A Day in the Life (Part 3)

After we were finally in a room that worked for Pam, we decided to run errands. So we left the long way (see Part 1), but on our return, Pam decided to test a new approach to entering the hotel lobby. She rolled right up to the short escalator in the entryway and asked me to stand behind her and hold onto the bar of her chair for the ride up. Although nervous, I agreed. She then rolled onto the moving step, balanced herself and the chair perfectly, and up we went.

Later when we decided to leave for dinner, we contacted the hotel manager and asked him to reverse the direction of the escalator so she could go down. She asked him to step onto the escalator, to turn around and hold on to her chair’s bar as she went down backwards. The manager was very concerned about liability, but a stranger offered to play the support role. And she did it. We never went the long way again. But it takes a confident person who is very good at maneuvering and balancing in their chair to pull this off plus a second person just in case. How many of us would do that?

Our New York stay was brief but in the short period of time I spent with Pam I began to understand the numerous hurdles people in wheelchairs face every day. Throughout our trip in Manhattan I found myself trying to imagine what it’s like to live life in a wheelchair where everything seems to be just out of reach. If we weren’t asking hotel and restaurant employees for help we were constantly maneuvering and re-arranging everything from furniture to our luggage so Pam could simply sit at a dinner table, take a bath, register in a hotel or reach the bath towels in her room. I, like many others, was under the impression that people with disabilities had laws and rules in their favor that would make life easier but as I saw firsthand just because something is the law doesn’t mean it’s real.

We all see the handicap parking spots and early boarding of planes at airports, but what we don’t see or choose not to see is the indignity of having to use three service elevators to enter a hotel lobby, needing a kind chauffeur to lift someone out of an SUV so they can get in their wheelchair or someone struggling to get close enough to a sink to wash their hands. Spending time with Pam taught me how to look at the world differently and be aware that every move has to be planned in advance or reacted to in order to avoid confusion and frustration. Instead of just choosing a restaurant because it has a good menu, Pam has to first find out if they have a restroom she can use. Imagine making your dinner plans revolve around whether or not you’ll be able to relieve yourself at some time during the meal. How would we react?

Still, despite the obstacles and hassles it was Pam’s indomitable spirit that won out. Living her life in a wheelchair for over 20 years, she has become accustomed to the many barriers she and people like her face every day. Where I would grow impatient she would remain calm and begin thinking immediately on how to resolve the problem rather than dwelling on the fact an inconvenience occurred. If I learned anything on this trip it’s this: people with disabilities may be appreciative of the fact that laws have been passed to help them but they certainly aren’t waiting for the world to catch up. They are often determined creative and resourceful while living full lives… amazing! Thank you Pam!

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