My workplace challenged anyone to experience spending a morning in a wheelchair. The goal was to sensitize us to mobility challenges and identify barriers. Wow, I admit it was eye-opening and revealing.
The email came asking for volunteers to spend a morning in a wheelchair. The aim was two-fold. To sensitize us to the challenges facing mobility impaired people. Secondly, to help identify barriers in the workplace for mobility impaired people.
My immediate 3 colleagues and I put our names forward to help but also a bit as a team-building experience. In the days leading up to the challenge, we became more aware of the “handicap” washroom and other potential issues.
The day came and we were outfitted with our wheelchairs. I must congratulate our bosses for taking up the challenge too. So we chatted with our Assistant Deputy Minister about the day ahead. I commented on her wearing 5 inch heels in her chair. And we were off.
The first challenge was attend a meeting. As I entered the room, I encountered chairs that were left a stray. I couldn’t push the chairs aside to make my way in. First workplace lesson of the day – tuck your chairs in when you leave a room.
Next a meeting with my boss in his office. He has a desk with sides. I couldn’t get close to the desk to write notes in my book. Second workplace lesson, have tables so that I can place my legs under the surface.
I wanted to talk with a colleague, so I headed to her desk. My access was blocked because the aisle-way was cluttered with a trash bin. Third workplace lesson, keep the aisle-ways and entrances/exits clutter free.
My next challenge was to exit the building and cross the street to my office. I never realized how much a cracked and bumpy sidewalk can be an effort. In addition, the sloped sidewalk to drain water meant that I needed to push one side harder than the other to keep on going straight.
Whew, made it to my office. Only to discover that my wheelchair barely cleared the space to my desk. Workplace lesson four ensued. There is a lot of pressure to decrease office space – but in so doing you are killing maneuvering room for wheelchairs.
My colleagues and I went for a cup of coffee at the shop on the main floor. We couldn’t take the elevator together as the wheelchairs would not all fit in one. It is the type of shop where you self-serve coffee and the pay for it. I found myself struggling. I was pouring my coffee into a cup above eye-level which meant I couldn’t see how full it was. Then I had difficulty reaching for the lid.
The morning came to an end. I headed back across the street to the other building. I needed to wheel up the ramp. I’ve never gone up a ramp in a wheelchair… It is more difficult than it seems.
This experience was certainly revealing to me. I have daily health challenges that I live through. Nonetheless, you really can’t understand the experience of mobility impairment until you live it. This experience gave me an appreciation for this point of view. And as the word “Namaste” expresses, I see the beauty in you.