairly
manageable for me to go through, and now, even with our fire drills
and emergency evacuation plan, we have something figured out that
works for me. At work I'm also very conscious that I can fall back
on the ADAin the back of my head I knew I had that to back
In my personal life,
though, in my own neighborhood, well, the ADA is still there, but
that doesn't mean that everybody is implementing it or even aware
of it, so I was very nervous about running into problems, going
into restaurants, things like that . . .
Bob: What made you nervous
about going into restaurants?
Michael: Just how big
a deal it might be in terms of maneuvering through a crowded restaurant.
There are so many restaurants here in San Francisco where the tables
are close, the aisles are narrow, you're dealing with patrons standing
around waiting, people leaving, people at the cashier, the wait-staff,
all that sort of stuffit's a lot to negotiate. And you're
negotiating at half the height of other people.
Bob: Crotch height.
Michael: Crotch height.
Bob: Which can sometimes
be an advantage, but not
Michael: It depends
on the crotch.
Bob: Ityes, thank
you. I'll put that in italics.
Michael: So I had a lot
of dread about it. And a lot of that dread comes also, I think,
from the specifics about my polio experience; when I was growing
up, everything was focused on surgery, therapy, rehab: "Walk by
any means. But walk. Walk. Walk."
Bob: Rehabilitate yourself.
Michael: Yes. Be as normal
as possible. And being normal meant to walk, no matter if you had
to carry around an extra twenty pounds of braces and all that other
crap. I was raised in an environment where being in a wheelchair
was the kiss of death. It meant defeat.
Bob: And using a chair
would have emphasized how different you were from everybody else,
whereas the goal of rehabilitation was to try to pass and be as
like everybody else as you could be.
Yeah. And even if you don't succeed you get points as long as you
bust your ass trying.
Bob: Trying, even if
it's foolish after a certain point, makes you heroic in the eyes
of the normals.
Michael: Right. Heroic!
I also know that
when the post-polio first hit me twenty years ago I had some of
the same dread about joining a pool and going swimming, about admitting
that I was becoming more disabled. And so this whole wheelchair
thing is a fresh symbol of so much that has brought me pain in my
Bob: We're talking about
the social interface between disability and the world we have to
live with on a daily basis. We might think we've become pretty well
socialized with disability, then all of a sudden we discover a piece
of equipment that can be life enhancing also has its drawbacks.
Let's talk to Blaine about that, and then I want to hear more about
what has happened to you as you began to use your chair, Michael.
Blaine, it's become evident
that the chair hasn't had much impact on your work life. Has it
had much effect on your social life, things like restaurants, shopping,
wheelchair presents a lot of hassles and potential problems; frankly,
it's less fun than I expected it to be. I didn't have the
same resistance that Michael did. I had some apprehension, but not
much resistance, partly because of how shocked I was by how quickly
I had gone downhill physically. Now, eight years later, I'm still
not sure why I deteriorated so fast, or if I have much chance of
every reversing it if I want to try. I'm gonna start trying, I'm
gonna start working with a physical therapist at home, mostly because
my back really hurts, and the back and the leg stuff is all kind
of related. But anyway I'm tangentching.
Bob: It's a good tangentch!
Blaine: That physical
deterioration was one reason I moved to Berkeley. I thought it would
be more manageable, but I realized after a few months that even
Berkeley was not small enough for me. I mean, if you can barely
walk comfortably for two or three blocks, even a small town is too
much for you to handle. So that was the bitter and scary truth I
was coping with in the summer and fall of '97. The move was OK for
its own reasons, but it was no solution to my mobility problems.
Because of all this, my initial feelings about the wheelchair were
very, very positive. Suddenly I could go faster than I'd ever gone
in my life. Even in my best years I was never a fast walker, but
in the wheelchair I'm rolling down the sidewalk at six miles an
hour. It felt euphoric. It was really pleasurable to be able to
go somewhere fast! Fast! And go a long way and not get tired. And
faster than other people!
Bob: I can hear the pleasure
of it in the telling.
Blaine: I felt safer,
too. I'm not that steady walking and somebody could easily just
practically baby-tap me and knock me over and take my money. In
fact I was mugged a couple of times. Even though I wasn't hurt or
pushed over, that was becoming more of a fearthat I was vulnerable
to that. I'll concede that I've come down a bit from my initial
high. While I still enjoy having a wheelchair (and now I don't think
I could live without one) I've found it more of a limitation than
I expected at first. Even in Berkeley and Oakland and San Francisco,
which are more progressive and probably more accessible than many
parts of the country, barriers abound. I've noticed that my choice
of where to go and what to do is circumscribed by the wheelchair.
Of course my earlier limitations also circumscribed things, so it's
. . .
Blaine: Exactly! I've
noticed, for example, that I tend to go to the same restaurants
over and over. Why? Because I don't want to deal with a new place
and its potential hassles. I occasionally push through that fear
if I really want to go somewhere.
Bob: That's interesting
to hear you say, because I realized a couple of years ago that one
of the reasons I get anxious when I go on vacation is because I'm
leaving my tightly circumscribed little village. Obviously I go
all over the city at times, but, like you, I tend to do things repeatedly
in a very small area. I know that even then some people see me for
the first time, and yet I feel more comfortable, because there are
lots of people who are seeing me for the 500th time, especially
in shops and stores. When I'm in a new environment my anxiety rises
because I feel like I'm on display, I feel . . .
Bob: That's right. Michael?
Does any of what Blaine said ring a bell with you?
Michael: Oh, absolutely!
That's why I'm glad I got the power chair the way I did, before
I had to have it. Since it's not a crisis, I can start learning
to deal with my anxiety on my own schedule. I can make up my mind
if I want to try going someplace in the chair, or I can still drive,
find a place to park and walk in, that kind of thing, so at this
point l have some flexibility.
I've been thinking
about why Blaine had less trouble adjusting to a wheelchair than
I did. I believe that the easier it is to pass as less disabled,
the harder it becomes to admit that your disability is worsening.
It then becomes harder still to take action that will improve your
situation (like using a wheelchair) if that action makes you look
more disabled. An analogy might be how difficult it is for
some "straight-acting" gay men to admit their gayness
and be less judgmental of fems than it is for "queenie"
guys who are obvious in the first place.
I also know that new
situations cause me anxiety. That's probably why my life is so small;
it's also why so many of my friends don't realize the impact my
disability has on my life. Because my life is small and I've learned
how to manage it fairly well without needing a great deal of help
from anybody, people looking at me can say, "It's just Michael being
Michael and it's no big deal." But as soon as I'm in a brand new
environment (like your vacation example) the stress level quadruples,
particularly if I'm in any kind of need or trouble.
Bob: It seems like you're
operating in a hybrid situation now. You have the chair, but you
don't have a van, so you can use the chair in your immediate and
somewhat larger neighborhood and if you can find public transportation
that is truly adequately accessible you can use it in a larger sphere,
but if you want to go on a little day trip you're screwed, because
then you can't use your chair. Have you gotten used to a
radius that's comfortable?
Michael: Not yet! I discovered
in the last six weeks just how many curb cuts actually exist in
this city. You'll find that the major intersections generally have
the minimum cuts, but the little streets in between often have none,
and then you have the city coming along tearing up the sidewalk,
and people parking cars across the sidewalk, and steep driveways
where you're likely to tip over! With obstacles like those I find
myself having to wheel out into the street, where my view is blocked,
which is really scary.
Bob: How about public
transportation in San Francisco?
Michael: Hah! A couple
of weeks ago when a friend found one of the BART (Bay Area Rapid
Transit) elevators broken, she tried to call it in but discovered
that BART had turned the phone off because . . . the elevator wasn't
Blaine: At least with
BART all the platforms are uniform and that never changes. The situation
with Muni (San Francisco's municipal public transportation system)
is more complex because it involves underground and surface vehicles,
light rail and buses. When you roll into car in your wheelchair
say, once it leaves the subway station, that area becomes stairs
on one side or the other of the car. But in Muni light rail vehicles,
a side of the car turns into a set of stairs. So you can tip and
fall into the door, and I did that a number of times, no matter
how careful I was. Eventually I started to park in the aisle where
that couldn't happen, even if I was inconveniencing other passengers.
Bob: In general, do other
passengers become impatient if you're having difficulty?
Blaine: It depends on
the situation. With BART things are engineered so your chair just
can't be thrown. But Muni's variety of trolleys, buses, light rail
vehiclesalmost all of them require heavy involvement by the
driver/operator to secure the chair. Many a driver is unenthusiastic
at best about this part of his job. I've found that when the driver
is doing her best to be cooperative, the other passengers are more
likely to be good-natured about the whole operation.
Bob: I want to ask both
of you how you see things changing in the future for you when you
use your chairs. Are you going to be using your chairs differently?
You talked about living in a very small world. Is the chair going
to make the world larger?
Michael: For me it already
has to some degree. I have been taking it to places that I avoided
in the past, because parking was such a problem.
Michael: My recovery
group meetings. There's one two blocks from me. Two blocks is too
far for me to walk.
Bob: Is it accessible?
Michael: The meeting
place? Yes. Well, not really good, but accessible, so I've been
able to resume going to meetings to the point where I could volunteer
to be treasurer, which requires me to show up every week for the
next six months, so there's that. And I was able to go to your house
without having to think about parking and walking up the hill, the
chair can do that, and I feel a lot more secure.
Bob: Don't you think
that all of these practical considerations must have a lot to do
with how you interact with people socially, in public? I mean, when
you are walking, you as a walker are expected to move with other
walkers, whereas pedestrians are expected to react to you when you're
in a chair.
Michael: Some do and
Bob: That's what I mean.
But the whole dynamic must be different.
Michael: Some people
are considerate, some seem oblivious to . . .
Bob: Do you have a horn?
Michael: Not yet. But
I may get one.
Blaine: I did have one,
but it was hard to keep attached! I've learned the trick of making
strange noises, because if I say something people often don't hear
memy voice doesn't project well in my normal range. Sometimes
I'll cough loudly, which can startle people, or I'll just pretend
to be singing to myself and people will hear me and move.
Bob: Good strategy.
Blaine: A horn might
be fun, but it's part of a larger strategy problem. As a wheelchair
user you need to make pedestrians aware of you without startling
them or making them angry. I've learned that when you're behind
somebody they may be blissfully unaware of you. I may be really
frustrated with them, but in fairness they don't even know I'm there.
And so for me to just yell "Out of my way, Motherfucker!"which
is what I feel like doing sometimeswell, if I were them I
wouldn't appreciate that! So I think it's a matter of treading the
middle ground, not rolling behind somebody at a ridiculously slow
pace, burning with resentment, and yet not self-righteously terrorizing
other people just to get where you need to go.
Bob: Sounds like there's
a whole area of chair/pedestrian etiquette that's everybody's responsibility.
Michael: Oh! Yeah!
Personal and Practical**
Bob: Let me ask you both
what I think of as an overtly political question, and let me frame
it by giving you an example. I have a friend who uses a scooter
and who also uses crutches, like you, Blaine. Although she can get
into certain places when on crutches, she has adopted the policy
that if the place of public accommodation isn't accessible, and
even if she can get out of her scooter to get in, she will not do
so, on principle. Michael, maybe it's too soon for you to have thought
much about this, but do either of you have any feelings about it?
Michael: I live between
two worlds. Sometimes it's as confusing to me as it must be to those
watching me. Someone is holding a door open for me and as soon as
I get through the door I stop the scooter and get out and I imagine
people wondering, "Hmm, what do we do about this?" I'm still trying
to figure out the practical/political implications, but I think
I'm probably more inclined to adopt your friend's point of view.
In one restaurant where
I was already known as a walking customer I showed up in my new
chair. Because I wanted to sit at a table like I always have, the
first thing I asked when they saw me come in (they looked rather
shocked, by the way) was, "Can I park this somewhere out of the
way, like, you know, so I can go to a table?" They were prepared
to remove chairs from a table for me, but they said, "Sure!"
Other people who see
me, people in my apartment building, for example, their eyes widen
and they ask, "Oh! What's happened?! Is this, is this permanent?"
And I'll answer, "No. It's part-time."
Blaine: But, but permanently
Michael: And they don't
know what to do with that, you know, it sort of takes them a few
seconds to go through that process. Just last week I ran into a
friend who uses a chair at one of those restaurants where you read
the menu while you're standing at the counter. He was on his way
out, I was on my way in, and the only place to exchange greetings
was smack in the middle where everybody was standing. I was very
conscious that we were really in the way! I had to do some immediate
self-support talk, like saying, "It's OK to be in the way.
Other people are standing and chatting with each other. They are
as much in the way, in their way, as I am in their way in my way!
Bob: That's a tough one
for me. As a gimpy walker, I'm hyper-self-conscious about being
in the way. Blaine
how do you feel about that? Do you have the same sense of sometimes
being in the way?
Blaine: You know, theoretically
and philosophically I would always say, Sure it's okay to be in
the way. Depending on my mood, depending on how hostile the people
around me seem, I sometimes stand up for myself like Michael does,
while at other times I mosey along, trying to avoid attracting unfriendly
Michael: It's very much
situational, and to me that's where the anxiety comes from. I don't
have a set of rules that, you know, other people can take for granted.
When it comes to "sidewalk etiquette," I've walked around
the city so little for years now that I don't know what it's like
to be a pedestrian anymore, even a "rolling
it's an exaggerated version of how I always feel in San Francisco:
when I'm a pedestrian I hate drivers, and when I'm a driver I loathe
pedestrians, but I'm really both all the time.
for the First-Time Chair Buyer**
Let's try to wrap things
up by my asking you this. If you were going to advise someone who
is in the transitional mode of thinking, "Gee, I'm not getting around
so well anymore. I'm really thinking about using a chair," what
would you say to this person?
Blaine: First of all,
I would suggest that you assess your overall situation. I regret
that I didn't do more to stop or reverse the decline that put me
in a wheelchair. With Michael it's not an issue, he has no choice
about it, but cerebral palsy is not a degenerative disease, it's
not a necessary part of the pattern that I should have ended up
in a chair.
Now that I've been in
one for several years and I've experienced both the pluses and the
minuses, I regret that I didn't work more aggressively on my body
and try to achieve a more balanced situation between walking and
rolling. And like I said earlier I am actually going to start working
with a PT, because I don't have the discipline to do these things
Michael: Very few of
Blaine: Very few of us
doI mean it's really hard. I can't see any scenario where
I would give up the wheelchair, because there are so many pluses,
but there are many reasons why it's preferable to walk at least
some of the time. It's better for your body and it's easier psychologically
in some circumstances.
Bob: I imagine many things
at home are easier if you don't have to use the chair, which might
be cumbersome unless your house is specially designed.
Blaine: Right. And the
other thing that I'd say, for people like Michael and me who are
planning on getting a chair but who will be walking part of the
time: evaluate the details carefully. I figured I could always bring
my crutches with me, which turns out with my particular model of
wheelchair not to be realistic. There's no good way to fasten them,
because the battery pack extends so far out in the back. So ask
about all these details before you invest in a chair.
Bob: That's something
I'd never thought about. Depending on the user there are probably
many details like that to keep in mind.
Blaine: Yeah. Well I
didn't think about it until it was too late.
Bob: Michael, advice
from you for the prospective wheelchair user?
Michael: If you have
the luxury, take the process slowly. You can rent scooters, you
can rent wheelchairs. Rent one for a week, try it out, let all the
feelings come up but don't judge them. Then let the whole experience
settle for a while. I also talked to a lot of people who use wheelchairs.
The problem for me was that most of them have no choice, so for
them it's been liberating, while I don't necessarily view this as
For me it comes down
to increasing my choices. When I got my chair I did ask for a cane
and crutch holder, and the other thing I asked for was a lock, because
if I'm gonna get out of that chair and leave it outside to go into
a store, I don't want the damn thing stolen.
Bob: Does yours have
a lock, Blaine?
Blaine: It does have
a lock, but that was another thing that never occurred to me originally,
so I had to arrange for it after the fact. I learned that you don't
leave a wheelchair unattended even for a very short time, because
people can, will, and do steal them. They have a market value.
Bob: I think that that
last observation was a kind of summing up of sorts. Is there anything
that I didn't ask you that you want to talk about?
Michael: Remember that
the chair needs to be chosen for the person using it and the environment
where it's going to be used. I got the narrowest chair I could find
and still I can't get into my bathroom or turn around in my kitchen.
Right now I don't need the chair to move around in my apartment,
but remember that it's an expensive piece of equipment and you want
to get the biggest bang for your buck. So again, that means think
through the process. Be mindful about all the different things you
might want to do.
Blaine: I'll second what
Michael said about being thoughtful. I bought a condo last September
with my partner Greg. Only afterwards did I learn that it will be
difficult and maybe impossible to make it fully accessible, given
various laws and the way my condo complex is laid out. For example,
from a layperson's point of view it looks like there's plenty of
room to build a ramp to the back stairs, but after consulting with
a couple of contractors, I discovered it might not be feasible.
Bob: How do you get in
and out with your chair?
Blaine: I have to park
it in a shed that I had built, which is not completely weatherproofed.
It's OK, but far from ideal. So I would reiterate what Michael said:
Be careful. Here I am, Mr. Crip Know It All, yet I failed to get
enough details to fully protect myself. If I had been somebody who
couldn't walk at all, or if that happens to me in the future, I'll
be in a bit of a pickle. If you live in a situation where you don't
have complete freedom of what you do with the property, be very
careful with accessibility, because you can get burned.
Bob: That's a useful
closing comment. It's like saying The chair giveth and the chair
taketh away and you'd better be careful about your expectations
and your planning.
Despite all the ground
we've covered I keep thinking of more questions I want to ask. Here's
an important one: What do you do if you are with disabled friends
who don't use chairs and have trouble keeping up with you? Maybe
we can ask BENT readers to respond to that one, since I think we're
out of time. We're certainly out of tape.
Thanks to both of you
for a valuable discussion.
© 2003 Bob Guter, Michael Perreault,
Photographs © 2003 Mark McBeth, IDEA|MONGER
Let us know what you think
of this BENT feature.
Perreault and Blaine
Waterman have both written for BENT. Bob Guter edits BENT. Mark
McBeth is BENT's creative and technical adviser.