Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wheelchair drama at the diner

A week ago I met up with my newly picked Board of Directors for a photoshoot in Gainesville's downtown. It's one of the beautiful parts of the city. It's also the area where accessibility problems are visible the most. From brick roads to entrances with a high threshold, it's called historic for a reason. We were meeting to take some pictures for the website we were reconstructing. That day, it was mostly headshots, but I thought that if by any chance we got to do a little more Downtown serves as a good illustration of problems a wheelchair user faces getting around- that would work on the website as well. And nothing explains the reasoning behind starting my Foundation, and the need for organization like that than images that speak to the imagination. We've spent a few hours posing and discussing our mission. Some of us drove there from as far as Jacksonville and it was the first time we we've seen each other in person. After a job well done we decided to celebrate and continue the conversation for a bit. It's hard to find more inspiring surroundings when you plan to spread accessibility and awareness. We decided to relax at Harry's- a New Orleans style restaurant with a nice outdoor sitting area. When we got there and asked for a table the waiting staff didn't know what to do with us at first. Then they asked us to wait while they engaged in some heavy lifting moving the tables around to accommodate my wheelchair. My group was annoyed. The staff clearly wasn't prepared for someone like me to dine there. To them- it was the perfect case for our Foundation to take on. Restaurants should have proper ready areas for people with disabilities and servers trained to act properly around them. As they pulled out a chair for me, the waiter would have me sit directly in front of the door, blocking access to the restaurant. We had to shuffle things a bit so I wouldn't be in anybody's way and I finally got to order. I wasn't upset. I've been made to wait so often, that I don't see it as a problem anymore. I'm not saying that it isn't a problem, but after a while you just learn to be patient. It happens a lot. And after a while you figure that most important thing is to eventually get your order and not sweat the small stuff. It quite a realization: how much these days I'm willing to excuse- be it a restaurant that doesn't know where to sit me, a burger place with tables too high for me to reach or a bus driver who tells me to wait for the next one because she doesn't like to struggle with the lift. I think I've been too understanding. I've accepted things I never should have. But my companions- they're new to my perspective. Something tells me if they had to be in my shoes, they would get upset at every turn.

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