I hate to say it, but Yohan was right. Our house is unequivocally inaccessible. Sad thing is, I was totally and completely oblivious. Since we have no inside stairs and there are only a couple of steps leading into the house, I never thought twice about just how hard it is to get into and around our home in a wheelchair or other mobility device.
At the beginning of the year, CMTA Regional Manager Ori Bash stopped by my house on one of his first days on the job. I saw his car in the driveway, so I went to the door to meet him. He got out of his car, walked over to the steps and just stood there, looking perplexed. “No handrail, Elizabeth? You, of all people. … Really?” he blurted out cynically. Considering his commentary while peering down on him from the top step (in my defense, there are only two steps, not an entire flight of stairs), I felt somewhat offended. Geez, what does he expect? I thought. It’s only two stairs. “Conquer your fears, Ori. I got your back if you fall,” I thought to myself, even though we both knew that if he had fallen, I probably would have just tried to get out of the way (just kidding).
Then there is one of my favorite people in the whole wide world – Bethany Meloche. Bethany is a dear, close friend who also happens to be the CMTA’s Director of Social Media. Bethany’s never-ending patience with me is undeniably impressive. In all the years she’s been coming over to the house, she’s never complained about the steep garage steps, with no railing (but, there are only two steps!!). It gets worse.
My husband brilliantly installed a light that automatically turns on as you enter and leave the garage. The only problem is that you have to descend those two steps, in total pitch dark blackness, with no railing, before the sensor detects your presence. It’s not very safe for anyone and even more dangerous for someone with CMT.
Luckily, I can modify our current home with a few adaptive products to make our living space manageable for the next six to eight months. But if Yohan or anyone else was reliant on a scooter, wheelchair or walker, we’d most likely have to move. To my dismay, I’ve realized that many traditional homebuilders do not take the needs of the elderly or those with temporary or permanent disabilities into consideration when constructing a house.
We’ve lived here for close to 20 years and only now am I realizing just how narrow the doorframes, hallways and kitchen space are. I feel as though I’m living in one of those ridiculously skinny fairytale homes.
There is no turning space for wheelchairs to even get to the bathroom doorways. And even if there was, the doorframes of three out of our four bathrooms refuse wheelchair entry!
I tried to wash Yohan’s hair in the sink today, but all our sinks are only approachable from the side. I asked Yohan to pretend he’s a contortionist and bend his neck to an abnormal angle (60 degrees would be good) to the right side before I turned on the water to the extendable hose to wet his hair, back, leg, face, armpit, floor, etc. In essence, I soaked just about everything except his ace-wrapped lower leg that has to stay bone dry. Now his neck hurts too, but his hair is clean!
We also bought a bathroom suction grip bar (shout out to Benjy Hershorn), a knee scooter (great call, Melissa Adams), a narrow, light travel companion wheelchair (thanks Bill and Sarah Somers) and grip bars that attach to the toilet for stability and safety (Amazon Smile-I love you).
What an eye-opening experience! Ori, Bethany, we are working on those railings, which will be installed in your honor. Thanks for your honesty and guidance. As Gloria Steinem once said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” How true.