Motherhood is a wonderful thing. When you have a child, your whole life is transformed and you find yourself overwhelmed with feelings of love for this tiny being who is completely dependent on you. Since there is no manual, being a mother is a constant learning experience and you are filled with a combination of endless worry for your child coupled with an equally strong desire to ensure his or her happiness. But when your child is disabled, that worry increases tenfold and much of your energy goes into overcoming the myriad of obstacles encountered in the regular course of life.
The following is an interview with the mother of a young boy in a wheelchair. She sheds light on the daily challenges faced by people in such situations.
1- How long has your child been in a wheelchair?
My son is seven years old and he’s had a wheelchair for two and a half years. School bus regulations stipulate that, in order to use the service, a child must be able to walk or must be in a wheelchair. Therefore, we started the procedure to obtain a wheelchair a few months before he started kindergarten and he received his wheelchair that summer.
2- According to your personal experience, would you say that getting your child around in a wheelchair is easy?
It depends where, but in general, no it’s not easy. Sidewalks can be encumbered by so many things like garbage cans, snow, people texting while walking, and so on. Many commercial building entrances are inaccessible to wheelchairs because they have elevated stairs and/or elevated doorsills, and the great majority of metro stations are not equipped with elevators. For those reasons, we never journey from home without first carefully planning our itinerary in advance.
3- Can you give a few specific examples of the constraints you experience on a daily basis?
We live in a condo and we chose an open area, ground-floor unit so that our son could move around as easily as possible, but we still had to make modifications to our unit nonetheless. We had to have a vertical-lift platform installed to deal with the three steps that lead to the front doorway and right now, we are in the process of adapting the bathroom to our son’s needs. We also had to acquire a hospital bed for him. It all makes one realize that we take so much for granted when we are not disabled.
4- I suppose it’s not always easy for your son.
Our family’s entire life is organized around our son’s mobility limitations so, as I mentioned earlier, nothing we do is left to chance. We know exactly what we can easily do, what requires rigorous planning, and what is not even worth trying. The limitations are numerous and there are many things my son would love to do but that would be extremely complicated, if not impossible, to make happen.
5- What improvements to accessibility would you like to see in your neighborhood or city?
That’s a huge question. The number one priority would be for the sidewalks to be cleared of the encumbrances described earlier and for commercial establishments to be more accessible. Just those two would make a huge difference in our lives.
Cities, stores and shopping centers, and life in general are not adequately adapted to the needs of people with reduced mobility, and so they must contend with unlimited obstacles in their daily functioning. There are a number of organizations who fight for better accessibility to buildings and transportation services with the goal of allowing more autonomy for disabled people, and although some significant improvements have been made in this regard, there is still a long road ahead.