Saturday, 27 May 2017

Accessibility - Really?

Be skeptical!  When you hear the word 'Wheelchair Accessible" be skeptical.  Some may try (perhaps half-heartedly) to comply with regulations and make their facility wheelchair accessible, however, they may fall short.  For your own convenience, if at all possible, check or have someone check for you beforehand.

Invited to a wedding, I was assured that the reception hall washrooms were wheelchair accessible -including stalls wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.  I soon discovered, while the door to the washroom was wide enough, there was an immediate 90-degree right hand turn to further enter.  The turning radius of my manual wheelchair would not allow me to make the turn.  In effect, became wedged half way in.  Crowds gathered;  elegantly dressed women holding their champagne flutes offered solutions.  Hefty men in suits offered to carry me and seat me on a toilet.  You turn beet-red and want to shrink to nothing.  I held it all evening thinking I'd explode before the evening was over.

My first doctor's office, located within a retail pharmacy, was no different.  Once you got past the automatic doors that were broken and refused to slide, you immediately found yourself confronted by a 90-degree turn (a wind corridor thought to block cold breezes from the cashiers).  Immediately inside the corridor I found that I could not back up enough to get the open the second manual 'swing' door.  Can't go backwards - can't go forwards.  Several gum-ball machines within that breezeway may have been placed there so that persons stuck between doors would never go hungry.

My doctor's second office is not much better.  There is an automatic sliding door that opens to the building unit.  To the right another set of sliding doors allows access to the commercial pharmacy. To the left, a manual door has to be pulled open by myself while corralled in the corridor - or  opened by an obliging passerby.  The examination room is no better as my chair's canted wheels scrape the door jambs when entering and I cannot enter fully as I run into the examination bench.  The examination rooms are nothing more than a slightly larger closet.  Imagine getting a digital prostrate examination with the door open as other patients are lead down the hallway to their rooms!

Accessibility door activators placed by able bodied persons without a clue (a mental handicap perhaps?)  The activator at my gym was placed on a pillar so far away that it was a difficult scramble to get to the door before it once again closed.  Even in my rehab hospital the door actuator was placed on the far side of the door against the wall.  When the button was pushed, the door would open it would be impossible to clear the wheelchair from in front of the door before the door hit the chair -sensed an obstacle - and immediately reversed - closing to prevent damage.  The wall immediately on the other side of the door prevented approaching from the opposite side.  I was trapped.  The room was used as a 'chapel'.  Looking around I retrieved the only item available, the New Testament bible and I took aim, throwing it at the switch to activate the door.  Religion set me free!

Funeral homes - where my only access was through the casket elevator.  Handicap parking adjacent to a wall where the car door cannot be opened.  Ramps that are far too short -never reaching the top of the obstacle.  And on and on...

Just check.  Ask lots of questions -specifics -to avoid frustration and stay safe.

With the death of my dad last Boxing Day, the New Year was spent cancelling credit cards, pensions and making appropriate notifications.  One immediate chore was to retrieve his original, notarized will from his lawyer's office.  Located downtown in a major Ontario city, you would think there would be little problem.

The most frustrating situation occurred in the parking garage.  Leaving the car, my wife and I entered the elevator/stairwell/exit.  As we were lucky enough to be on the ground floor we anticipated no problem -just exit through the doors.  As it turned out, we were about a half a floor up from the main concourse.

Okay, there is an elevator (a ramp would be too steep) -but it is locked up tight and requires an assistant to operate. Instructions are to push the intercom button and wait for a reply.  No reply!  Try again several times.  Finally, after several minutes we get a reply. (Cleaning personnel passing through offer to operate the elevator for us as they use it even though they can get into trouble for doing so.  We decline their offer as we have someone coming.)  A nice young security guard comes down and opens the elevator door to allow me to get in -to go down the equivalent of 5 steps!  Very apologetic for the delay, he suggests that on the way back we ask the front lobby receptionist to call ahead and security will be waiting for me at the elevator to take me back up those 5 steps.

The lawyer's office is located behind a wall of glass and chrome with a bank of revolving doors for entrance.  Each revolving 'hamster cage' wheel/door is too small for my chair, or any chair to enter.  There is an old-fashioned 'swing-hung' door but it is locked tight - again, I suppose to keep the winter weather from blowing through the lobby.  We were lucky to gain access through an adjoining facility -a bank which had the swing mounted doors - but not automatic.  It is up to you to get yourself through the first door and open the second inner door while holding the first outer door behind your head so as it doesn't hit you in you (chair's) butt.  Lucky I had my wife along!

On our way back out we stop at the lobby desk and ask that security meet us at the elevator.  We were met by that wide-eyed 'deer in the headlight' look.  "Elevators are right over here - you can operate them yourself."  "No, not those ones - the handicap parking garage elevator."   That puzzled look again...

We go back through the maze of tunnels to find the parking garage 5-step elevator.  Pushing the intercom button to summon our security elevator operator fails to connect.  They pick up but nobody shows.  After 10 or more minutes a different security guard shows up.  He looks impressive with a large jingling ring of what looks to be fifty or more keys.  He must be important!  So he tries this one -nope, tries that one -nope -as he slides his way around the key hoop.  Calls for backup on his two-way radio.  Another two security guards show up.  (who's minding the shop?) "You don't need a key to operate it - just punch in the code on the key pad!"  "What's the code?"  Nobody knows the code. (They always change the code so the cleaning personnel don't use it!) Nobody has received training on this elevator though it was installed when the building was built -not long after the date of their birth by the looks of it.  They can't find the original security fellow who had no trouble.

Finally... they find a key and send me on my way.

Though I didn't time it, we must have wasted up to 40 minutes waiting for service -extra time happily added to our parking charge.

So I have to wonder - at what cost?  Perhaps a $50,000 elevator installed for 5 steps.  $10,000 per 7-inch step.  A lobby receptionist with no clue as to what exists within the facility.  Several security guards who lack specific training on the operation of specific equipment within their facility.  What happens in the event of a fire or evacuation?  (But they can boast -"yes, we're accessible!")

All for 5-steps in a public facility!

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