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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Handicapped Bathroom Stalls

I got angry today.  I feel bad--sort of. When I am on Syracuse campus all day I lose a lot of time. I lose much time simply waiting. I spend a lot of my waiting time in the building where I teach. The waiting is typically spent outside the bathroom. Every day I work I wait outside the bathroom. I wait because there is only one accessible bathroom I can use in the building. This is not unusual. I routinely wait to use an accessible bathroom or accessible stall. As I have joked before, I think constipated bipedal people are magnetically drawn to the single accessible bathroom I can enter.

What set me off today was a minor misunderstanding with my son. We are sharing my car. I was on time to see him but he was in the wrong location and I lost ten minutes of my time. I arrive on campus annoyed and with much to do. I did not eat breakfast and go directly to a nearby campus cafeteria. Before I order my sandwich I need to go to the bathroom.  I enter the accessible accessible bathroom--three stalls are empty. The only stall I can enter is occupied. The person using the stall is oblivious. I can hear the music ten feet away from his ear buds. This is a lost cause. I take the elevator to the second floor. Three empty stalls. The one I can enter is occupied. Another person listening to very loud music via ear buds. I get in the elevator yet again. Up to the third floor. Another three stalls empty. The stall I can use is occupied. Another case of loud music via ear buds. Up to the fourth floor I go. Three empty stalls. Yet again the only stall I can get into is occupied. I am beginning to think every constipated male on campus all agreed to deficate at the same exact time. However, there is hope on the fourth floor. No ear bud noise in the accessible stall. I wait. I wait some more. I make some not so subtle noise. I cough. I make it pretty obvious I am waiting for the stall. At this point I have had it. Four occupied toilets on four different floors. All stalls occupied by men who seem to have all the time in the world. So, I lose it. I bang on the door like a cop. "How long are you going to be?" Silence ensues and then the reply with a sarcastic tone: "I don't know. I don't time how long I take to shit".  Great a smart ass. "You are in the only accessible stall and I need it now". My tone is not nice. My voice an octave too high. The reply "Well, too bad for you. I think now I will be a while." This is not the expected answer. Indeed, next thing I know I hear ear bud music at the highest volume possible.

I take a deep breathe. I try to be the Zen cripple. This inconsequential disrespect and utter lack of attention to the life of people with a disability plays out in an infinite number of ways. I am a respected scholar yet this does not help me when I want to use the rest room. If I complain I am a crank or an inpatient jerk. The lack of thought is not intended bias. None of the men using the accessible stall planned on inconveniencing me. It just happened. Here is the rub--it happens all the time. The delivery man who parks in handicapped parking. The restaurant with tables so close to each other it is impossible to navigate the dining room. The locked handicapped entrances. The side entrances with a bell and sign "please ring bell for service". The elevators and wheelchair lifts that are either filthy dirty or filled with cleaning supplies. The stadiums with substandard handicapped seating. The multiple gas stations that have a non conforming ramp in the back that is unlit at night. The minor transgressions that when pointed out is met with "Well, no one has ever complained before".

Life with a disability is an exercise in frustration. It takes me longer to do the ordinary. Make my bed, shower, get in and out of the car. etc. My time is routinely sucked out the window. This is my norm. The bipedal hordes that rule the land are oblivious to wheelchair access. This lack of thought, the ignorance and lack of care is unacceptable. I suspect I waited at least 45 minutes today. The wheelchair lift into the building I work in takes one full minute to close. This "safety feature" results in two minutes wasted every day. Ad in waiting for bathrooms, driving around trying to find an accessible place to park, looking for obscure accessible entrances all take up my time. Today I had to deal with a smart ass in an accessible stall that decided to be snarky. Just unacceptable. It is also inconsequential. If this is my main complaint I am way ahead of the game we call life. But am I? Am I really ahead? Am I ever typical? The sad answer is no. There is no place outside of my own home I can let down my guard. I really cannot trust anyone. Today, this made me weary and angry. I doubt I will live to see the day when the norm is to value people with a disability. To have a default nonthinking bipedal person go for the narrow stall and unwittingly leave the accessible stall free.