Handicap Inaccessibility: My Pet Peeve for the New Year

Dec 30, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

Last year I started a tradition with a list of twelve "pet peeves" for the New Year. This year I only want to focus on one - handicap inaccessibility.

My wife has Parkinson's Disease and is increasingly dependent on modifications for people with handicapping conditions. I am discovering that (1) the world is not set up for people who have difficulty walking or are in wheelchairs and (2) I was blind to most of these problems in the past.

Parking: We have a special New York City parking permit that allows us to park at meters without paying, not move the car for alternate side of the street cleaning, and park in front of churches and schools. She had to under go medical tests before we were issued the permit. My wife cannot drive so I take her places. The permit makes it possible for her to go to doctor appointments, physical therapy programs, and participate in simple things like food shopping. But even with the permit, parking is not easy. She cannot maneuver around things or move easily from the wheel chair to the car or vice versa. Two things make it especially hard. She cannot get past the nuisance advertising boxes that line many street corners in the city. They tend to be weighted, often they are empty or abandoned, and I have to physically drag them out of the way so she can get in and out of the car. If they suddenly disappeared, they would not be missed. The second problem is the metal fences posted around trees. They protect the trees, but make it hard to fully open the car door, and my wife cannot squeeze past.

Sidewalks: Blue flagstone sidewalks are beautiful, but also dangerous for people in a wheelchair or with other handicapping conditions. Simple cracks are like landmines threatening to through her out of the wheelchair or trip her if she is walking. I never realized how important the corner cuts were until I come to a corner that isn't cut and I have to raise or lower her off of the curb. The problem may be that I am sixty-one years old and not as strong as I used to be, but I suspect many other caregivers are aging as well. Even when there is a corner cut, they are often cracked, flooded, or crumbling and impossible to use.

Bathrooms: Bathrooms are increasingly set up for use by people with handicapping conditions, but not if you need a helper and especially if the helper is from the other gender. Single person bathrooms are usually big enough for us both to maneuver inside. The problem arises when there are only multi-stall facilities and other people have to use them as well.

Public Transit: The bus system is pretty good except during rush hour when it is way overcrowded. Access-A-Ride, which provides special vans for the elderly and disabled, is usually okay if you have a regularly scheduled ride. But if you are scheduling a one-time trip, especially in the winter, you cannot count on the van arriving punctually or finding you when it does arrive. I am not complaining about the drivers or phone operators. It is the underfunded system that is the problem. The subway system is another kettle of fish altogether. Very few stations, especially in the outerboroughs (Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens) have elevators. If all handicapped people lived in Manhattan there would be fewer problems, but they don't.

Theaters: I don't know what the law is, but theaters, both movie and live, never seem to be handicap accessible, even when they claim they are.

Health Insurance: I have relatively good health insurance through my employer, but relatively good is not enough in the United States today. It is impossible to pay for health care on your own unless you are mega-wealthy. That means no matter what the medical problem is or what our doctors say, health care decisions are made for us by bureaucrats working for profit-making companies. It is difficult enough when you are worried about a loved one's condition. It does not have to be made more difficult by worries about what the insurance company will do. I would really like to see a single-payer government health insurance plan in the United States.