The house was still and quiet in the dark of an early morning. The vibration of Ian’s alarm enticed me out of sleep before the song ever started. He brushed my face gently with his hand, “Codi, are you going to get up?”
I shook my head and murmured my displeasure at needing to be awake at 6:15 on a Saturday morning—every Saturday morning. I felt a brief heaviness overcome me, not of exhaustion but of guilt. The self-inflicted sort of guilt all parents feel when they choose themselves—or anything—over their kids. But I’ve been at the parenting game long enough to know I wasn’t about to win the World’s Worst Mom title for missing one soccer game. Okay, it was the third game in a row, but still!
Regardless of how I was feeling about it, my daughter was still sound asleep beside me and had made it very clear the night before that she did NOT want to go to soccer in the morning. I thought I would let the beast—uh, I mean my little girl—sleep. Satisfied with my decision I closed my eyes.
But as parenting goes, I was wrong. My daughter woke up just before 7 AM and begged for us to get up and go to soccer. “Please Mommy! I really want to go.” So up we got. I was thankful for her enthusiasm and her push to get us out to the game. However there was a catch. Our late wake-up meant we were going to have to meet my husband and son at the field. It doesn’t sound like a big deal. Families go their separate ways and meet up at events all the time. But just as we were scrambling to get ourselves organized and Ian was walking out the door with our son, I stopped them. “Wait! What about getting down to the field?”
We both rolled our eyes at the state of the wheelchair access and the 15-month long battle with our township to get it remedied. Usually we show up to the field together or Ian is there to help me down. But today he would be on the field coaching by the time we got there so if we decided to go, I’d be doing it on my own. Well, I already said I was coming and although access was sketchy, I could manage it—it would be fine.
Maybe you can guess where this is going. It wasn’t fine. I made it down over the first uneven curb, onto to the gravel and over the raised crosswalk. But as I made my attempt at the second uneven curb, the gravel below got the best of me and I went down…hard!
If you’ve been around here for awhile you know my favourite thing about being out in the world is bringing attention to myself and my disability—I love to make an entrance. If you haven’t been around here for awhile, I should let you know, that was sarcasm.
But there I was, on the ground, attracting a nice-sized crowd of mostly strangers. Because believe me when I tell you that a person falling out of their wheelchair gets noticed. As does the wheelchair access path that, as an able-bodied person, you would probably never even see. And to say people were appalled was an understatement.
My Battle for Access
Shortly after my son started playing soccer in September 2018, I contacted our township. They were making changes at the park and when construction started, they removed the accessible path to the field—even that path wasn’t perfect but at least it wasn’t dangerous. They left no way for me, or any other wheelchair user, to safely and independently access the soccer fields.
The first time I called I was told it would only be a couple of weeks. After a couple of months, I tried again. After two or three unreturned voicemails, I managed to speak to the man-in-charge (except he wasn’t really in charge). I got feigned attempts at understanding and no real answers about what the access would be when construction was complete. But he did offer an interim solution until the permanent access point was put in, in time for Fall he said: they would construct a temporary bridge from the parking lot to the field that would be put in place at the end of each work day and on weekends. It was actually perfect. And it was in place for two weeks—then it disappeared, never to be seen again. The soccer season ended.
When we showed up to the field in September 2019, now with two boys in soccer, it was clear their fall deadline wasn’t going to happen. So I called again and was given no real solution. It wasn’t until we were at the township for a burn permit in October and we happened to know the woman helping us that we made some progress. She commiserated with me and then connected us to another man-in-charge (the real one? Your guess is as good as mine). But this guy seemed different. He actually seemed to care that I wanted to get my boys to soccer and that public spaces should have equal access. He didn’t make me feel as though I was wasting his time. He was willing to meet me at the field. He cared.
There’s A Plan
Of course he consulted with the first man-in-charge and my input was deemed unnecessary. They had a plan and, in all fairness, it wasn’t a bad plan. There would be a path from the parking lot, over a raised crosswalk to a path on the other side that would lead to the fields. They were even going to move the accessible parking spots from across the parking lot over to the path. Ok great. But when?
Now I can’t remember exactly when the raised crosswalk was poured. But it was a glorious day when we showed up and saw it there. Until we got closer and realized they didn’t pour the path on either side. Instead it was left full of gravel and dirt with hugely uneven curbs—wheelchair access at its finest (insert eye roll). That’s how it stayed for weeks.
It took three days—well, 15 months and three days. I sent an e mail to the township on Sunday night about my fall the day before and the safety concerns of the path. I also may have mentioned the group of witnesses horrified by the wheelchair access. Lo and behold, the path was paved by Wednesday.
Don’t Wait For An Accident To Make A Change
Many times, the changes that need to happen to create access are not complicated—the path for instance was all of 10 feet long. But they also aren’t prioritized and sometimes get caught up in bureaucratic red-tape—leaving only the people who need access, frustrated and ostracized.
The sad thing is, change can happen quickly. It happens when someone gets hurt and the threat of a lawsuit or public backlash is high. Stop waiting. Don’t wait to pave the path until somebody falls. Don’t wait to install the ramps until after the fire alarms go off and the people in wheelchairs have to go the long way around to get out safely or—sadly—don’t get out at all.
Guys, I’ve told you before, I’m not a great advocate. I don’t call, call and call again or go out getting petitions signed. I don’t contact the newspaper or create a scene—except when I fall out of my chair at the soccer game—but I do believe in universal access—for inclusion and for safety. So I try.
If you are in a position to make a change then I hope you will start to heed the warnings. Think preventatively and create access before something goes wrong. Be a leader in your community and your industry to help make the world accessible for everyone.