Friday, March 16, 2012

From Dependence to Independence (Part 1)

This paper is along the lines of Mom's Is This Your Town? story. In both, Mom points out the difficulties of life with a disability in the early 1970s. The story is undated, but, as it is signed with Mom's maiden name, that would place it before 1975.

One of the barriers Mom talks about is finding a suitable job, one that was accessible. The photo is of Mom in 2009 at her retirement party, after nearly four decades at the job she found, the one that brought her to Iowa.

From Dependence to Independence

Freedom from Barriers

Imagine you are confined to a wheelchair! You wish to enter a store with only a few steps in front. It might as well be a brick wall, as far as you're concerned. That store is closed to you. Or how about making that quick telephone call from a phone booth. Forget it! You will never fit. Or how about viewing your favorite actor in the local theater with your friends. Unless you are able to slip into a theater seat, this you can also forget.

Who are shut-ins? Most people would define shut-in as someone who is shut in, unable to go out without assistance. Why is he shut in? As a rule, he is shut-in because of "environmental barriers."

Environmental barriers are those physical obstacles in your environment which prevent the handicapped person from conducting his life in a normal fashion. It is ironic that most of these barriers were constructed by man himself.

The barrier that may come to your mind first, of course, is steps. Even a small four-inch step, such as a street curb, is impossible for the person in an electronic wheelchair. The curb is difficult for someone in an ordinary wheelchair and a definite hazard for the person on crutches or for the person who is blind.

A flight of stairs is impossible for even the most agile chair traveler to climb alone. Elevators and ramps are the best invention for the handicapped. All too often, however, they are hidden in some obscure corner with no signs of how to get there or even if there is one. How about the blind elevator traveler? Have you ever wondered how he can tell what floor he is on? How easy it would be if the numbers were raised on the buttons, or if a bell would ring the floor number. A simple idea? Then why isn't it done more often?

Of all public buildings, schools are the biggest offenders of the barrier problem. All too often, a small handicapped child has to be "shipped off" to some special school because his neighborhood school has too many barriers. Almost 60 percent of the handicapped children now in special schools could attend public schools. This would be a great saving for the taxpayer who pays the support of state schools. It is not good for the child to be separated from his friends and family. He has to feel a part of his neighborhood.

Consider for a moment the "amateur" handicapped. The one who, by an accident or whatever, has temporarily been confined to a wheelchair or crutches. These "amateurs" usually have a harder time as they do not qualify for the special schools. Many times they end up repeating a grade because of absence.

There are some colleges and universities finally getting the idea and building campuses barrier free. Consequently, there are many handicapped students enrolled in these colleges. Ramps replace entrance steps and elevators are seen in obvious places. Wider doors and lots of maneuvering room are common. The able-bodied student does not mind the innovations. In fact, it has been proved that many accidents are prevented when ramps are used instead of steps.

The job opportunities for the handicapped are greatly limited because of these barriers. They not only have to find the right position, they also have to find that position in an easily accessible building.

Now comes perhaps the biggest barrier, that of transportation. Public transportation, such as a transit bus, is impossible for the wheelchair traveler and difficult for the person on crutches. A good invention would be a hoist of some type in the rear for easy access, which could be available for use by the elderly.

If you are rich, of course, you can buy a car with your own hand controls, or take a cab. With a car of your own, you still have a problem of a place to park. You have to get close enough to your job. Then you have to be dexterous enough to unload your own chair and get into it. Then there is the inevitable curb to contend with.

Go to Part 2

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