Friday, March 22, 2013

Designing for the Handicapped

Allow me a few moments on the soapbox, will you? As someone who has been mobility challenged, spending a chunk of time in a wheelchair, followed by a walker and cane, I know a thing or two about trying to get around in the world.  Never mind the fact that people don't even SEE you sitting in a wheelchair, struggling to open a door. No the thing that pisses me off the most is architects and designers who have no clue how to design for the mobility challenged.

For designers, people seem to fall into two categories: the able bodied and those they must make accommodations for by law. There is no in between. And they never seem to take into consideration those that have some mobility but need the shortest distance between two points to keep from hurting so much!

It was during my recovery that I noticed women's bathrooms were always at the end of the hall, with men's rooms in front. The the safety issue puzzled me - a further distance from public areas makes it harder for the public to hear you screaming in the event of an emergency. As most women I know are on their feet more, having to work outside the home, take care of the house and kids, etc and the fact that every step I took felt like nails exploding into my feet, I grew angry with every trip to a public restroom. One day, I was muttering about this on the way to a Macy's bathroom when the building designer heard me. He explained that "Men are dumb and will wander into the first door they see." They often put the women's room last because they feel it's no big deal if a woman wanders into the men's room but it gives the men two chances to figure out the lay of the land.

So that solved one mystery but bad design seemed to pop out at me from everywhere. I was taking some college courses because of my disability. They first sent me to a college near my home...built into the side of a mountain! I took one look at all those stairs and told them, "No, thank you!"

They sent me next to Los Angeles Valley College, a flatter campus but, I almost quit while dealing with registration!

Check out this map of the campus:

They have torn a building down since I was there but you'll get the drift. The arrow on the left is visitor and handicapped parking. The middle arrow is a steep flight of about 10 stairs. And the arrow on the right was the registrar's office. Never mind that the distance was about 2 blocks I had to go on my walker but just look at how far I had to "walk!" The red lines depict the path of the handicapped ramp!

I've never been one to turn left when I need to go right! As I stood there at the top of the stairs, I started crying. In frustration, I shoved my walker down that flight of stairs, dropped to my bottom and "scooched" my way down the stairs to my walker. A young man realized what was happening, picked up my walker and helped me up. For my return, I stood at the bottom of the stairs until I saw a group of boys and asked them to take my walker up and escort me up the stairs. But that is huge for someone longing for independence. I HATE to ask for help! And with a better design, I wouldn't have to.

I wish designers would realize what it's like for people who simply can't take the long way home. Don't assume every handicapped person is in a motorized wheelchair - something my Blue Crappy insurance would never pay for!

I wish every would-be designer and architect had to spend 24 hours in a non-motorized wheelchair and 24 on a walker or crutches, imagining that every push of the wheel, every aided step sent explosions of pain through their bodies. Maybe then they would get it.


Snowbrush said...

This was a great post. Have you traveled enough when you couldn't walk well, if at all, to have an opinion of how accommodations differ. I'm guessing that urban Southern California would be better than the South, but not as good as the urban Northwest or the Bay Area.

♥♥♥ The OP Pack ♥♥♥ said...

Mom says she understands. For many years she struggled to maneuver her mom around in her wheelchair. Grandma was not a small lady:) It was just so very difficult. Then many years later, trying to get in and out of doors and around stairs with a triple stroller when the twins and the other grandbiped were all babies - now that was not a lot of fun either.

Great post.

Woos - Phantom, Thunder, Ciara, and Lightning

GOOSE said...

This is a great post. I hope some designers are reading this. When my MOM was helping with the design of our new church facility be assured that every consideration for people not only in wheelchairs but for walkers and crunches and motorized wheelchairs. The whole layout is accessible. AND the woman's bathroom is the first down the hall.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Snow, I did have to travel to Louisiana / Mississippi when my favorite aunt died shortly after my surgery. I was actually less frustrated in the South as people tended to see me in the wheelchair whereas here in So Cal, I truly felt invisible!

Shopping was the biggest challenge... Clothes racks are made for the standing and not for wheelchair access.

Dexter said...

Great topic. I frequent a church for some social meetings and one of the stalls is impossible for me even without any bags or whatnot. I just don't fit! I also don't get why the handicapped stalls are almost always at the far end of the restroom. Wouldn't it make more sense to have them near the door? ARG!

Mango Momma