Thoughts on Accessability, or the Lack Thereof – Part 1

I’m still not sure what term is the current, widely accepted one (I’d apprebciate comments on this), be it handicapped, disabled, differently  abled, physically challenged, people with disabilities …(guidelines from Brown University here)

but what I do know is I have a greater appreciation for the obtacles faced by people with disabilities owing to my own recent invaliding.

That’s a bit of a convoluted opening owing to my desire to use the word “invalid”, because that word has two different meanings and two different pronunciations, yet both are appropriate to this discussion.  Here, I am using the word in its original definition –

noun: invalid;
a person made weak or disabled by illness or injury

as opposed to –

adjective: in·val·id:
an argument, statement, or theory) not true because based on erroneous information or unsound reasoning.

which seems to be the definition used by many when it comes to designing and planning accomodations for people with disabilities, temporary or permanent.

My current disabilities (beyond age, supposed mental incapacities, possibly some world views, OCD, a serious case of being duck-toed and fairly advanced arthritis of the lower spine) are engendered by the bypass surgery following my third heart attack.

In order to perform that surgery, surgeons must “crack open” your chest by splitting your sternum and using “spreaders” to open the gap, hook you up to a heart-lung machine, stop your heart, harvest veins from your legs, graft then to “bypass” the existing blockages and then wire your sternum back together.

While healing, I am not allowed to:

lift more than five pounds
put both hands above shoulder height at the same  time
overly physically exert myself

and I am limited by the fact that I am temporarily on medication that controls both my blood pressure and my heart rate.  Which means I get to be the guy who performs the rear-guard action that slows the zombies down long enough for everyone else to run away, because my heart will not beat fast enough to support such a physical effort.  (Leave me plenty of ammo though and pistols because most long guns weigh more than five pounds….)

These restrictions are far more limiting out in the real world than you may imagine.  A gallon of water weighs 8 and a third pounds.  A quart weighs two pounds, meaning that two quarts of any liquid is my limit.

Have you ever tried washing your hair one-side at a time?

How many times a day do you have to reach for something above shoulder height?

In practice, what my temporary retrictions mean is that I need to ask for or find help to perform just about any normal, every day physical task that’s beyond making a cup of coffee and drinking it.

I’ll give you one example that I hope will begin to make the scope of the problem very clear:


Everyone needs clean clothes on a daily basis, which means, in most cases, at the very least seven sets of underwear and socks, 2 or more bottoms and seven tops each week.  I typically do laundry once every two weeks, so double the above.

Way more than five pounds.  A pair of dungarees alone could weigh five pounds.

And, also typically, my washer and drier are in my basement – 13 steps down, 13 steps up, every trip.

Here’s a clue:  owing to surgical recovery and meds, I need to pause to catch my breath when simply standing up.

So I could not carry the laundry basket to the basement, nor the clean laundry back up the stairs by myself on one go, and multiple trips up and down those stairs was not in the picture either.

I also felt that it was wrong to ask someone else to help “clean my skivvies”, especially when my local resources had already helped me out with so much.

Fortunately, I had more than one basket, and here’s what I had to do to solve this problem:

I dragged the full laundry basket down the stairs (bump, bump, bump) and kicked it along the basement floor to the drier.

Small handfulls of dirty clothes laboriously transferred from the basket to the washer and, eventually, even smaller handfuls of wet clothes into the drier.  Handfuls of dry clothes back into a basket, which was then kicked and dragged across the floor to the base of the  stairs.

I’d already placed a second basket midway up the stairs.  Now I proceeded to throw handfuls of clean laundry (less thana five pounds) from the bottom of the stairs into the basket midway up the stairs.

I then carried the now empty basked from the bottom of the stairs to the top of the stairs, walked back down to the basket at the midpoint and threw handfuls of laundry from there to the basked at the top of the stairs.

The full basket of clean clothes was then slid along the floor to the bedroom, where everything got folded.

Now imagine your typical day of physical tasks you don’t even think about having to be planned out that much, let alone the time it takes to work through.

The glaring point here ought to be not what I went through, but what people with disabilities have to contend with their entire lives as their normal course of going about life’s business – and then some.

Thus concludes Part 1.  Part 2 tomorrow

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1 Comment

  1. As someone who has been disabled because of MS for a decade (since I was 21), I can confidently say that the vast majority of disabled people prefer the term “disabled” and that “handicapped/special needs/challenged” are generally considered offensive, if not being used as outright slurs (along with “cripple” and “invalid,” which are always used disparagingly. Thank you for this series. I look forward to part 2!

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