Friday, June 15, 2012

Family Fun – How Barriers to Access Can Ruin A Vacation

So we went on our first family vacation. I was very excited; maybe almost more so than my daughter, if that’s humanly possible. And now that I’m back, I see it wasn’t all perfect but I’m definitely glad we did it.

A Family Resort

We went to Smuggler’s Notch which is a family resort in Vermont. I chose to go there because they have an adaptive program that the girl would be able to enjoy. While at camp, she went kayaking, swimming and swung on a Giant Swing, to name a couple things. Oh, she was also serenaded by a friendly pirate! The grounds were beautiful. Whoever did the landscaping should be commended. I saw the most unique and interesting flowers and bushes that threw off such a beautiful aroma as you walked down the different paths in the Village Center, which is the main resort area. The condo we stayed in was mostly wheelchair accessible. It was a very nice-sized apartment with comfortable beds. It was supposed to have a wheel-in shower but instead we got a sauna tub. Lifting her in and out of the tub would have been totally impossible if not for my strong hubby. One of their on-site restaurants, Morse Mountain Grille, is absolutely AMAZING. Everything we tried tasted gourmet. Even their white pizza was better than anything I’ve ever had in NY. Needless to say, we had most of our meals there!

Disability World
So what’s this post about? In the midst of all the fun and beauty, it struck me (again) how able-bodied folks can be so clueless to the fact that the tiniest little thing, like a 1-inch gap, lip, crack, whatever, in a sidewalk or doorway can completely block a person who is non-ambulatory (like my daughter and by extension, us) from entering a building, crossing a sidewalk or enjoying family time. I can’t really blame folks who don’t live in the Disability World for not knowing. It’s just not a path you’ve walked (or rolled in, so to speak) so I can’t expect you would know it without being educated on it. That’s what I’m here for.

Barriers to access are anything that block a person from accessing a public space. This can be something as simple as a single step into a building or narrow pathways in a department store to larger barriers such as no elevator in a multi-level building or the lack of a pool lift for wheelchair-users at public pools. 

Use Your Imagination
To all you walkers: imagine if you were on your way to a beautiful exotic island where there were gorgeous sunsets and the most awesome poker tables (for those of you readers who don’t really care for sunsets). You would be with your favorite people and you all had planned what you would do every day and every night together. You have all been looking forward to this getaway for so long and finally the day has arrived. You watch out your window as the plane roars down the runway; you’re all so giddy with excitement you can’t stop talking about what the first thing you’re each gonna do is. Finally, the plane touches down; you all grab your carry-on’s and walk towards the front of the plane where the pilot waves you off to your destination. You turn to disembark and notice that the jet bridge is about 3 feet away from the plane’s exit doors. You see, the jet bridge is old and doesn’t quite reach the plane but it’s allowable because it was made before the laws changed that made it mandatory that all jet bridges reach the planes’ exits. Sounds a little wonky but that’s ok because as long as you can step across, you’re fine…Wait a minute! You can’t reach it! Your legs are too short! Your loved ones are all taller than you are and are able to walk across. You can’t cross the jet bridge; which means you can’t get to the island; which means you can’t see the sunset or play poker. Your loved ones are all going to be able to do this without you. They feel bad you’re getting left behind but surely they can’t NOT go just because YOU can’t. You’re gonna miss out on everything all because of the damn jet bridge being JUUUUUST a little too far for you.

A Huge Barrier

The Village Lodge at Smuggler’s housed the on-site Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor, pizzeria, deli and pub for the resort’s guests. If you didn’t want to leave the resort and wanted a slice of pizza or to take the family to get ice cream after a long, hot day filled with fun activities, this was where you wanted to go. Except my daughter couldn’t go there. There is a walkway leading up to the door but there is a 1-inch lip at the end of that walkway that her power chair cannot get over because of its mechanism on its underside. Even if the walkway was made to end flush, once you got in the doors there are stairs galore. Normally, any public accommodation must be made accessible to all except if those changes are not “readily achievable” or when “they are not easily accomplished without much difficulty or expense”, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To read more about the ADA click here.

Not knowing about the barriers to access, we planned to go to get some ice cream with the kids. When we realized we couldn’t get in with the wheelchair it was upsetting, to say the least. The girl didn’t even want the ice cream; she’s just the type of kid that loves to do family things and she wanted to go in to the ice cream parlor with her mom, dad & brother. Instead, dad went in to check what he wanted while mom waited outside with the kids. When he came out, mom went in with his order in mind while he took his turn waiting outside. I felt excluded, hurt, left out, ignored. I felt like an outcast, an outsider. Like I didn’t belong. And I wasn’t even the one in the chair. The biggest part about this is that she knows that the reason we couldn’t go in was because of her wheelchair. I will be honest. I was way more upset than she was. But I wonder how many other families that have gone there for their adaptive program have also felt the way I did.

Maybe sometime soon every jet bridge will reach the plane’s exit doors everywhere, mandated or not.

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