Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wheelchair Football

The last activity for my Cultural Diversity class was to attend a wheelchair football game hosted by the Department of Occupational Therapy. My professor would be there as would most of the people in that class. We were only told to wear comfortable clothes since we would most likely be asked to participate in the game... Boy did that make me nervous! So I went there only intending to watch.

I got there a few minutes late since I really didn't know where to go, and the game was already underway. The two teams were headed by actual disabled people; one was in a motorized wheelchair and the other was in one of those specialized ones with the slanted wheels for easy movement. After sitting and watching for a little while, my professor, who was taking pictures of the action, came up to me and started talking to me. She said, "You need to let them know that you want to sub in!" To that I said, "Do I have to???" And she replied, "Oh, you want to!" So I just sort of laughed that off and continued being a spectator.

A few minutes later, one of the girls playing came to sit out since she had been playing for quite a while. She came up right to where I was sitting and asked if I wanted to play. I told her no. She asked if I was sure, really trying to get me to play. I said I was sure and just smiled as she rolled away. Then, not more than five minutes later, another girl sat out and rolled over to the set of bleachers where several students and my professor were sitting. She asked if anyone wanted to play, and right away I saw my professors arm pointing right over in my direction. I heard "Get Sean to play! Come on Sean, it's your turn!" Oye, now I have to play, I thought to myself. I couldn't with a good conscience say no after drawing all of that attention, so I agreed and took that girl's place.

I was on the team of the younger boy, who as it turns out is very skilled at playing football in a wheelchair. I actually had a lot more fun that I had expected, and all those nervous feelings went away after awhile. Though I didn't score a touchdown on my own, I was successful in blocking for the person with the ball, and I almost made an interception when the other team had the ball. Our quarterback did try to throw me the ball on two occasions, and I was so close to catching them. Probably a good thing that I didn't, since I'm sure I wouldn't have known what to do after catching it! I managed to leave the game without any cuts or bruises, and I didn't run into any walls or obstacles this time! I did however get too close to another player and got one of my wheels caught on his chair; what a predicament, let me tell you! I could only imagine if I had been really handicapped and not able to stand up and maneuver the chair around. But other than that, I really had a great time.

Though this was probably something I would never do again, I am glad that I did actually participate in the game. I most likely would have regretted not playing afterwards, since it seemed like everyone else was having fun. So, no regrets for this experience; I just wish I had been able to score a touchdown on my own...

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Wheelchair Experience

Recently I had a wheelchair experience that was part of my Cultural Diversity class "E Pluribus Unum." The class focuses on "The Disabled as a Discriminated Minority," so part of our assignments was to go to a public place and spend at least two hours in a wheelchair. Since I already wrote a paper for this project, I'll just copy and paste it here for you to read!


This past weekend I had the interesting experience of shopping at Kenwood Town Center in a wheelchair. I took my friend Megan along as moral, and at times physical, support. The first thing I noticed about this experiment was how difficult it was for me to get the wheelchair into my car. I had intended to put the wheelchair in my trunk, but found that it would not fit. I had to maneuver the equipment around several times before realizing I needed to fold down the back seats. However, this turned out to be one of the least of my problems. The second problem was finding a place to park that would not be too far away from the entrance. I was successful in finding a spot very close to the Dillard’s entrance, but found it frustrating that there were no cuts in the curb to get up on the sidewalk. I eventually was able to roll myself up to the entrance, where a middle-aged gentleman held the door open for me. I was feeling very good about humanity in general at that moment!

Upon entering Dillard’s, I found it fairly easy to navigate through the aisles and winding walkways. Most of the people I encountered coming the opposite direction moved over or stopped to let me cross; this was another good thing. Since the entrance I used was in between floors of the main mall, I had to take an elevator to the first floor to get to the food court. I had to consult a store map to find where the elevator was, and it turned out to be in a far corner of the store. However, the elevator itself was very quick and roomy; I was even able to turn around completely before rolling out upon our arrival. We found the entrance to the main mall very easily, and I was able to navigate to the food court.

Upon arriving at the food court, the first thing I noticed was that the tiles made it a very bumpy ride up to the food counters. I chose to get some Chick-fil-A, and I was able to reach and handle everything, until it was time to roll away and find a table. I had to hand off my food to Megan until I got situated at the table. I managed to find a round table with enough room to get my body right up to the table, which was very convenient. I did notice some children and their mothers looking over in my direction, but no one said anything or did anything to make me feel especially discriminated or uncomfortable. Eating in the wheelchair was quite similar to eating while in a regular chair, and I found it very simple to do so. However, I noticed that I needed to lock myself in place to keep me from rolling away while I reached for my food.

After eating we went towards the smaller shops, since we already knew that the larger department stores were easier to navigate. We went inside American Eagle, Eddie Bauer, Aeropostale, Brookstone, and the Hallmark Store, and all five were just about the same in their setup. Eddie Bauer was the easiest of the stores to navigate, since there was a good amount of room between clothes racks. American Eagle was about the same, but the fact that there were more people in the store made it more difficult. I did purchase some items from there, and I found it fairly easy to do this as well. The cashier that checked me out was helpful in leaning over the counter to help me, which was very nice of her. Also, no one said anything or asked me anything, which made me feel more comfortable with the situation.

The other stores were a little more difficult to navigate. Aeropostale was the hardest to navigate, since there were people standing in line everywhere. The way the store was situated, there was an area of clothes up front, fitting rooms and the checkout stand in the middle, and more clothes in the back. I was unable to get to the back of the store due to the people in line for the fitting rooms. They just stared at me as I tried to wheel by, and no one moved or offered to help me. This was rather frustrating, so I simply left the store and waited outside. The Hallmark Store was not as difficult, but there were breakable items on low shelves where I was trying to navigate. I was very careful in not hitting any of these items, but it was difficult to turn and stay away from them. Brookstone was the same way, but the plus for that store was that there was ample space to turn around.

Before we left, I made a point of stopping in the mall restroom to see how accessible it was. First of all, I noticed how difficult it was to open the door to the bathroom. I stayed “in character” the entire time, and a kind person behind me held the door open for me. I was able to get to the handicapped stall easily, but getting into it was another story. Once I finally got situated in there, the front of the wheelchair was wedged up against the toilet, and the back of the wheelchair was wedged up against the door. There was also very little room to the sides of the chair, so even I had a hard time getting around that. I was able to get out of the chair and maneuver around it, but this would have been very difficult for anyone with a real disability. Upon leaving the stalls, I also noticed that the sinks, and in particular the paper towel dispensers, were very high up. However, I stayed in character and reached for everything myself. I had the sore arms and the back pain to prove it! I also found it difficult to open the door on the way out, since it opened inwards. As I was reaching for the handle, a man walked in and almost hit me. Luckily he was kind enough to hold the door for me to exit.

After the bathroom incident, we went back to Dillard’s to get to the car. We had spent a little over two and a half hours in the mall, and I was completely exhausted! My arms were sore, my legs were sore from not walking, and my hands had blisters and were numb. Once I got to the car, I was able to reenter the world of the “non-disabled” and was able to use my legs again. After reflecting on this experience, I realized how difficult a person in a wheelchair has it. Even though no one made comments or asked about my “disability,” it was emotionally stressful and somewhat embarrassing to require special treatment. And although I only had one run-in with a clothes rack, it was still hard for me successfully maneuver at first; I was lucky to have Megan with me, which then made me think about those that have no one to help them. All in all, this was a very enlightening experience for me. I now have a better appreciation for the disabled lifestyle, and the obstacles they must face. I think now I will be reevaluating how accessible certain businesses are, and perhaps making suggestions on how to improve accessibility.


So, as you can see, I had a very enlightening experience! It definitely gave me a difference perspective, and I will appreciate the little things a lot more now...