Monday, July 16, 2007

ADAAG: Not just a good idea, it's the law

This past Saturday, I witnessed a scene that simultaneously aroused both wonderment and a combination of anger and annoyance. I was sitting in a metropolitan installation of a major coffee/pastry/bread chain, drinking my coffee, eating a bagel, and flipping through the comics section when I noticed a woman in a wheelchair paying for her breakfast at the cash register. She took a paper coffee cup that the cashier handed her and rolled over to the countertop across the room where one could self-serve and doctor and decorate one's coffee. The woman poured her coffee from the large dispenser tap-thingy, rolled a few feet over along the bar and added creamer and sugar...and was stopped cold by the cup lids.

Now, the countertop was low enough to be compliant with ADAAG. I could tell without measuring; if it's at a height that I don't have to strain or struggle with to use, then it has to be less than 36" high. However, it occurred to me as I saw her reaching across the countertop to the plastic cup lid holder/dispenser mounted to the wall that the counter was too deep. ADAAG mandates that to be accessible, a countertop must be no higher than 34" and no deepr than 24" in order to provide an obstructed side reach of 48", which is 4/5 my height, by the way, meaning that the average wheelchair-bound person may not be able to punch me in the face but will most likely have unobstructed reach to poke me in the throat. Not that I get in that many fights with mobility-disabled people. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. So, this woman tried reaching acouple of times to get a cup from the wall-mounted rack that help the cup lids, as if to confirm, yes indeed, I cannot reach this damn thing.

So she pauses, looks around on the counter. Now, bear in mind, I'm not talking about a little old lady in a wheelchair, which is our stereotypical wheelchair-bound person. Nay, prithee. This woman might have been in her mid-thirties, had brown shoulder length hair with dark blond highlights, stunning eyes with very well groomed eyebrows (what? look, I've started noticing eyebrows since I've had mine done), and wore a white sleeveless polo shirt and light blue pants and white sneakers. She was in one of those really lightweight wheelchairs with the wheels that angle in a little bit for better maneuverability. So, for being in a chair, this gal was really able. And here she was, foiled at getting a lid for her hot cup of coffee. And why shouldn't she have one? She's a gal on the go in that chair! Oughtta have had a cup holder on it! (If I was in a wheelchair, fuckin'-A I'd have a cupholder.)

But she does the coolest thing: she pulls a couple of wooden coffee stirrers out of their container (that she can easily reach), leans across the counter, and lodges the other ends of the stirrers under the edge of the top lid. With a one-two-three, she lifts the top lid up and flips! it out of its plastic, wall-mounted prison onto the counter within her reach. She takes the lid, snuggles it down onto her cup of joe, and rollrollrollrolls out the door, bagel in lap and coffee in hand.

I watched this unfold, not sure if I should get up and help (would that be insulting?) or just stay put (would that be rude?). I have to say that I marvelled at her improvised ingenuity and practically grinned as she left. But my delight darkened a bit when I remembered that necessity is the mother of invention, and this is likely not the first time she's had to do this sort of thing. Sure, the big stuff is taken care of: she can roll in and out of buildings and move from floor to floor, use the bathroom, wash her hands, maneuver through doors, and so on. But I gotta say that it's the little things that can fuck up your day. I'm only five feet tall, which is short but not abnormally so, and I often find myself frustrated in the world by being unable to see over something, reach to get something, etc. And I'm standing up with full use of all my limbs when I get five shades of pissed off. What's life like for this gal?

When I got up to leave, I went to the counter, leaned across it and measured with my arm. Sure enough, the counter was 30" deep, which is illegal by 5". I sighed and stepped into the Denver summer heat.


The Wandering Author said...

Pixie, I'm not in a wheelchair, but I have my own disability, so I'll offer the following observations. First, yes, at least for me, it's the little things that wear you down. And sometimes the very big things...

Second, while I don't want to perpetuate the idea that "the disabled" all think alike - we don't - I can at least offer a slightly more informed guess at what you "should have done".

Speaking for myself, I hate having attention called to my disability, so I'm usually much happier struggling along on my own, without offers of help, however well intentioned. If I get beyond that point, I suspect I'm fairly noticeable, casting glances around for someone I might be able to appeal to.

So, if you ever find yourself in such a position again, that might be something to keep in mind. Wait, see if the person can handle things themselves, or seems willing to give up; if they start glancing about, it may be time to offer to help them. If you do, the more low-key and matter-of-fact you can keep it (the way you would with someone who was simply too short to reach something on a high shelf :-D) the better.

On an entirely unrelated issue, you're probably already aware of this, but in case you aren't, when I read about design flaws in the Citicorp building in New York I thought it was the kind of thing you'd find interesting.

ms. kitty said...

Isn't it amazing that most of us don't realize that we are only temporarily abled? that most of us will someday need the kinds of help that are now legislated for folks whose mobility is limited in some way?

Sarge said...

That's when you should've called the code enforcement official for the City and County of Denver. But, that's just my opinion. With all my recent *temporary* disabilities, I found the most common tasks to be quite frustrating, only being able to use one arm. I can only imagine how pissed off I'd become with a permanent disability.

Mile High Pixie said...

Thanks for the advice, WA. I'll keep that in mind next time I see someone working through/past their hindrance. And indeed Rev. Kit, many folks don't know how by the grace of God many of us are still physically able, but even then for how long?
Yo Sarge, I've been passing on your advice about having clear space on the latch side of a door for opening it with the opposite hand. It's a good idea.