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.


  1. The quest for perfection makes access extraordinarily expensive -- many neighborhoods would be dramatically improved with a few curb cuts, even if they don't quite meet code for new construction. But standards don't allow that, so entire neighborhoods are held hostage to the cost of upgrading the whole block to modern standards all at once.

    In your first picture, meeting code would mean tearing out the steel-reinforced curb, widening the sidewalks, increasing setbacks, etc. If it were a new development, sure, doing everything right the first time makes a lot of sense. But right now, a guy with a few bags of cold-patch and a short length of drain pipe could stomp down a workable bulb-out curb ramp to make the best of a bad situation.

    1. May you never ever need to get on and off the sidewalk. I live in Minneapolis MN and although it is accessible in most areas, I find places all the time that are problematic to get on and off sidewalks. I am an amputee in an electric wheelchair (for life). There are some places where I wind up wheeling in the street because either the curb cuts or the sidewalk itself is almost impossible to travel. I have a tendency to call MDOT and complain to them.

  2. This is so unfortunate. I live near a busy street in West Seattle where I have seen people in wheelchairs and one woman in a scooter who are forced to ride in the street every day. This is a huge issue when it's dark out, or rainy. I emailed and called the City. Bureaucracy is going to get someone hurt or killed. It's terrible.

  3. I'm sorry, are we a poor city? It's unacceptable that mobility impaired should have to put up with poor infrastructure. I agree a temporary fix is in order for now but this is a major problem that is irresponsible to say "well we should've done this then, but now it's too expensive." People in wheelchairs pay taxes here too.