Friday, February 24, 2012

Is This Your Town?

This story from Mom is undated. When I first read it, I assumed it was another story from one of her early 1990s writing classes. In it, Mom talks about barriers in society to people with disabilities.

Mom, who had leg braces and used crutches to walk, chose to write the story from the perspective of someone in a wheelchair. The crux of the story is that person getting a new job and trying to get around town.

Reading the story, though, it seemed out of sync with the 1990s. Some of the barriers she wrote about were there then and have been long gone by now. Then I looked at the header again. While the story is undated, the name she used at the top was not her married name. It was her maiden name. The address was her Iowa address.

That information placed the story firmly in the early 1970s, just after Mom moved from her home in South Dakota for her new job hundreds of miles away in Iowa. While the story is about a woman named Mary who uses a wheelchair and Mom used crutches, Mom had to have used her own experiences to write it. It is really about a woman named Connie.

The story is longer, so I've broken it into two posts. The photo is of Mom in May 1974.

Is This Your Town?

Could These Be Your Problems Now or In the Future?

"Congratulations Mary! You've made it! You've graduated! Now, what are your plans?"

"I'm not sure, Beth. Guess I'll get a job. I want to be independent."

"You know the problems you'll have. It's not easy out there in that cruel world for anyone, and for you it will be even harder. What kind of job do you want? Where will you live? How will you get to work?"

"Beth, I know more than anybody that it won't be easy, but I have to know it can be done. I've many skills which I can use. I want to live by myself in an average-sized town - not too big or too small. I know, I'll write the Chamber of Commerce and ask them about their town."

"Great, Mary! I'll help you check it out."

The rundown from the Chamber of Commerce on Mary's inquiry didn't tell her what she wanted to know. You see Mary's mode of transportation is a wheelchair. Now, let's check out Mary's typical town.

Mary is well-qualified for nearly any position. She did well in her school subjects with little absenteeism, an asset to any business firm or organization. The employment office sent her on an interview. The company needs a secretary. Mary can type, take shorthand, handle the telephone with ease. Oh! Oh! How does she get into the building? There are several steps in the front. She can't mount them every day by herself. After investigation she discovers a back door that is accessible to a point. It's a tight squeeze through the door but possible. She wheels down the hall through the storeroom and finally finds herself in the main lobby to which most people enter through the front door. Mary took the "scenic" route. A quick check at the ladies room and Mary decided not to powder her nose. She couldn't get her wheelchair through the door.

After many tries she found an office building that is accessible. During the interview she must work twice as hard as most people to overcome that first impression of pity. She has to convince the prospective employer that she can do the job as good as, if not better than any of her competitors. Her boss sees her confidence and gives her the job.

Mary had it made or had she? A job with no place to live. She bought a newspaper and hunted through the ads. "Hmm. They didn't say whether this is a ground floor apartment." A telephone call told her it was upstairs, or only a few steps (might as well be a brick wall). Finally! A ground floor! The bathroom, however, had only a 26-inch door. In the kitchen, she couldn't reach the cupboards or the stove. It was much too small.

Most efficiency apartments have little maneuvering room. Many apartment complexes are several floors without elevators or ground floors. Renting a house is difficult. There just isn't much to choose from. Houses without basements usually have few steps but invariably the doorways are too narrow. Of course there is no remodeling of rental property. How nice it would be if "standard" doors were a little wider. Buying a house is impossible. After all, Mary had just gotten her job. A war veteran has an advantage here with GI benefits. How does Mary "make do" with less than an ideal house when she is barred from some rooms.

Mary's ideal house would consist of the following items. The doors to all rooms, including the bathroom, should be 32 inches wide and hallways should have clearance of 36 inches. There should be a ramp, or the possibility of building a ramp, to eliminate the existing steps. If possible, there should also be a railing at not more than 40 inches from the ground. The ideal kitchen would have the cupboards set several inches lower with knee room under the sink. The faucet handle should have both hot and cold on the same control so it can easily be reached from a sitting position. The automatic clothes washer and dryer should be front loading. Light switches should be lower and electric plug-ins higher. Many of these features could be standard on any house and wouldn't cause any inconvenience for the able-bodied housewife.

In the next part, Mom continues, addressing transportation and public buildings. Go to Part 2

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