By Dominique Blain
When I picked up my wheelchair for RyeACCESS’s “Wheelchair for a Day” last Thursday, the attendant had me sign a legal waiver acknowledging RyeACCESS would not be held accountable if I were hurt as a result of being in the chair.
At the time, I laughed at the paradox. An hour later, I was sweating — not just from physical effort, but of fright. Crossing a street in a wheelchair must surely become less daunting with time.
As an able-bodied person, I most particularly excel at jaywalking. In a wheelchair, I wouldn’t start crossing until others had. I was traumatized by the prospect that cars couldn’t see me; after all, I couldn’t see the drivers. Not to mention that unless I had enough momentum to get myself up the curb, I was stuck in the street. Getting into buildings was another disaster. I still have bruises on my elbows from banging them into doorframes.
Who decided doors have to be that width anyway? Not to mention the “brilliance” with which some architects are endowed. Imagine, if you will: You’re in a wheelchair. You want in. You wheel right up against a door, where the “open door” button awaits your eager fingers. Suddenly, you find the door opening… towards you.
Abort! Abort! You try to wheel back, but, Oh no! People are gathering behind you. You’re stuck! Aaaah! Oh, the different ways you can get stuck in a wheelchair — they’re countless, really.
My first came earlier, in the annals of the Rogers Communication Centre. A search for a professor had me scrambling to the end of a narrow hall, only to find she had departed for the day. And then it dawned on me. I was stuck.
The hall was a dead end and the same width as my wheelchair. As I struggled to u-turn — forward, turn, backward, turn, forward, turn… ?– it occurred to me: “Here it is, my Austin Powers moment.” I did manage to make it out, eventually, but I still spent the day contending with hundreds of scattered chairs in every single over-crowded classroom.
Not to mention the fact that I couldn’t get into my own office. But the most disrespectful person was YOU, lazy-person-who-takes-the-elevator-for-two-floors. Still, the crowning moment came after a new friend, Fatimah Krabi, a human resources student chairing it for the day, and I went for juice at Dominion.
Not only could we not reach any products, getting to pay for them was an exercise in precision, as our chairs dealt with the stacks of Coffee Crisps and Enquirers closing in on us.
I wasn’t thirsty on my way in, but by the end of the day, I was chugging that hard-earned juice.