Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A Tale of Two Lifts -- For BADD 2

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2007

Just about any wheelchair user who has ever been in a building that has been retrofitted for access has come across a platform lift. They are those lifts that really aren’t supposed to go much farther than 4-6 steps. They’re usually open on top and are key operated. In the past couple months I’ve had several “interesting” lift experiences.

Experience 1:

At a taekwondo tournament, there was a lift down the side of the gym area from the upper level where registration, snacks, the entrance to the gym, the accessible bathroom, and where they were selling t-shirts (and other things) down to the floor where the tournament was taking place. The community college that owns gym we were using has a policy where they cannot leave the key in the lift. This meant that every time a wheelchair user needed or wanted to go up or down, we had to find the person with a key and get him to get us up or down. While I hate that places have that policy, it generally doesn’t bother me. This time, however, it did. The person with the key was not easy to reach. He was not within site of the bottom of the lift most of the time and didn’t have a radio or anything by which we could contact him. At one point they had to announce over the loudspeaker that someone needed to use the lift. Because of these problems, the friend I was with and I ended up just coping with the inaccessible bathroom in one of the locker rooms, had to bring our own food, and nearly didn’t get tournament shirts. It was ridiculous. I often waited 10-15 minutes before I could find someone who could find the man with the key. I was not happy. The sad part is that apparently until the last few years, they didn’t even have the lift and you had to go outside and around the entire building to get from the top to the bottom.

Experience 2:

A week after that tournament, I went to Lunacon at the Hilton Rye Town (also known as the Escher Hilton). This hotel was retrofitted at some point to become ADA compliant. As a result there’s a very short lift going up to the bar and fancier of the two restaurants. (there is a back way that involves going through the kitchen) Thursday night I decided I wanted to go to the bar. I asked at the front desk and someone found the lift key. I had a drink and then was ready to leave. There was someone right there with the key. I got in the lift and whoever had the key lowered me down. But then the door wouldn’t open. That’s a common problem in lifts, usually, it means that you are too low or too high. The person operating the lift pushed the up button intending to bring me up a couple inches and then back down. Nothing. The lift wouldn’t budge. Long story short, I spent about 20 minutes stuck in the lift until they managed to pry open the door to get me out since they could not figure out why it would not work. The entire time I was stuck, however, there were people there. They offered to get me food and were very apologetic and helpful. Ultimately, I came away with a much better experience from this than from my other experience. For the rest of the weekend to get to the bar I went through the kitchen.

What makes these stories so different for me is how the people involved handled them. At the tournament, I was made to feel like a burden. I was inconveniencing them so that I could get around. There was a certain sense that because I could not walk up and down stairs, I was not entitled to be able to move freely around the venue. Even more obvious was the impression that I should not be out without someone who could walk up and down the stairs. At one point someone said “just sent your instructor.” I couldn’t do that due to her position at the tournament. And even if I could, I wouldn’t. At 22 I can take care of myself. At the hotel for Lunacon, they never made me feel like it was my fault that I could not get places or like I did not have a right to be there. There was no assumption that someone else could get things for me. So while, I spent 20 minutes stuck in their lift, I’d much rather deal with them and their lift than go to a tournament in the venue used.