Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Wheelchair Access

The other day I wrote about my trip, or rather my failed trip, down to Waterton Lakes National Park. At the same time as I wrote the blog, some of my friends reached out through social media, most notably Facebook and Twitter, to share my experience directly with the management of the lodge. It is a credit to Waymarker Hospitality, and to Toby Farrell, Vice President of Marketing, Sales & Technology, that they took my issue seriously, offered me a compensatory stay at the Waterton Lakes Lodge, and made specific commitments to improving their staff awareness and accessibility.

That entry also generated other questions about how able bodied people could help those of us in wheelchairs. It was true for me, and true of all of us, that until you get to live your life in a wheelchair, you don't know or understand the challenges I, and others like me, face on a daily basis. It is really impossible to "get it" until you are in this place, not so much walking a mile in my shoes as rolling a mile in my chair, or more realistically, trying to find a usable bathroom in my chair.

There are a couple of really simple things everyone can do to raise awareness and increase access for folks in wheelchairs. The first, really simple thing has to do with your own daily activities. Whenever you go into a store, a restaurant, a pub or any public place, imagine yourself in a wheelchair and ask yourself if the location is accessible. For example, are there steps to get in? Would a ramp be possible? Are there low tables as well as high tables? Is there a wheelchair button on the front door? Do the doors allow direct access or is there a turn in the vestibule?

The next simple thing is checking out the washrooms, in particular looking to see if they even have a wheelchair stall or wheelchair accessible toilet. Look for things like a stall door that opens outwards, or if it opens inwards, check to see if the inward opening blocks access to the toilet for someone in a wheelchair. Are the sinks accessible? Can a wheelchair roll under them? Is the paper towel dispenser set low enough that someone in a chair can reach it?

Then comes the hard part. If you notice something that makes wheelchair access difficult, ask for the manager. Tell him or her that you like their location and that you would love to bring a friend next time, except that your friend is in a wheelchair. Educate the manager about wheelchair challenges, and say how unfortunate it is that you won't be able to come back with your friend.

Let them know that wheelchair access isn't just about the person in the chair. It's about everyone with that person, the friends and groups who can't spend their money because of the lack of wheelchair access. Let them know that this is more than a social concern, it is a business concern. Then let them know you would be pleased to come back when there is wheelchair access, but until then, you will likely have to go elsewhere.

That's how you can help.

1 comment:

  1. That is excellent advice. I am still using a walker but, probably for not too much longer I have found many place where the Handicap parking is not very close or there is no parking. I always make a point to mention that to the manager.