Those summer days are approaching. Summer is one of my favorite seasons. I enjoy being outside, cruising in my wheelchair on the sidewalks. You may even find me in a pool occasionally, if the water is warm enough for my creaky bones and I can summon the energy to be wrestled into a swimsuit. I use the term “swim” very loosely. For me, it mostly means being held in the water, clinging to the wall because I am deathly afraid of drowning, and kicking my leg periodically so that I can enthusiastically convince myself that I exercised today. But summer is not just about sunscreen, barbecues, and pool parties. It also means the air conditioner is on. This may seem like a good thing, but for many of us wheelies, and others with mobility impairments, it probably means something else sinister: the automatic doors are off.
I cannot even count the number of times that I have rolled happily to a store on a warm day and arrived to find my beloved automatic doors…. unresponsive. It is not uncommon to tell the shop owner or clerk that their door is broken, and to receive the following reply: (sunny smile) “Well, you see, it’s hot out. So we turned it off, to keep the air conditioning in.” This reply is usually seen as perfectly logical and said speaker is probably looking for praise for his defense of the environment. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am very much in favor of saving energy. But here’s the thing.
Access should not vary according to the weather. The arrival of summer should not mean that my ability to access stores and restaurants should be turned off. Sure, someone can open a manually operated door for me. But that takes away my independence, and leaves me reliant on the help of a stranger or whoever may be with me. I treasure the opportunity to go off on my own some days and to be assured that I will be able to navigate successfully.
If I door I can normally operate with a switch is turned off, I am left, crestfallen, to make puppy dog eyes on the other side of the glass until someone feels like grabbing the door. While I appreciate anyone who is willing to hold a door, I much prefer the chance to open it myself so that I can come and go as I please. I understand that shop owners value their air conditioners, but my disability does not come and go with the weather. Never before have I seen a weather report stating cloudy, with a chance of wheelchair. My wheelchair and I are together, in fair or foul weather. Perhaps these shop owners have been subjected to a crappy disability awareness program, and believe that my disability is seasonal. I am sitting here laughing, envisioning a strange alternate universe in which my disability drifts in and out according to the seasons. I can see the elementary school “learning the seasons” posters now… “Winter is for wheelchairs!” And then, bam-- with the hum of the air conditioner my disability gets packed away for the season with the awkward winter coats and snow boots. If only it worked like that. The weather reports would be a lot more intriguing. A scan for palsy levels in the air would surely elicit more interest than those boring pollen levels.
Alas, reality is that disability is “in” year round. Although I have to admit, it would be fitting if cerebral palsy were a hallmark way to welcome the fall season. For someone like me with poor balance, every season is fall season, but those treacherous piles of leaves just increase my likelihood of face planting. If disability only existed in the autumn, the jokes would be too golden. I mean, it’s called the fall for Pete’s sake! But jokes aside, I need accessible facilities during every season, regardless of the status of your air conditioner. CP is always at my side. “Winter, spring, summer or fall… I’ve got a friend” and my right to be accommodated should not go away during certain seasons. Colors, outfits, Internet memes, weird children’s shoes with wheels on them… they go in and out. I am here for all seasons, and my automatic door should be too. If a little air conditioning escapes because of it, business owners will have to cope. The next time they consider turning my access “off” I hope they will remember that disability does not come with an off switch.