During my many years in the restaurant business, I went through quite a few remodels to accommodate the Americans With Disabilities Act. Sometimes the modifications were simple, just a matter of replacing a restroom sign with one that had Braille on it, while other times required some major renovation. Wheelchair ramps had to be built, curbs leveled, and restrooms widened. I always thought that it was a good idea for everyone to have access to the restaurant, even though at times it was a hassle and made a good little pinch on my profit and loss. Then, a few months ago I broke my leg. I also have a problem with my inner ear and don’t function very well on crutches. Essentially, I was confined to a wheelchair for about 2 months until my leg healed. During that time I gained a newfound admiration and respect for those whose condition requires them to live their lives in a chair. It was the things that most of us take for granted everyday that were the most frustrating. Things like going down the stairs to get the mail. (This was finally accomplished on one leg, but it seemed to take forever.) I couldn’t drive for a while, so I had to rely on someone to take me to the grocery store or the pharmacy. There was a restaurant that wasn’t accessible and I got stuck trying to push the wheelchair over a door threshold. Since my condition was temporary, I wasn’t eligible for Call-A-Ride, handicapped parking, or some valet service. How do I take the trash out? About the same time I read in the paper about the Missouri legislature slashing funding for Medicaid and people chaining their wheelchairs to the doors of the capital building in protest. Some of the cuts have been restored, but the battle continues.
Recently a few local civic leaders and businesses have made donations to the St. Louis County Parks department to build its largest playground ever in Faust Park in Chesterfield. The $350,000 playground covers some 10,000 sq. feet and features specialized equipment to accommodate hearing impaired children and others with disabilities. The playground has swings, slides, swinging bridges, and lookout platforms. The equipment is ergonomically designed to strengthen muscles and co-ordination while being safer to play on. The surface of the playground is rubberized, for example. There are also transfer stations so children in wheelchairs can go from area to area unassisted. The slides are made out of stainless steel, which generates less static electricity than plastic ones. A lot of the hearing-impaired children have cochlear implants, which can be severely damaged by the static electricity.
It’s a start, but the help needs to come from both private industry and the legislature. Private citizens can do their part too. Look into your local chapter of Paraquad for ways that you can help. Remember, it’s not a handout, just a helping hand on the road to independence.