I can’t begin to think I know what it would be like to be permanently handicapped, but becoming wheelchair/crutch-bound for an extended period of time has given me a look into what that feels like. There’s so much extra planning before heading out into the world, just to make sure a place can accommodate you and you won’t inconvenience other people. Although, even when you think you have all the information you need, many times you don’t!
My friend Kacey and I wanted to go to the Pittsburgh Zoo one day, but my dad had taken my wheelchair to work with him accidentally in the back of his car. So I made the necessary phone calls to the zoo, making sure they had what I needed. I was given plenty of information: they had wheelchairs, but only a limited number. I could reserve one if I’d like. If I wanted a motorized chair I could order one through an outside company for a fee and they’d deliver it. The girl on the phone was very nice. I felt prepared.
So Kacey and I get to the zoo and I crutch my way to the second gift shop where they distribute the wheelchairs. With all the details the girl on the phone gave me, the one thing she left out was that their “wheelchairs” weren’t that at all – they were giant strollers.
“This is all you have?” I said to the teen working his summer away selling fluffy stuffed otters and penguin lollipops.
“Yea. That’s it,” he replied.
“This is a stroller,” I stated. “You don’t have wheelchairs?”
“Naw. That’s all we got.”
In case you can’t tell from the picture, it was literally a giant stroller. There was no way I could help wheel myself, which is what I had been planning to do.
“But I did my part!” I wanted to scream. I did my due diligence. Called and got the information. My friend brought me all the way out here. It’s 85 degrees. Now we either leave or she pushes me around the zoo like a giant baby.
“It’s okay! I don’t care. It’ll be good exercise,” Kacey said. She’s not kidding. Pittsburgh is a very “hilly” city and the zoo is no different. There are many ups and downs and very few flat stretches.
“I feel so bad,” I whimpered. “I swear they told me they had wheelchairs. I can’t help you. You’re going to have to push the whole time.” While I’m a very small adult, I’m still a grown human. It’s basically like pushing 10 babies at once.
“It’s cool. Hop in!” she said.
Apparently I’m not too proud to be pushed around the zoo like a toddler on steroids, because we stayed and actually had a pretty good time. I just had to sit Kacey’s purse in my lap and buy her an extra water! Although some children looked at me like I was one of the exhibits, it was a great zoo day! The tigers growled and bit each other as they played in the water. A baby gorilla was apparently annoying its mother. First the mom held the baby in one arm while she climbed up a huge rock wall with her three other limbs. Then when the baby wouldn’t walk, the mom literally swung the baby in the air by its hand and plopped it right on her head! It was super cute. We watched them for like 25 minutes.
It all worked out for me in the end, but what if I had wanted to come by myself? Or what if a different handicapped woman wanted to come with her little girl? Those situations would not have ended in a great zoo day.
I’d bet my left crutch the girl on the phone is not handicapped, never has been and has never gone anywhere with anyone who is. If that was the case, she would have realized anyone calling about wheelchairs would need to know the very important detail that the wheelchairs aren’t really wheelchairs.
I called the zoo and asked for a manager the next day. I spoke to a woman who was very kind and listened to all of my concerns. She informed me that the zoo does have actual wheelchairs, but only two or three. They usually get taken out within the first few hours of the day. The rest are “industrial wheelchairs” AKA adult strollers. She said most of the wheelchairs they get are donated and usually fall apart after two or three trips around the property because of the rugged terrain. The industrial ones hold up better. She admitted I should’ve been informed about the giant strollers and she would talk with the people who handle the phones about being more sensitive and giving all of the pertinent information. I hope I did a service to anyone calling to inquire about wheelchairs in the future!
It’s not an easy world when you don’t have an able body. I don’t like feeling like a burden to my friends and family, even though I know they totally understand and I also know this situation is temporary. Trips out into society take extra planning and extra energy. But I am very thankful for the Americans with Disabilities Act and legislation that has made the world better for people with physical challenges. I need to use ramps, curb cuts, courtesy wheelchairs and automatic door openers. But when I don’t need them anymore, I’ll fully support funding for them and would gladly give more tax money so that we can make life a little easier for people who face serious hardships. Who knows? I could need those accommodations again and so could you.