Of all the people in the world, my eldest would be the least likely to be dismayed by becoming a “wheelie”. Every time we visited the science museum in Denver, dad and I could always count on at least a solid hour of book-reading time as the kids played with the wheelchairs in the Discovery Zone.
When a staph infection on one knee got especially nasty (round, red and swollen, requiring repeated expulsion of alarming amounts of pus), we scheduled a visit to the doctor. In addition to getting antibiotics and analgesic, there was a good-natured enquiry by the patient if this might not earn the doc’s permit for a wheelchair? After all, mobility was definitely impaired — hobbling between bedroom and bathroom was difficult — and definitely meant unable to hike around the hilly campus. Well, replied the doc, were it both knees he would.
So, time to take the semi-disabled student back to college. I packed up the “Bug of Holding” with the overnight luggage, and we went back to the campus. The swelling made it difficult to bend the knee as well as to put weight on it, which meant that any footwear with laces, zippers or heels was extremely difficult to put on or use. Well, that was essentially all the footwear currently owned, so we stopped by a Target store to get some sandals. Hobbling inside, we espied three wheelchairs lined up near the shopping carts (buggies, trolleys), one of which was motorized.
I was surprised to hear some initial concern about whether the store would allow someone who wasn’t Officially Disabled use one. We were just borrowing one of the regular chairs, not the motorized one, of course they would, I answered. Besides, if anyone gave us grief, they could always be shown the big nasty, which by this point was doing a rather disturbing impression of a mammary gland, “nipple” and all.
So we went down the shoe aisles, and I noted with relief that the aisles were not only wide enough for the chair to get around easily (including U-turns), but also that the store did not have the sort of display clutter at the end-aisles or within the aisles that some stores feel compelled to put everywhere. This is one of the reasons why I prefer shopping at Target (compared to K Mart, or the big-bad-bully of retail, Wal-Mart); the stores are relatively free of excessive visual complexity or navigational hazards.
My eldest quickly realised that some half-gloves would be really helpful if there was going to be much wheelchair usage. That wasn’t the only accessory that would have been required, either.
Of course, there was the reaching issue. I was there to hand things down as we shopped for shoes, and then for some groceries that could be kept in the dorm room, as the dining hall was a hilly block away. I realised ruefully that I should have brought the reaching tool from home; it had been my mother’s, and all I used it for was fetching socks that fell behind the washing machine. Had I not been there, the options would have been trying to use that lightweight reaching tool (likely as not reaching up to tip a can off the shelf and then catching it), or trying to stand and sit back down repeatedly (ow!), or relying upon the convenience of other shoppers or a store clerk to hand things down.
There was also the basket issue — one simply could not carry all the necessary shopping items on the lap or tucked between thigh and seat edge. I suppose a person could grab one of the hand baskets, assuming that they had enough lap space when seated. I’ve also seen people pushing carts while seated in a wheelchair, which given the handlebar height and the basket depth of American carts, makes both maneuvering and unloading difficult.
Given that we were using the wheelchair because someone had less mobility and was less able to get out and around, I realised with some horror that a shopper would perforce end up being able to fetch fewer items in a shopping trip, and would thus require more difficult trips to the store. And of course, then one would have to get the stuff back to a vehicle or to a public transit connection (assuming that there were any in the city, and that they went to the places where one needed to go). Some of the less-implicit secondary difficulties of disability were becoming apparent to me.
Not wanting to leave the wheelchair outdoors in the cart corral (trolley bay) where it would be at the mercy of the spring weather, I carried the bags out and then pulled my car up to the exit doors to fetch my limping passenger. I reflected that shopping had just become a very complicated endeavour. We were however, very thankful that the store had free wheelchairs for patrons to use, and that the one we grabbed was in good working order, and that the aisles were easily transversed. These things are not difficult to provide, but of course that doesn’t mean they are found nearly as often as they should be.