Monday, October 29, 2012

Hippodrome: Old buildings and wheelchairs

I live next to a theater that puts on stage shows as well as play movies. It's an old post office building that is now famous for indie and European cinema and small cast musicals and dramas. I'm there quite often, not only because it's the source of entertainment closest to my apartment, I also enjoy experiencing something different. I try to never miss a play, in fact I'm an annual subscriber. Every Wednesday I buy a ticket for the film, regardless what is: documentary, foreign or one of those features that seem to end in the middle of a scene. But a building like this, as historic and atmospheric it may be. has a number of accessibility issues of its own. The biggest problem I've discovered so far was the restroom. When nature called I discovered there were no grab bars in the cabins and just like back home I had to manage leaning against walls and looking onto the toilet base for support. You never know when years of Conductive Education that taught me to adapt and use the functionality of my body come handy. Then I learnt that there are wheelchair accessible toilets in the building- in the ladies' room apparently.  I was so told. I wouldn't know- I'm not a woman and there is nothing that would inform me about it in the men's room. A really tight manual elevator takes me to the main stage floor. It's one of those stylish old things you see in the movies.The attendant  has to align it perfectly with the floor level. Sometimes this involves going up and down multiple times often with the production just about to start. The audience is sited around the stage, from three sides. When the floor manager knows I'll be watching the play he or she removes a regular chair in the front row and I simply roll into that spot. Last week my arrival somehow wasn't noted in their system so it delayed things a bit. Trust me, it's not a good feeling when everyone is waiting on you to arrive. So many things are involved with the mechanics of accommodating a wheelchair especially in a building as old as this. People who walk don't even realize how many people are involved so I can have this experience while they simply go up the stairs.  It starts with the ramp outside, not only because of how steep it is but also given that local bikers have been using the bars on the side to secure their two-wheels. It's often scary and dangerous when the handle bars stick out into the ramp area, as I go down trying to squeeze myself through the opening and I've written about it before.

Could it be that solution is as simple as letting people know? The Hippodrome put  a piece of paper saying " Handicapped ramp Do not block with bikes" on the grab bars. Nothing fancy, yet when I was there it seemed to have worked. There was no bike in sight. No one was threatened with a law suit or fined. Nobody was towed away. All it took was a printed warning. And the box office clerk said they have a few spares just in case. The message is simple:"This is not for you". And so far it gets through. Maybe people just need to understand.   As I was going home with my new found faith and hope for humanity, two bikes were blocking the concrete path to my apartment.

Old buildings are difficult to deal with when it comes to making them wheelchair accessible. And quite honestly a lot of places in New York or DC don't bother. At least I can get in.  At least they try. I remember times in Poland when going to see a play or a movie presented a big challenge.  My dad had to pull me up with the  chair or carry me up the stairs on those few occasions we decided to go. As long as I'm in, compared to this I can deal with anything

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