In the Blink of an Eye: The Accessibility Demon Rises

In the Blink of an Eye: The Accessibility Demon Rises

By Sam Nishek

It happened so fast.

Only two blocks from home, I was finishing an enjoyable five-mile ride on my brand new fat tire mountain bike when it all went down. I don’t exactly know what happened, but suddenly I was lying on the ground staring at my foot that was gruesomely twisted 90 degrees to the right.

My ankle was shattered. It took 11 screws, one steel plate and some good drugs to put it back together.

One small patch of ice on the road turned me from able-bodied to disabled, in the blink of an eye.

Many architects are less than enthusiastic about the architectural requirements of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), and I was no different. Of course we comply with these standards, but until I was on a knee-scooter and crutches with a 10-week prognosis, I just didn’t realize how difficult getting around could be.

In the Blink of an Eye: The Accessibility Demon Rises

Here I am on a borrowed knee-scooter that helped me get around the office when I was forbidden to put any pressure on my ankle. 

Ha! Our office bathrooms are not even close to ADA standards. After getting myself as close to the entry as possible, it was hop, hop, hop (backwards), grab the sink for support, and then attempt to hit my target.

I could feel my perspective changing as days turned into weeks and I experienced more and more building types. Here’s what I found:

  • Transitioning to a building from my Uber ride or my wife’s car (my #1 chauffeur) in the middle of winter was really difficult. Maintenance of walkways is key, but more careful design would consider ways to keep ice from forming on walking and riding surfaces to begin with, creating smooth transitions for those less abled.
  • Required in commercial spaces, handrails on both sides of a staircase should be adopted into residential design. When you can only rely on one handrail, one way of the up-down experience is going to be a little scary, especially when a particular side is needed to aide and keep pressure off a certain limb. Long sets of stairs with no landings in between were particularly daunting.
  • With no requirement in residences to have grab bars in bathrooms, at a minimum, all bathrooms should be designed with the ability to quickly and harmlessly install grab bars when needed.
  • Trying to fit a temporary shower seat into a small shower and bathe oneself, and then get out of there, stepping over a shower curb, crutches on one side of the curb or the other, was a navigation that literally caught my breath.
  • Non-ADA bathrooms are a pain in the butt! Transitioning from crutches into a small space with nothing to grasp, turning around and sitting down, not to mention trying to get back up on one leg – those moments were lessons in humility and compassion for individuals whose disabilities are permanent.

While the squeak of my crutches was a point of amusement in the office (no sneaking up on anyone anymore), my predicament was unanimously met with compassion. That’s how I want to be from now on when designing to meet, and possibly exceed, the ADA guidelines.

The feeling was so liberating when I let go of my clumsy crutches. Now that I’m walking on my boot full time, with just two more weeks until I can get behind the wheel again, I am nothing but thankful that my disability is temporary.

When will I get back on my bike again?

I already have. I needed to complete that failed bike ride. With boot on, I rode out to the exact spot of the accident, turned around and rode back home. Foolish? Sure. But now I feel like I can move forward and not look back (unless I’m squeezed into a non-ADA bathroom)!

1 reply
  1. Sharon Widing
    Sharon Widing says:

    Similar experience when I broke my femur.
    So called accessible rooms in hotels are item no, except for toilet. No roll in or walk in shower and wheelchair can’t fit under sink.
    Had to travel to get home while recovering from my injury.

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