OPINION: Able-bodied privilege lies all around us

Ableism thrives in our society, making it inaccessible for many people. My grandmother is one of these people.

In 2015, my Grammie, Stevie Roberton, had a stroke.

I remember watching her during her physical therapy as she re-learned to walk and grab things. Now, Grammie has limited mobility on the left side of her body and her left arm is not very useful. 

Grammie’s entire life and livelihood was changed in the space of a few minutes. I was only 12 so I had no true understanding of what was happening or how to help.

Today, at 19, I act as a caregiver to her as well as a granddaughter. I take her swimming to help keep her strength up and make sure she’s active. I also help her with personal hygiene.

Doing these things has really helped me understand how inaccessible the world is for those who are disabled. I still don’t know everything and I’m always learning more but I want to share our experience.

Grammie and I have struggled a lot with going swimming. She uses a wheelchair and she can push herself for short distances but requires me to push her most of the time. 

We’ve had so many issues trying to get into areas that aren’t particularly wheelchair accessible. 

Tuesday, we had one of the two automatic doors that are supposed to open at the push of a button for wheelchairs, not open. The way we have to go through them is with me pulling the chair backward and pushing the door open with my back. 

That door isn’t the only one. In the place we go swimming only two out of the four total doors we have to go through are automatic doors and even those two don’t always work, as we learned.

In addition to this, no one even offers to help. All we get is stares. I can count on my hands how many people have helped us by holding a door.

If they don’t hold a door then they certainly don’t move out of the way, even when they see us.

We are treated with indifference. While this makes me angry, frustrated and sad, I can’t help but remember a 12-year old me who gave no thought to others and their needs. I wouldn’t have thought about how someone with a wheelchair could access my school because I could. 

Now, everywhere I go, even when I’m not with her, I still think about it and watch my surroundings for any trace of inaccessibility.

I could go on and on and on. People who take the disabled cabana for changing at the pool for their three screaming kids or those who park in disabled parking spots with no placard or license plate. 

Even the retirement home where she lives has disabled the automatic door to get into the building. This is due to COVID-19 restrictions but with often no receptionist available I have to attempt to get us both into the building with a heavy door closing on us rapidly. 

I’ve seen issues even here at UWT. Classrooms with raised tables and levels in them with no visible ramps. Parking spots with no room on either side to open the door wide enough to get a wheelchair up to it. 

Even tasks that I used to think were simple are now a struggle and require help or special equipment. Putting on a bra for one requires fine motor skills which Grammie doesn’t have. Opening cans, cutting her bagels and even typing all take extra effort or tools or she can’t do it by herself. 

We must be vigilant of these inaccessibilities that seem to be everywhere. I don’t pretend to know everything and I am still able-bodied but I’ve learned a lot. 

We must listen and watch for them and when we can, fix them. The world should be accessible to all no matter what disability they have. 

It shouldn’t have taken my grandmother having a stroke for me to confront my own able-bodied privilege, but it did. Please, think about the world through someone else’s eyes, ability and situation.