One day in a wheelchair

Some things must be experienced in order to be understood.

For example, I couldn’t begin to understand what it’s like for a person who is in a wheelchair until I spent part of the day in a wheelchair on Feb. 12.

I am not pretending that my two or two and a half hours spent wheelchair bound can compare with those who are confined to a wheelchair every day of their life. I know it cannot.

Nevertheless, the experience was an eye-opener and allowed me to see first-hand the accessibility problems we have on campus.

My tour began in the Disability Services office, where I borrowed the wheelchair.

Learning to maneuver in the wheelchair was difficult. Chairs do not have steering controls, like cars and bicycles do, making turns challenging.

For that reason, I found it hard to turn into small, narrow corridors without hitting walls.

The first real problem I encountered was riding the elevator. Unable to move as quickly in a wheelchair, I found that the doors began to close before I was safely on the elevator.

Even though the elevators are large, it is hard to turn around in an elevator unless no one else is riding, a rarity at Northern Kentucky University.

This meant I had to back out of the elevator, hoping I wouldn’t be overrun by a stampede of people trying to get on the elevator. Luckily, there was only one person waiting and they waited until I had gotten out before they entered.

I utilized the handicap buttons as I was leaving the University Center.

I had always taken for granted that these buttons were close enough to the door. I realized I had to go over to the wall to hit the button and then back up and align the wheelchair with the door.

I made it through the first door and had trouble getting the wheelchair to go over the doorway of the second door.

But this time, the door was beginning to close on me. I turned to hit the handicapped button nearest that door, but realized there wasn’t one there.

I began to try to open the door with my hand and get through the doorway. Finally, someone saw me struggling and held the door open for me.

I made a left leaving the University Center and headed toward Nunn Hall. I started to go up the wheelchair ramp at Nunn Hall, closest to the University Center.

Once I was partially up the ramp, I noticed a problem: I was beginning to roll backwards. Soon, I found my self sitting at the beginning of the ramp, where I had started.

Undeterred, I tried to make it up the ramp again. Again, I was unsuccessful.

I had never had a problem going up this ramp on foot. In a wheelchair, it seemed like Mt. Everest.

Because the ramp was so steep, I had to go all the way around.

As I crossed campus I noticed there were a lot of cracks and crevices in the concrete that I had difficult crossing.

I noticed things I had never noticed before, things that had never struck me as problems with accessibility.

The plaza is very uneven. There are a lot of ups and downs. This makes crossing campus much more difficult than if it was a flat, level surface.

I returned to the office of The Northerner for a meeting and encountered obstacles moving around the office.

Simple things like chairs in path were easily correctable. However, when I went into The Noirtherner’s production office, I found it hard to get around in the tight, cramped room.

After the meeting, I took another trip across campus. When I got to the Natural Science Center, I decided I needed to use the restroom.

I found several problems with my attempt to use the restroom.

First, I was hard to maneuver into the bathroom there was some sharp turns.

Second, I entered the handicap bathroom stall and found it was hard to get into.

The chair barely made it into to stall. If the bathroom had been much less wide, the door would not have closed.

I grabbed the handlebars and attempted to transfer myself to the toilet. The handlebars were a little shaky, though not nearly as bad as those in the University Center.

There was not enough room for me to transfer myself anyway.

After this experience, I made my way back to the University Center to return the wheel chair to Disablility Services.

As leaving the office – the first time I had walked in two or more hours – I decided to take the stairs.

As I was walking down the stairs, I said a little prayer to God for the blessings that he has given me that I all too often take for granted.

To find out how I was treated while in the wheelchair by other students, read my editorial “The Stigma of those Less Abled” on the Viewpoints page of this issue.