Friday, July 15, 2016
Actually, you CAN'T get there in a wheelchair!
I'm about halfway through my temporary disability, and the novelty of getting around by wheelchair is wearing off. It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to figure out workable travel routes and maneuver myself around our streets. And as my friend Rant Woman points out, I'm not exactly a typical wheelchair user. Aside from my healing hip, all the rest of my body parts are functioning very well. I can see and hear just fine, my arms are strong, and I can use my lower legs as well as my arms to propel myself around.
And even with all these advantages, there are places I just can't get to on my own. Closest to home, I can't figure out how to get to my favorite neighborhood bar, the Bottle Neck Lounge. It's only a block and a half away - but that block and a half is too steep for me to manage on my own. I could take the bus one stop and roll down - but there are no curb cuts at all on the west side of 23rd, and the sidewalk by the Bottle Neck is a rough, temporary patch by a construction site.
I'm accustomed to using a combination of transit and biking to get around, so I'm familiar with the transit network. But the steep hills, missing curb cuts and broken pavement are much more of a concern in a wheelchair than on a bike - I can't just get out and walk! None of the information sources available to me tell me about the slope at bus stops or the condition of sidewalks and curb cuts between bus stops and destinations. For example, Google Maps tells me I should walk from 25th two blocks to 23rd to catch the #48. It doesn't tell me that those two blocks are among the steepest in Seattle, that the pavement on 24th is riddled with potholes and the curb cuts are substandard. I know that because I live here! When I travel to an unfamiliar destination, it's very challenging or impossible to figure out what obstacles I might encounter. This sidewalk cliff certainly isn't featured on any maps!
In fact, missing and substandard curb cuts create such barriers to travel that Disability Rights Washington has sued the City of Seattle for failure to comply with the American with Disabilities Act requirement that cities install and maintain curb cuts.
And friends, please don't think this is just about "those people." As I'm experiencing right now, and most of us will experience sooner than we expect, we're all just "temporarily able-bodied." Sooner or later, we're all going to need those curb cuts. Pay attention on your own travels, and post the obstacles you find #CrappyCurb.