Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Accessibility


Having a broken ankle has made me much more sensitive to issues of wheelchair access. It’s not something I thought about much before. After my daughter was born I did think a little about stroller access, but I was strong enough to lift her up stairs if needed and so it really has never been a major issue. Now it’s a big factor.

I’m getting around pretty well using a knee walker, a clever device with four wheels and a pad to rest the knee and shin of my injured leg on. Our insurance company didn’t provide it so we went online to Amazon and purchased it. I am not complaining about the insurance company, they’ve done a fantastic job taking care of me with readily available appointments and solid care for extraordinarily reasonable costs – say what you want about HMO’s but as a patient I am a fan of Kaiser Permanente. We looked at rental prices but realized that with the length of time I would need it (7 weeks at least) renting would be more expensive. I have another family member with planned foot surgery this summer, so I will recycle the knee walker to her and then after that look to sell it on Craig’s list. The knee walker feels much safer and much more stable than crutches, and is also much easier to use. However it still requires a flat surface to roll on and so I have become much more aware of which places I can access and which ones I can’t.

I am quite grateful to still be living in my ground floor apartment at this point, since I can get into every room in the house independently and safely using the knee walker. My major obstacle is my daughter’s tendency to leave her toys all over the place, which clutters the pathways. Getting out of the house is also possible, although a little more challenging. The threshold of our front door requires a little manhandling to get the knee walker over it. The bricks that make up a segment between the breezeway and the sidewalk have a bad tendency to “grab” the wheels of the scooter and wrench me off course. The sidewalk itself is quite painful, as the concrete slabs are not lined up smoothly. At best I get a nasty, painful jar to my ankle with each join. At worst I have to actually stop and lift the scooter up and over the bumps to avoid a fall. It is actually seems safer to just walk in the street, since a lapse of attention to the joins of the sidewalk could potentially send me flying.

Public buildings can be challenging as well. I’ve been in to work once already to pick up a laptop that allows me to do some work from home. The thresholds into the hospital are a little challenging, believe it or not. Although once you are inside the hospital is, as you would expect, fairly easy to negotiate. My doctor’s office has been reasonably easy although there have been some turns in tight spaces and the knee walker doesn’t have a great turning radius. The only other place I’ve attempted to go is the local mall, where we tried to go one evening in the hope of having a short outing. It ended up being a very short outing as, besides the fact that I was in pain, the building was extremely challenging. The mall features multiple short levels. There are ramps between the levels but they are fairly steep. Getting up them required only a small effort but coming down was frightening. I came down very slowly, braking with each step, to avoid a runaway accident that would crash me into a kiosk. By the time we had walked for about ten minutes I was exhausted.

Prior to my accident we had been out house hunting. Every house we looked at was at least two levels. Most of them featured stairs up to the entry way and bedrooms and living space on different levels. Some of them didn’t even have a bathroom on every level. I think about that now and wonder how I would manage if we had already moved to one of these houses. It makes me reconsider some of my house hunting criteria, since while I hope never to go through this again, life obviously doesn’t offer guarantees. I don’t think I will take having two strong legs for granted again.