Monday, August 22, 2016

Cement Stairs and One Little Act That Meant Everything To Me

One of the main academic buildings on my college campus had two cement stairs, without a railing, leading up to the front door. 

If you're reading this and you've got cerebral palsy, too, perhaps your stomach dropped (like mine always does) at the mention of cement stairs. 

As I went about my day-to-day life, I watched in silent awe as people skipped up those god-forsaken stairs as if they were nothing. They SKIPPED. UP CEMENT STAIRS. I mean, how is it that the average human being can glide up two cement stairs without breaking their stride, without even glancing at their feet, and without falling flat on their face? It truly is an incredible enigma to me. 

Anyway, because I was not endowed with the superhuman ability to skip up cement stairs, I adapted by circling around those stairs so that I could lean against the side of the building for balance. Then, I stepped up onto the stairs as I leaned, hoping that nobody walking out would open the door in my face. I'm not gonna lie - it was terribly awkward, especially because I had to climb through mulch and bushes to get to the side of the building. 

One afternoon, I was walking to class with one of my professors. We were having a casual conversation about something too trivial to recall, and then she proceeded to skip up the steps, while I circled around awkwardly and climbed through those bushes so that I could lean onto the building as per my daily protocol. 

I could feel her eyes on me as I clambered through the bushes and I wondered for a moment if she was going to scold me for trampling over the college's decorative vegetation, even though I really had no other option. 

Then: "I'm sorry about that," she said, her voice quiet, and I stopped clambering for a minute to look at her in surprise. 

"It's fine," I said automatically, still self-conscious about the fact that I was climbing through the bushes and, worse, that my professor was watching me climb through the bushes. 

She met my eyes with a faint, kind smile on her face, but her voice was firm when she replied. "No, it really isn't fine. I've been working with the head of our department to make this building more accessible, and it really needs to be a priority." 

The very next day, a railing was installed along those front steps. 

And even though there is still progress that needs to be made - even though the building itself still needs to undergo renovations to be completely accessible (a project that they are currently trying to push through to administration) - I wanted to write this post as a reminder that a little step in the right direction - a little strip of iron - can speak volumes. 

That little strip of iron spared me the daily indignity of climbing through the bushes for the rest of my college years, but even more than that, it made me feel as though I was part of my community. 

That little strip of iron probably went unnoticed by every other person who used those steps, but to me, it meant everything

That little strip of iron said
"You're welcome in this building, too
You matter.

15 comments:

  1. I can so relate to this post! My high school has a lot of stairs and it is hard. Also, there are 2 ways of getting into my grandmother's house: one involves 2 stairs and the other more stairs. Both without a railing. I don’t like to always ask for help, so I try to climb them on my own. When I do that, I usually use the first one (when I use the other, I’m forced to climb it like I did when I was little- the same way you did before your dad told you to stop- while praying that no one sees me haha). I was just thinking how to climb that 2 stairs one day and then I saw the big plant at the top of the mountain (hey, it was the equivalent of a mountain to me). Saved the day. I held on to the trunk, while thinking “Please, please, don’t break!” (somehow, the idea of falling on the cement didn’t seem appealing). Fortunately, it didn’t break. Nine years later, I climb in the same way, with the help of the same plant. Some things are always there for you!
    I seriously don’t know how I would have handled your situation. Seems terribly unconfortable. But I’m glad you had such a supportive teacher. She seems great. I feel like not many understand the importance of small acts, and you are lucky to have found someone who did.

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    1. Hi Oana!! It's nice to know I'm not the only one! :) And OHH, thank goodness for that plant at the top of your grandmother's steps! I've used plants for balance, too - it's amazing how helpful little things like that can be.

      And luckily, in my situation, the bushes weren't too overgrown so it usually only took a few steps to get past them. Still, it's definitely wayyyy more uncomfortable when someone is watching! YES, that little act made such a big difference for me. :)

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment, Oana!! I really enjoy hearing about your experiences in similar situations.

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  2. I'm so so glad...and hate that the situation existed in the first place. Thank you for the reminder of just how ableist the world is. And HOORAY for such good people who make things HAPPEN.

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    1. Lizzi - thank you for reading and caring and commenting! <3 It means so much to me that you continue to come to my blog and that you care about what I've written. And YES - she never specifically approached me about it, but the timing of the installation makes me strongly suspect that it was her doing - and it simplified my life tremendously. I was so, so grateful. Sometimes the little things in life can make such a huge difference.

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  3. I am so glad your professor did something about this! That it was not a "I'm sorry FOR YOU [now I'll stare at you and talk to you awkwardly about it.]"

    If it were me, I'd have to crawl, and figure out a way to lug the crutches without a railing...but WITH one? I'd be good to go :D

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    1. Tonia <3 I was so glad too - and YES, I'm so glad that it wasn't an awful, pitying sorry!

      And ohhh - I have crawled up steps before, too - but crawling and lugging crutches sounds ridiculously hard!! Reading your comment reminds me that I'm thankful for the railing for others that might come after me as well. Because even though I've graduated, I know I won't be the last student with a disability on campus, so it makes me glad to know that railing will be there for ANYBODY that needs it (because climbing/crawling through the bushes and possibly also lugging along crutches is an experience that I don't want others to have to deal with!). :)

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    2. If you have 2 crutches like me there is a way to go up steps with no rail. I put the crutches ahead of me as a balancer then pull my body up carefully,one foot then the other. Not ideal but if done with specificity it can be done in times when there is no alternative. Had to climb up cement steps with crutches to get my handicap parking thing renewed which is so wrong LOL.

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    3. Margot, sometimes this works for me IF it's a certain kind of stair. (Wide, not too steep, and 2 at most.) But if it's a usual FLIGHT of stairs, your way would definitely throw off my balance.... <3 )

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    4. You had to go up stairs to renew your handicap parking pass? That makes absolutely no sense at all!!! I wonder what someone in a wheelchair would do since they would have absolutely no way of making it up steps. Reading this has been so eye opening to me- I never realized how much work still needs to be done for accessibility

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    5. Kathryn, Yup. A lot of times places like that do have a separate accessible way but don't bother to tell me until I have already climbed the stairs.

      Tonia, steep stairs plus CP equals not happening.

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  4. Oh man, I TOTALLY know how this is. My college had 4 cement steps with no rail and no ramp. Yikes. It took them 4 years but they finally put in a rail. Too bad that doesn't help since I use a walker! Still pestering them about it even after I've graduated ;) keep fighting the good fight!

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    1. Hi Elizabeth!! Ohhh my goodness, FOUR cement steps with no railing and no ramp?!! And it took them FOUR YEARS to put in a rail?? AND they didn't even consider that that wouldn't be conducive to your walker? Wow....there are so many things wrong with that situation -- I'm sorry you had to deal with that! I love that you're continuing to fight for accessibility even after graduation, though. On behalf of everyone with a disability, THANK YOU :)

      And - thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment! It's so encouraging to hear that I'm not alone in all this. <3

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  5. I also relate to this but in a slightly different way. I was with a professor I really respected and a door was too heavy,like you I was self conscious because I'm shy around professors, and he noticed and said "Oh I'm so sorry about that!" and ever since then he always got the door for me and let me take extra time to do things I needed to do and it wasn't an act of pity, just genuine kindness. A few months later he ended up with a disability of his own so we already knew how to help each other. And the door was fixed too! It's the little moments of human decency that mean so much. :) Cement plus CP is the worst. I'v fallen on cement and started bleeding, not fun. Thanks for this post!

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    1. Hi Margot! Ohh - I love when people do the right thing simply because it's the right thing to do and not because they are pitying. And I love that your professor had you to turn to when he acquired a disability as well. That's awesome that you had each other. :)

      And ohhh yes, I've fallen on cement too, more times than I can count! Definitely something to avoid whenever possible.

      Thank you so much for your comments, Margot, and for taking the time to read my post! :)

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    2. You're very welcome! I was so glad I could be there for him when he needed somebody too!

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