Image description: A power wheelchair wheel encountering a stepplette.

I discovered a phenomenon yesterday that I don’t think I’ve actually either seen or understood before. It had me thinking and rethinking about why people do what they do and act the way they act. We had gone out for some fresh air and sunshine. No particular destination, we were just in the mood to wander. As such we came upon a place where we thought we’d stop in for tea. I’d done the accessi-glance and seen that it could be accessible.

Could be only because the accessible door was blocked with stuff that had been pushed aside because people were coming in through the space left when a huge sliding window had been pushed aside. I couldn’t go through the same way because, while the door was ramped, the window was not and there was a small step up for two-footers which was an impassible barrier for me in my chair. To make matters more complicated, we discovered that the accessible door had not been unlocked.

Someone from inside came, upon seeing Joe struggle with the door, and inform him, and me, that we could enter through the window. I chimed up and said that I couldn’t get in through the window. I think they thought I meant that the space wasn’t wide enough, the fellow assured me that there was plenty of room. I told him that I realized it was wide enough but I couldn’t get over the step. He looked confused. So did a fellow standing with his wife out on the sidewalk smoking. He entered first, she second, they both informed me that there wasn’t a step there.

OK, maybe ‘step’ was the wrong word because it certainly wasn’t a regular sized step. It was a ‘mini-step’ or a ‘steplette’ perhaps. Nonetheless, it was perfectly obvious that a wheelchair couldn’t get over the barrier, whatever it was called.

And that’s when it hit me.

“Perfectly obvious.”

I sat there, deep in realization, as now three people tried convincing me that the window was accessible and that I should just ride right in. They didn’t see it, it wasn’t obvious, to them there was no barrier and they didn’t know how to look at a barrier as would be experienced by anyone else. This is why people always say, it wasn’t until I ‘had to use a wheelchair’ or ‘pushed someone in a wheelchair’ that I saw barriers. They don’t see what they don’t need to see. Finally, Joe made a joke about my chair not being equipped to go ‘off-roading’ while pointing at the step-cum-lip that they saw it, as if for the first time.

Perhaps this is why they get so annoyed with us disabled folks because we keep talking about things they can’t see. We keep pointing out obvious things … I once wrote that we ‘point out the obvious to the oblivious’ … but I think I may never have been more accurate. They actually can’t see what we are talking about, they can’t abstract our words into pictures. To them, who have access pretty much everywhere, it seems like carping and complaining and kvetching.

When they saw what the issue was, people were quick to help, and apologetic for being completely unaware of the barrier that was posed by the window opening. The manager promised that the door would always remain open and clear. They wanted to be accessible and had thought they were.

We got in, had tea, and exited through the accessible door easily. Getting out was a helluva lot less dramatic than had been getting in. And, I can do with less drama.

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