August 1, 2021
New Orleans Look, I might be old as dirt, but I’m in good shape and with good genes and even better luck have been wildly healthy all my life. Yeah, I have a bum knee from high school football and right this minute a swollen foot from a copperhead bite, but those are things that happened to me, rather than my body breaking down on me. Facing another birthday, the pandemic saw me getting cataract surgery, discovering carpal tunnel in my left hand, and dealing with teeth that don’t last forever, but it turns out that’s life, yeah. Be prepared for it.
Where am I going with this? With a life of good health and constant exercise, I haven’t had much experience in paying attention to accommodation. I support it vigorously. Our membership has made it an issue, and won significant victories, especially the Ottawa and Vancouver area. Except for wearing an ankle-to-hip cast for months when I was 17 and hurt my knee, I haven’t had the personal experience that allows one to see the overlooked obstacles and inequities that are the daily toil and frustration of others, habitually forced to navigate public spaces, thoughtlessly built.
Riding shotgun with my son from Little Rock to New Orleans via Greenville opened my eyes more widely. Depending on a walker for my limited mobility, the first thoughts that get embedded in a newer world view are simply that getting out of the car and navigating the path to the washroom is a last resort situation, somewhere near desperation row and definitely not something engaged frivolously. I passed up the gas station without a second thought, but when he stopped at rest areas in both south Arkansas and on I-55 in Mississippi, fate and good judgment demanded that I roll with his decision.
In Lake Village that meant crossing the driveway in front of the state welcome center, making it over the gravel and dirt between the road and sidewalk, and then forging my one-legged limping way up the incline to get in the center. Chaco waited at the door, making me lucky again, before, huffing and puffing, I made it to the facilities before reversing course to the truck once again. At the rest area in Mississippi, we parked in the blue markings for the differently-abled, so I had slightly more hopes, but those were quickly dashed. It was a fifty-yard rise to the building. Some architect or designer thought that it would be more attractive to break the sidewalk with a brick formation every five feet or so that invariably caught the wheels of the walker, making the journey a stop-and-start, lift and push maneuver.
I read an obit recently of a man who had filed some eighty suits over accommodations. There was a hint in the piece that some of his complaints might have been strained or self-interested. Baloney!
Understand me, I’m not whining. I still have both good health and good luck. The swelling from my snakebite will recede in the coming days or maybe a week or two. At the same time, the old saying about “until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes” has fresh meaning for me. More than walking, states and businesses need to encourage the voices of the differently-abled and listen carefully so that simple changes can be made to ease the lives of so many.