What could those three random items possibly have in common?As it turns out, quite a lot for my 1960s family that included a father who had multiple sclerosis (MS) and used a wheelchair. Dad’s mobility was dependent upon…
He loved department stores that had them. Because elevators meant he could join his wife and kids while we shopped for school clothes and shoes in August and Christmas shopped in December. Instead of sitting alone on the first floor until we were done. He loved buildings with them. Because elevators meant he could join the other men at meetings instead of waiting alone on the first floor until someone came down to tell him what was happening.
Most bathroom doorways weren’t wide enough for Dad’s wheelchair. Even if he could get into the bathroom of a public building or home, they weren’t big enough maneuvering a wheelchair. Because MS made it hard for Dad to control his bladder for very long and bathroom inaccessibility, Dad’s urinal went with him everywhere, discretely tucked in an old leather shaving kit. Can you imagine being a 30-year-old man forced to use a urinal while sitting in a wheelchair in a dark hallway? Can you imagine being the child assigned to stand guard against intruders and then carry the receptacle to the bathroom to empty? A few experiences like that, and a family stops going to those places.
When car shopping, my parents’ first question to a salesperson was never about the engine or tires. Instead, they asked to see the interior of the trunk. Because it had to be big enough to hold a wheelchair so Mom could heft Dad’s wheelchair inside and get the family where we needed to go. Which is why we had a 1960 something Ford Fury. As the picture shows, Plymouth Furies had big trunks. Though ours was a blah beige rather than a lovely blue.
But why a post about elevators, bathrooms, and car trunks for parents of kids with special needs in 2014? A couple reasons.
First, the challenges and stresses of parenting kids with special needs are quite similar to those faced by caregivers of adults, whether the adults are grown children with disabilities, spouses, or aging parents. As this post about family caregiving stress at Boomer Health Care shows.
Second, because I recently attended the reconsecration service at the church my parents, siblings, and I attended as a family during the 1960s. Back then, the building had no elevator. My dad could get into the first floor bathroom but not on the toilet. In those days before handicapped parking spots were mandated by law, Mom often had to park the Plymouth Fury far from the building, haul Dad’s wheelchair out the huge car trunk, help him get into it, wheel him to the stairs, and wait for some strong men to hoist Dad up and inside the building.
But now, the church entrance is handicapped accessible,
as are the bathrooms,
the elevator goes from basement all the way to the second floor,
and the handicapped parking spaces are clearly marked.
Third, because I cried throughout the reconsecration service. Some were tears of sadness as I recalled what a struggle it was for my parents to come to church and how, as Dad got weaker, they stayed home–though the sibs and I walked to church every Sunday–because the struggle was too much. Some were tears of joy for the families who can now attend church and feel welcomed in every part of the building.
But some were tears of frustration. Frustration at how so many in the special needs community take handicapped accessible legislation for granted. At how they’ve forgotten how hard people fought for handicapped parking spaces, special education law, and for the Americans with Disabilities Act.
So here’s the final reason for writing this post. The next time you see a wheelchair accessible van that makes the size of a car trunk inconsequential, slide into a designated parking spot, enter a handicapped accessible building and wheel your child into an accessible bathroom, or use an elevator, stop for a moment.
Whisper a prayer of thanks to God for using the people and families who came before you to do His redeeming work by making more of His world handicapped accessible for everyone. And then, tell your children about the “olden days” when elevators and bathrooms and the size of a car trunk defined the boundaries of the worlds of those with special needs.
Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness
and to purify for himself a people for his own possession
who are zealous for good works.