Friday, September 27, 2013


When I landed in Frankfurt on Wednesday I strolled around the airport for a bit looking for a restroom. A restroom I should clarify, that I could use. And it's not an easy task. I grew up in Europe, but the last nine years in America have spoiled me to expect the same level of accessibility I find back home everywhere I go.  First observation: be prepared to not find a wheelchair friendly cabin when you go into the mensroom. "One for you is the next one"- a man  washing his hands explained meaning keep on rolling down the hall and eventually you'll find it. It's very rare for me not to see a familiar set of grab bars whenever I'm anywhere public in America and mostly it's only the historic buildings and grandfathered in businesses I have any issues in. The second observation: the accommodations in America are pretty standard, regulated by law. You know what to expect, you know what it's looking like when you go in, you can easily develop some routine or procedure. The toilet is usually in the corner by the wall with grab bars on each. When I entered the German restroom I was shocked to find that the toilet was in the middle of the room with swinging bars on the left and right. I quickly decided I have no idea how to use it. Do I lift one and get in from the side? Do I hold on to both and turn around? It took me a while to figure it out. How to transfer balance from once side to the other  and pull myself up on the seat. It's been years since I saw a set up like this and figuring out how to make it work takes time. Yes, it used to be that I could use anything sticking out to grab and pull myself up, or lean against appliances and furniture. And it always was different, yet I made it work every time. Yet, back then I had a better awareness of my body's strength and weight and at what angle it'd be best to approach it. I don't have that skill anymore, because I don't have to. And it made it convenient. And it made me lazy   I often talk about how I grew up not having any of those accommodations back home. Growing up I'd use the sink and the toilet sit to balance my body. I knew to what extent I can depend on my knees, where is the best place to grab and pull, when to turn, how much energy I'd need for a move and at what angle. A few years before I left my parents renovated their bathroom. As part of the effort to simplify things and to not have me grabbing onto the sink anymore they've put a very thin grab bar, coming up from the floor, between the toilet and sink. Getting on and off was pretty automatic. Yesterday, the first thing I had to do was learning my parents bathroom. Where the things are and how to use them, because I fell out of practice. Yes, I'm not as energetic as ten years ago and I've gained some weight so it was bound to be harder anyway, but I honestly needed to figure out these things again. How to use the really tiny railing and how to balance my body on it. And yes, my weight and mobility level would probably require some new solutions. Where  to pull? At what angle to put my arms to stand up in the bathroom? I guess you can say I needed to learn to use the toilet again.  Then I needed to figure out how to crawl into the bathtub, something I used to do every day. Where to put my left leg and my right leg, how to transfer  my balance it all became pretty crucial on my mission to take a bath. I needed to understand my surroundings and also how my body works, what I'm safe and comfortable to do. I needed to adapt and figure out what worked for me. And it felt like I was doing it for the first time.

1 comment:

  1. Best Conductive problem solving that I have read in years. Thanks Ralph. I am looking forward to meeting you soon. I hope you have an enjoyable time and have learnt enough new skills to make your time in Germany enjoyable with few accessibilty problems. I know it is certainly not like America.

    Beest wishes Ralph
    and once again thank you for such wonderful descriptions of such important lessons in problem solving.
    Susie Mallett.