No matter how empathetic we become, it is impossible for those of us who can easily walk to imagine what life must be like for those who are bound to a wheelchair. Wheelchair users around the world face a plethora of accessibility issues every day, and the support they have gotten so far doesn’t seem to be enough.
While people are trying to ensure that wheelchair users are made to feel comfortable wherever they go, the thing that many fail to understand is that wheelchair accessibility goes far beyond the addition of a ramp to buildings.
Usually an Afterthought
According to Louise Bruton, who herself is a wheelchair user and the founder of Legless in Dublin, the places that do have wheelchair accessibility don’t seem to have given it any real thought. Disabled people have had problems with accessibility for a very long time in many parts of the world. In Ireland, there are countless people who have not received their spot in social housing due to lack of wheelchair accessibility, forcing them to depend on others.
Having no way of living an independent life due to hindrances like these, the mental health of a wheelchair user is put under risk. A number of people in wheelchairs have to rely on their families in order to survive because most of the residential buildings simply do not fulfil their accessibility requirements.
The Smallest Things Start Mattering
A wheelchair user cannot live a fully independent life unless the people who are in charge of making accessibility easier for them start thinking beyond the ramp. Granted, ramps are important for their movement within urban settings but they need much more than that to be free of stress. Something as small as a crack in the pavement can prove to be a big obstacle for a person in a wheelchair. Broken elevators, lack of respect for disabled parking spots, buses without ramps, and lack of wheelchair-accessible cabs are just a few of the things that make it nearly impossible for disabled people to fend for themselves in our world.
An Uphill Battle
For a wheelchair user, trying to live normally in an area that has little to no planning to cater for their needs is always a battle. They always have to be aware of their surroundings, trying to memorize where they can easily go and where they cannot. However, the situation is not all dark and gloomy. There are people who are working hard to help wheelchair-bound members of their society to live independently.
The Irish Wheelchair Association has been working tirelessly within Ireland to ensure that the needs of people in wheelchairs are met. The group has 20,000 members, and its 57 day centers span across the country. The IWA is making efforts to help out wheelchair users as best as they can, by providing them with driving lessons and bus services that they can actually use.
These are the kind of people who understand that the needs of a disabled person can only be addressed once one starts thinking beyond the ramp. Hopefully, organizations like the IWA can inspire those in power to take notice of all the design and planning considerations that have to be met within cities to allow people in wheelchairs to be truly independent.