The other day I had my first experience using a wheelchair in public. Out of four and a half years of being chronically ill I’ve reserved wheelchair use to rolling in and out of the hospital, mostly out of pride. My illnesses limit me in so many ways, I didn’t want to allow it to take any other ability from me either. So instead of using a wheelchair as an aide when I was sick and weak, I powered through or sat on the sidelines. Recently, I decided letting life go by because I’m too stubborn to admit I need help is silly and I ventured out for a day of shopping with my girlfriend. I made it through the first few stores leaning on the shopping cart as support but by the end of the day it was clear I needed to use a wheelchair. I expected the stares from strangers but what I didn’t expect was the blatant inaccessibility “accessible” places are.
Because I was too weak, I required my girlfriend to push me. This tied up her hands and crossed out the option of a shopping cart or basket to carry our items. Suddenly I found lap full of various things we wanted to purchase. While this wasn’t a huge pain this time, it would’ve been a problem if we were buying more or heavier items. How can shops expect a wheelchair user to navigate with either a small basket attached to a motorized cart or no basket at all?
The second thing that was an issue was my sight line was cut in half making it impossible to see the higher selves and options on them. While shopping in one of my favorite stores, I found myself able to see only about half of what I normally experience while shopping. And forget trying to reach anything on a high self, it was hard enough to grab things from my sitting position in the wheelchair.
But by far the biggest problem we ran into (pun intended) was the fact that the aisles weren’t wide enough. I’m sure anyone will admit the aisles in stores are narrow and navigating it with a shopping cart is hard enough, but I never imagined how hard it would be to find my way in a wide wheelchair that wasn’t exactly fantastic at taking turns. We found ourselves bumping into corners and trying to wiggle our way out of the line of other shoppers trying to pass.
Until this recent experience, the inaccessibility of stores was never forefront in my mind. I knew my friends who use wheelchairs often encountered issues while shopping, I just never realized how frustrating and inconvenient it was. Making sure spaces are accessible is extremely important, but so is ensuring those spaces are truly accessible for all.
Blog by Carolanne Monteleone
You can find more by Carolanne @aheartforhumanity.wordpress.com