Wednesday, October 8, 2014


A few weeks ago my Foundation has its regular board meeting in the back of one Gainesville's most popular cafes. Most of the time we choose to meet informally to strategize  and catch up over a warm beverage. The bathroom area is  locked and shared by all the businesses in the building. Every  establishment has a number  of keys to give to its patron, and they're often attached to large spoons or things like a french press, so the customers wouldn't lose it. When I saw one of my directors returning with appeared to be the restroom key dangling from the end of a long metal instrument I noted that I don't like having to use it here. The cabin is small, the door opens inwards, it's hard for me to get situated- I explained. That can't be true-  my director insisted- they wouldn't be allowed to do that. - Go ahead check it- I challenged him while taking a sip of my large drip with cream- Tell me how it goes!.  It's been many years since I was there last, I thought, maybe I'm wrong now, maybe something changed.  I used to struggle there quite a bit over the years and I knew what I remembered. But yet, I was curious. As he returned he said- You were right- I really don't know how they can get away with this! Well, that's one of the reasons why we have this disability nonprofit. To raise awareness and promote change. And we have our work cut out for us. As much  as I like Maude's, adore people who work there and I strongly believe they have what quite possibly is the best coffee in town, here's where the problem is. If the door opens inwards and the cabin is not very deep, there's not enough room for me to get inside with my wheelchair and close it. If  I could only get behind the door I'd be a different story, but there's not enough space between the toilet and the edge when it's open. I'm left with two options and I tried them both. The door remind open and the wheelchair faces me sticking out. People walking by can easily see me, and even though there isn't a whole lot of traffic, just the thought that they could, that I have no privacy makes the experience much worse. Those are the moments when you really don't need to have or think about the possibility of having an audience. Alternatively I tried grabbing my wheelchair as I sat on the toilet seat, flipping it at an angle and pull it with my armsso that I could fit it in  like an oversized suitcase. I would then push the door to close, but with no way of locking I didn't feel I had any privacy either. You just now that able-bodied or not, people always tend to check the wheelchair cabin first. I also remember a few years ago, when I was at the cafe on a Saturday or Sunday- I may have been studying for the Bar or some other exam- I had a pretty unfortunate experience in that very bathroom- if getting in and out wasn't problematic enough. I remember trying to go in and discovering a pretty foul smell. As if something came in there and died. There were newspapers on the floor, I didn't want to investigate any further. As I complained to the person at the counter I've heard that yes, they were aware of the problem and how bad it is, but there was nothing they could do. The property owner cleans the premises on the weekdays. I felt their pain but I needed the restroom.  It was upsetting that nobody realized that with only one wheelchair cabin available they should have done whatever was in their power to make it functional. After all they were fine selling me coffee, but couldn't be bothered to deal with me later. I felt at that very moment that we are years away from understanding and wheelchair inclusion. And it hurts when nobody cares. I ended up crossing over to Starbucks, thankfully they had a restroom I could use. But hey, did I tell you about that coffee?

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