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  Friday December 19th, 2014    

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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
From the chair (09/17/2006)
By Frances Edstrom


     
Since I'm feeling better and better, I'm driving my sister crazier and crazier. So the other day, she took me for a long, long, walk in my wheelchair, accompanied by the dog on his leash.

She and the dog were hot and tired after the walk, but if they thought they'd have some respite from me, they were mistaken. It really isn't very taxing riding in a wheelchair pushed by someone else.

But the walk did highlight the downright inconvenience of being in a wheelchair, and how accommodations made for such a conveyance by law are more or less successful.

Curb cuts, which are supposed to make it easy for wheelchairs, are, in an old town like Winona, sometimes so steep that I was in jeopardy of being shot out of the chair like a spitball. But my sister kept a tight grip, and we soon discovered that sometimes it was safer to take the chair down backwards, a trick that might be a little dangerous for a lone wheelchair rider. Another hazard is the corner where the curb cuts leave no room for the wheelchair to turn the cormer on level ground.

Then we came to the railroad tracks! Since that experience, I have much more admiration for the occasional wheelchair rider I see motoring around this neighborhood, which is between WSU and Lake Park, bisected by the tracks.

It wasn't bad going on Franklin Street, but when we came back toward Main, by way of Mark Street, we decided that the four-way stop at Main would be just too complicated, what with so few drivers being up on the rules of right-of-way, so we went through the WSU campus and went over the tracks at Winona Street.

Here, even though there is a pedestrian crossing, the spaces between the tracks and the ties were so huge that we were momentarily at a loss as to how to get the chair across without leaving me sprawled on the tracks like an old melodrama heroine.

Luckily for us, a WSU student came along and asked if she could help. So we gave her the dog on his leash while we backed the chair over the crossing. It turned out she was in education, and told us that in one of her classes about special education, the students were encouraged to spend a day in a wheelchair to see how difficult it is. (I didn't get it completely straight whether they were in actual chairs, or simply had to pretend.) What they discovered is that even though there are lots of designated parking spots and ramps and elevators, those conveniences are not often convenient to each other. She said she was struck by the amount of extra time and energy it takes to get around a place in a wheelchair.

I agreed.

I shared the information with readers a while back that I had not yet tackled the thorny (or should it be throney?) problem of using a public restroom while in a wheelchair. Well, I finally decided that I had to give it a try if I were to be able to go anyplace farther than two minutes from home. I chose a restroom that I had noticed before was quite roomy. It was almost a snap, except getting the restroom door open and negotiating a very high door frame. But I was empowered!

Well, empowered until I tried a restroom a few days afterward, and nearly got my chair stuck in the stall. Luckily my sister was with me. I had visions of making the "News of the Weird" newspaper column.

I have a great deal more respect for the wheelchair riders of the world now that I've been one for a short time. I am hoping that I will soon be able to say, "Oh, let me run get that!" I hope that I don't soon forget how fortunate we are who can walk on two legs. 

 

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