Monday, May 21, 2012
This hotel didn't do too badly in terms of accessibility. It had ramps and even a wheelchair we were able to borrow. There was a tiny but functional elevator leading to the lower level meeting rooms and auditorium. The staff were unfailingly helpful in positioning seating, pulling obstacles out of the way, and so on. I was thrilled to see that our room featured a big shower stall complete with a seat. (I'd been dreading the notion of three days on sponge baths - there's no way I could get in and out of a tub!)
At the same time, many everyday aspects of the conference turned out to be more difficult than I'd expected. All the meals were buffet-based. Let me tell you, there's no way you can walk on crutches while carrying a plate of food! My poor husband had to fetch food for me, and I had to be content with what he chose on my behalf. (I think that I probably lost a pound or two, not the usual when one attends one of these events!)
Another unexpected problem was the bathrooms. All the regular rest rooms in this hotel featured weighted, self-closing doors. I discovered that it's very difficult to pull open a door that provides any resistance without losing your balance! I had to rely on passers-by to open the door for me. Then I had to wait until someone left the restroom in order to exit myself. I could lean my weight on the door from the inside, but once it began to open, I had no way of moving forward without tumbling onto my face. The hotel did have a couple of handicapped rest rooms, but whoever designed them didn't really understand the requirements. Yes, they had wide doors (not self-closing!) and plenty of space, but the bar on the wall next to the toilet was several feet away, far too distant to provide support for sitting down or standing up. I managed, but someone whose quadraceps were weaker than mine might have had serious problems.
Then there were all the electric cables stretched out along the floor, jury-rigged for the conference presentations. As long as I noticed them, I could avoid them, but I lived in fear of letting my mind wander. I had terrible visions of tripping, falling and undoing seven weeks of recuperation! Moisture was even more of a problem. This is a tropical country and we're entering the rainy season. I discovered weeks ago that crutches become perilous when the bottoms are wet.
To attract higher attendance, the conference took place at a beach resort. Alas, I could gaze at the sea from our balcony (and I did enjoy doing that), but there was no way I could go swimming, even at the pool. Moisture, remember? Not to mention that there was long walk with multiple stairways to get to the pool area, and then even a longer stretch to the beach itself.
I don't intend to complain. I enjoyed the trip. It was a welcome change from the inside of my apartment where I've mostly been cooped up for the past month and a half! However, it was a real eye-opener to sample the experience of disability.
Most of us, I think, if we're able bodied, tend to forget about disabled individuals when they're not around. After this past week, I have new admiration for people who live with this sort of restriction for years. I hope I can remember what it's like - and do what I can to make things easier, including advocating for accessibility. I don't want to forget the lessons I learned walking in someone else's shoes.