Those of us who have a disability or care for someone who is disabled and travel around our communities know how difficult it can be. We must look for smooth pavement or aprons if we use a walker or wheelchair, we must search out handrails, ramps and avoid large curbs and steps. Sometimes there are no sidewalks at all and heaven forbid no elevators, only stairs or escalators. Want to set me off real quick, let me pull up to a doctor’s office or any other establishment and they have no apron in the parking lot, I’m going to hear my girls groan, because I’m looking for the manager to tell him/her how dumb it is for them to have handicapped van parking with no apron.
The world sure doesn’t make it easy to navigate.
My twins, Jasmine and Dominique, love to go! Whether it is a trip to the mall, the movies, a concert, a festival, a party, church, and all these other places that 21-year olds frequent. They got it honestly, I have never been one to let the grass grow under my feet, so I always tried to figure out how to make it happen, how to help them in the simplest way, navigate a complex world, not built for them. I have countless stories that detail me remodeling the clothing racks in stores, so we can enter and have room to walk around, or security guards lifting Dominique on an escalator because the elevator is out of order and I refuse to concede and go home, our orthodontist used to wait in the parking lot to help us up the curb because I am sure he was tired of the look on my face (yes, I’m dramatic, I didn’t really need his help, lol).
When we first began this journey, if it was a place I was not familiar with, I would call to see if they were handicapped accessible. On some occasions I would go there beforehand and see for myself, because my definition of handicapped accessible may not be the same as theirs. It is a bad feeling when you get ready and arrive at a destination that is not accessible. For example, we attended a production at a neighborhood theatre who said they were handicapped accessible, but actually only had room for her in the aisle which had a steep incline, she said she felt as though she was on a rollercoaster and held her arms up as if she was at Six Flags throughout the whole play. Once we attended a leadership meeting held by a sorority where we had to clear the bushes to reach the ramp. Once inside, to enter the building, they had one step. I asked the group leader, you told me you were wheelchair accessible, she says we are, we have a ramp, duh?
One way I prepared my girls is by applying for them a paratransit card when they were 14 years old. Paratransit is special transportation services for people with disabilities provided as a supplement to fixed-route bus and rail systems by public transit agencies (GCRTA.com). Dominique began working a summer job, and because I don’t have a wheelchair accessible vehicle, I had to figure out a way for her to get there. I would book a ride and teach them how to wait for the bus, enter, pay and exit. If they were going somewhere new, I would go with them the first time, check out the scene or drive and meet them there and show them what to do and see the drop off point. Their first trip was to church, which was about mile from our house. I told them to call me when they got there and told them what to do when they got there. I was so nervous, I drove there and hid in the parking lot and watched them. When they saw me hiding, Jasmine said “for real Mom, for real!”
Another trip I planned for them was to the grocery store, about 20 minutes from home. I gave them a note and money for three specific items. Again, I was really nervous! They called me in no time and said, we finished a little early with money left over and have time before our bus comes, so we stopped next door at Subway and are sitting in here eating a sandwich.
Slowly, steady, but surely, we are changing the world and making it more adaptable to our needs. When we are visible, when we make suggestions, when we complain, we make change. Keep changing the world!