I recently had unexpected back surgery for two herniated discs and nerve damage. Although my nature is one of a cheerleader and full of energy (just like an energizer battery), prior to the procedure I had severe pain, weakness and numbness in my left leg. Recovering from surgery was painful at times with lots of leg and back weakness. I found walking further than 30 feet resulted in an increase of these symptoms. As I contemplated returning to work earlier than advised, I knew I would not be able to walk through the museum as I did previously. Fortunately, I was given an electric scooter to enable me to move throughout the building to perform my job responsibilities.
As I went through weeks in this scooter, I developed a new perspective on the difficulties facing people who need to rely on electric scooters, walkers and wheelchairs. While the museum adheres to all regulations that make it handicapped accessible, I discovered some obstacles that affect those individuals who require the use of wheelchairs.
The first thing I noticed is that nothing is at “eye level.” I was looking up at people, file cabinets, shelves, signage, etc all the time. My neck even got sore! And then there’s the doors. You pull the door open and try to get through the opening before it closes on your wheel or smacks the back of the chair.
Trying to navigate in tight areas was another challenge. I had difficulty moving around display shelves in the museum’s gift shop. I’d turn a corner and be staring at a bunch of die cast model trucks. I have since reconfigured the displays to allow for more maneuverability in the store and elsewhere in the museum where I had noticed similar encumbrances.
I continue to improve and soon will no longer require the scooter to get around. However, I will not forget the difficulties I encountered every day trying to do my job quickly and efficiently from a mobile platform. I applaud all of you who carry on daily despite the obstacles placed in your path. You have my undying respect.
Written by Linda Merkel, Executive Director
America On Wheels Museum