When my son needed the use of a wheelchair and walker due to an injury at a local park, I found that assistive equipment not only provides mobility, but illuminates the shortcomings of building design planning and some of our neighbor's poor manners.
Taking my son to the movies for the first time, I found that just getting there was quite an adventure. The challenges did not diminish after we made it to the ticket booth, inside the lobby and down to our seats. We needed popcorn, drinks and a candy bar to be true to our tradition.
Leaving my son in the theater, I went back to the snack bar and picked up supplies. It was fortunate that I had gone easy on our purchases because of course there was only one person to carry them back to the theater. For a moment I considered bringing my son back out with me, but would have used one pair of hands pushing his chair. It would have taken more time than we had to unfold his walker and get him to the chair, anyway.
I had not realized that the inside doors of the multiplex were also spring loaded to shut, and was trying to figure out how to get inside with our refreshments when two teens burst out the door. I settled in to my seat just as the previews were starting.
Halfway through the movie, I realized that I should have taken my son to the restroom before it started, as was our usual routine. I unfolded the walker and we started the long climb to the top of the theater. Several adults made unfriendly remarks, one that I recall was 'Oh, for crying out loud!' I had not expected that kind of crowd at a family movie.
At the top of the theater where the wheelchair was parked, the transfer was easy enough. I hooked the walker on to the back again, and then we were stopped again at the springloaded door. I had to hold the door open with one foot while wrapping myself around the corner to push his wheelchair out without the walker falling off the handles. We made it to the restroom where my son transferred to the walker, and I held open the spring loaded doors so he could go in.
I sat in his chair while waiting, and instantly became invisible myself. People walking by to other theaters in the multiplex looked away from the movie posters behind me as if the opposite wall was filled with priceless art treasures. A silence zone or conversation interruption area spread out around me about two yards in each direction, as if the theater-goers walking past turned to zombies for those few seconds.
I heard my son knocking on the inside of the restroom door and opened it for him. At least three men had come out during the time he must have been making his way to the door, but they ignored him. Since I'd prefer he didn't talk to men in public restrooms, that was o.k.
By that time I had decided I needed to use the ladies room. Instead of leaving my purse and my son's diabetes supply kit with him on the wheelchair, I carried them in with me. I chose a wheelchair accessible stall so that I could hang my belongings on a low hook. Unfortunately, the hook was on the door rather than the wall, and the weight of the purse and kit caused the door to hang just enough lower so that the latch would not engage.
I left our belongings hanging on the hook while washing my hands, wondering why they do not provide hooks in the sink area of restrooms. The idea of requesting this convenience when we had faced so many real obstacles to access at this theater made me chuckle.
We made our way back to our theater, struggled through the spring loaded door, this time losing the walker at just the right moment to cause a loud clanging as the door shut on it, wrestled it out of the way, parked the chair, and watched a bit of the movie from those seats while we rested up.
Making our way back to the seats where we had left our coats and refreshments, down that impossible slope with me steadying the walker and my son arguing that he could do it himself, we again were treated to a bunch of comments from people who seemed to feel free to make remarks from their comfortable seats in the dark. I am almost certain none of them would have said such things if we had been sitting face to face in the light.
When I wonder why I did not feel empowered to talk back about the 'inconveniences' we had experienced that day I take a quiet moment to remember the vulnerability and exhaustion, and what I can describe only as culture shock from bringing a wheelchair and walker into the mix.
Then there was the trip back to the car, through those same doors but with no hero to help us through them, the long steep double ramp downhill in the rain, and someone who chose to park in the lined area next to our designated parking space on the side of the car that I had put a blanket down for protecting the car seat from the sharp edges and now muddy wheels of the chair.
I don't remember what movie we saw that day, but I would have noticed if a character using a wheelchair had been in it. It seems as though the rest of the audience would have preferred life to imitate art, with no character using a wheelchair in the audience, either.
Finding Strollers, Walkers and Wheelchairs for Children
Babies Born Early - Prematurity and Childbirth
Teaching Motor Skills to Children With Cerebral Palsy And Similar Movement Disorders
On the Social Indignity of Riding the Bus in a Wheelchair