Ten Handicapped Accessibility Lessons Learned in a Wheelchair

Thanks to a broken foot, I've been living with mobility issues for the past month. Here are 10 handicapped accessibility lessons I've learned in a wheelchair.

I’ve been in a wheelchair for six weeks now, compliments of the malicious purse strap that wrapped itself around my leg, causing me to fall and break my foot. The doctor issued strict non-weight bearing until the foot heals, which is taking longer than expected. Since the fall (and yes, I still use the purse), I’ve made the acquaintance of a pair of crutches and become good friends with a black boot and a wheelchair.

While the wheelchair has resulted in a slower paced life for the time being, I get out as often as possible. (Translation: whenever busy and thoughtful family members can serve as drivers.) These forays have allowed me to experience the challenges people in wheelchairs deal with day after day, from building to building, and from one encounter to another. It’s been an eye-opening experience, and I’d like to share some observations with you today.

10 Lessons Learned in a Wheelchair

10.  Those signs near hotel elevators that say “In case of fire, use the stairs” are less than reassuring to people in wheelchairs assigned handicapped rooms located anywhere other than on the first floor.

9. Have you ever tried to open a heavy door while sitting in a wheelchair? If you have, you know that any bathroom that claims to be be “handicapped accessible” and doesn’t have an automatic door is not truly handicapped accessible.

8. The pitches of many ramps are so steep that they inaccessible to people operating manual wheelchairs by themselves. So in reality, those “handicapped accessible” ramps force dependence upon people in manual wheelchairs.

7. Most handicapped bathroom stalls are too small for wheelchairs to turn around in so the stall door can be closed and locked. Therefore, they are “handicapped accessible” only for exhibitionists.

6. Flagstone walkways, while quaint and charming, are dangerous for anyone using crutches, a walker, or a wheelchair. Therefore, our flagstone sidewalk to the front door is being replaced with a mildly pitched cement ramp as soon as possible.

5. If the front of a wheelchair can’t roll far enough under the sink in a “handicapped accessible” bathroom so a person can reach the faucet and soap, the bathroom is not handicapped accessible. It’s a germ factory.

4. By the same token, if a person has to use wet hands to wheel to the hand dryer in a “handicapped accessible” bathroom, the bathroom is not handicapped accessible. It’s gross.

3. When you’re out and about in a wheelchair, half the people will ignore you, a third of the people will call you “hon”  or “honey” and try to do everything for you, and the rest will ask you what you need, listen carefully, and be truly helpful.

2. Most grab bars in “handicapped accessible” bathrooms aren’t close enough to the toilet to be useful. Which once again means the bathroom is mislabeled.

1. Anyone who is temporarily confined to a wheelchair will likely become a disability advocate. They will also be grateful for those who go beyond the minimum “handicapped accessible” guidelines to make the world truly handicapped accessible to all.

Do you have mobility issues? What lessons have you learned in a wheelchair, a walker, or crutches? Share them in the comment box.




  1. November 10, 2017    

    Thank you for the bathroom stall lessons!

  2. Donna Mckenzie Donna Mckenzie
    November 11, 2017    

    My son has been in a wheelchair for the past 10 years. I would add, be respectful of the handicap parking spaces, which by the way, if you have a side ramp van most of them are inaccessible. Bathrooms are a nightmare and very few are truly accessible even if they state that. Try going to a restaurant. After being embarrassed because they have to make customers move so your son with his power chair can get through… the tables are too low and his wheelchair won’t fit under them. It takes extra planning to do the littlest things. We took our son to a play in downtown Seattle. We had to park in an underground parking garage, go up an elevator in the building to get to street level. A little bit of hassle but doable. The only problem was, when the play was over the building was closed so we could not get access to the elevator to get back down the the accessible parking in the parking garage. I could write a book over the experiences we have had ! Thank you for sharing your 10 lessons, unless you have lived it or with someone who has it is hard for people to understand.

  3. Donna Mckenzie Donna Mckenzie
    November 11, 2017    

    Sorry, but I can add, airline travel , impossible for a person in a wheelchair who is unable to transfer out to an airline seat.

  4. November 11, 2017    

    Donna, thanks for the addition. I’m hoping to be walking on 2 feet before my next airplane trip. And I read something recently about new designs that will allow airline travelers to remain in their wheelchairs. Of course, those things take a looooong time to become available! Jolene

  5. November 11, 2017    

    Donna, my father was in a wheelchair from age 29 to 67 when he died. All my memories of travel with him include a wheelchair in the 1960s and 70s before anything was handicapped accessible. Thankfully, Mom was very strong and Dad was determined to go places. Our family experienced everything you mentioned above and much more. So I am thankful for the advances that have been made. But I am becoming painfully aware of all that remains to be done. Best wishes to you as you learn accessibility lessons day after day. Jolene

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Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.



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