where the writers are
08/20/08 My Contest Entry

Our local paper has a columnist who runs a contest every year to choose ten columns from the community to run while he is on vacation. This year, I decided to write an entry. I wanted to write about KidThree and our experiences since she was shot, but it took me a while to figure out which aspect of those experiences I wanted to write about. After days and days of running different possibilities through my mind, I chose to write about our problems with getting around in public. For several months, I've had an idea in the back of my head for a public service campaign to stop people from blocking sidewalks--Don't Block the Walk! I even have signs made up in my head to illustrate the problem.

Here is my 'Don't Block the Walk' column for the contest to replace the columnist. If it is not a winner, at least it will have seen the light of day over here. The only change I made was to replace KidThree's name with her blog designation of KidThree. And I did get KidThree's permission to write this column about our experiences.

"The unidentified girl was walking along. . .when she was struck as shots were exchanged between two groups during a street argument. . . . The victim's injuries were not considered life-threatening, but she may have suffered spinal damage."

"The victim" in that dispassionate little blurb from the large newspaper across the causeway was my daughter, KidThree, and she did suffer spinal damage. The bullet hit her spleen, stomach, and diaphragm before fracturing three of her vertebrae and leaving her paraplegic.

Since then, we have been learning how to negotiate the world of the mobility-impaired. So many of the minor obstacles we run into are things that I never noticed prior to KidThree's injury, as the issue was not something I was aware of, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring this issue to the attention of others. In my dreams, this is the beginning of a public service campaign called, "Don't Block the Walk!"

Some of the problems we encounter are that some people don't notice we are coming and others don't think it is polite to notice that we are coming. Other places, sidewalks are rendered impassable for any number of reasons. Sometimes a motorist will block a wheelchair ramp or driveway because "they're only running in for a minute," and sometimes there is just no place to park where KidThree can get out of the car (we need four to five feet of clear space on the passenger side).

When you are out and about and notice someone coming who is mobility-impaired, it isn't impolite to notice. Take a moment to look around to see if there is a clear path. Smile and step aside, push a chair out of the way, move your textbooks from their spot on the floor next to your table in the coffee shop. We will smile right back and say 'thank you.' If you hold a door open for us, we will smile even more broadly and thank you again. If you don't notice that we are there and we have to get your attention, remember, we're not annoyed with you; we understand that you're involved in your conversation or your studies. Just take that moment to smile and clear the path.

Impassable sidewalks are another problem. Dumpsters don't get pushed back after being emptied, too many vehicles are parked in too small a driveway, work trucks get parked willy-nilly, vegetation grows where it will. If a sidewalk is blocked, a wheelchair user can't just step around the obstacle. He has to go back to where there is a driveway or other ramp, go out into the street, travel past the obstacle, and then continue on until he finds another driveway or ramp to get back on the sidewalk. This involves going around parked cars, dodging bicycles, and coming entirely too close to motor vehicles for comfort.

When you are at home, take a look around your neighborhood. Do cars extend past the limits of the driveway? This is common where there are more cars than driveway space. If your vehicle doesn't fit entirely in the driveway, please, park it in the street. If the plumber’s truck needs to be in your driveway, move your car to the street to clear space for it. Does your apartment complex's dumpster need to be pushed back a little bit? Push it back into place. When parking in the street, keep your tires off the sidewalk.

Do you have hedges or other vegetation along a sidewalk? Take a look to see if brush extends across the sidewalk. A pedestrian can just push a few branches aside and continue on her way, but someone in a wheelchair is using her hands to maneuver the chair and can't brush away the branches. Vegetation will slap her in the face, snag her clothing, and deposit spiderwebs in her hair.

If you’re doing yardwork, make sure debris isn’t left on the sidewalk. A pile of branches left blocking the sidewalk 'just overnight’ is enough for us to have to go out into the street to get past.

The city also needs to take some responsibility. For example, on 14th St just east of F St, there are some bushes that extend quite a ways across the sidewalk. On 5th St, just past the downtown area, there are sidewalks so overgrown they look like jungle paths.

Sometimes there isn't accessible parking, especially downtown. If you see someone stopping their car in an inconvenient spot so a mobility-impaired person can get out close to his destination, please be understanding. The driver will move the car as soon as possible, and will appreciate your patience until she does.

Thank you for listening, and remember, Don't Block the Walk!