Saturday, June 3, 2017

Travel Using Crutches

Every Journey Brings New Insights

Travel is about learning. And sometimes the lessons we learn aren't the ones we set about to learn.

As an architect I've always been interested in creating a built world that meets the functional and aesthetic needs of my clients while being respectful of their budgets.

Design is a delicate balancing act.

My 38 year career has seen a profession completely change. I learned the fine art of architectural drafting, but today drawing is mainly on a computer. To this day I love creating while using a parallel rule and mechanical pencils. I am a dinosaur.

Also during this period America's building codes and regulatory requirements have seen sweeping change. Arguably one of the biggest changes came with the adoption of the American's with Disabilities Act (frequently referred to as the ADA). For new buildings it compels design that enables access for individuals with mobility, vision and hearing impairments. For existing buildings it established timelines for incrementally making older buildings and sites accessible.

While normal regulatory and code mandates are enforced by government, enforcement of the ADA is done via civil litigation (i.e. the threat of lawsuits). So if an architect misinterprets an ADA provision they may face a lawsuit. Lawyers love the ADA.

Yet, while some architects view accessibility requirements as just another burden and check off the minimal requirements during design, many of us have gone on to embrace a more holistic access design philosophy called Universal Design.

After fracturing my foot on this trip to Ireland / London, the reality of the beauty of a world based on Universal Design came much more into focus.

We live in a world of stairs, steep slopes and narrow doors.  In Dublin we were lucky and our AirBNB was a single level cottage offering great access to every space.

In London our AirBNB turned out to be a chamber of mobility horrors. There were stairs to get to the front door of the building, steep narrow corridors inside, tiny doors, then lots and lots of stairs into the flat. 

In Dublin my new airport hotel offered up a wonderfully accessible unit, with a great roll-in shower, wide doors and grab bars. Yet accessible rooms were inexplicably placed as far as possible from public elevators.    

Transportation really illustrates how the needs of the mobility impaired are overlooked. Many of London's famous Underground "Tube" stations still lack elevators (or even working escalators). And once in a station, pedestrian routes affording transfer from one line to another typically involve lots and lots of stairs.

Newer stations offer better access, but you still wind up arriving in stations that do not. It surprises me that over the 40 years I've been visiting to London it feels like little real emphasis has been placed on upgrading existing stations for true access.

Conversely, most public buses and trams in London and Dublin offer good accessibility. 

At the airport the situation varied. Mobility assistance at Gatwick was pretty awful (good luck making the journey from the train, garage or curb to ticketing and then on to the Mobility Services desk. 

Conversely, Dublin's new Terminal 2 offered a special curbside drop off zone immediately adjacent to the mobility Services desk.

Theaters and Restaurants
We had tickets for three blockbuster west-end shows. Wicked, Kinky Boots and Dreamgirls. In each case the theaters were all awful for mobility.

None had elevators. I just have to say that again. NONE had elevators. The Savoy (dreamgirls) is simply a nightmare. Even after I heal, I'll never go to a show in that wretched theater again.

Restaurants in both cities offered amazing cuisine with great service. Yet, almost all only offered toilet rooms located in the basement or up a flight of stairs. Only the newest cafes seemed to have a barrier free toilet on the same level as the dining room.

Museums and Attractions
Most of the larger museums have added accessible toilet rooms and elevators, but in many cases they are miles apart and require anyone who is mobility impaired to backtrack endlessly. 

In many of the museums and attractions we visited I found staff graciously escorted me to a lift or an (sometimes concealed) accessible route to get me where I needed to go.

I also found that some attractions provide exceptional access. On this trip Warner Brothers Studio London offered complete access and even offered me a zippy wheelchair for use during my visit. Other than the sloping cobblestones on Diagon's Alley and the chaotic gift shop at the end, WBS gets Roadboy's A+.

From the moment I put on my big boot and slipped on my crutches, I found that the people I encountered went out of their way to cross over and open doors. Uber and taxi drivers were wonderful; always offering to help with bags. 

The exceptions? Pretty much anyone using a selfie stick. I guess the very use of a selfie stick symbolizes self-absorption and narcissism.  

My take aways?
1. While mobility impaired solo travel is possible, it requires planning.

2. I will now research medical options in the destinations I plan to visit before I go. 

3. I will now purchase medical travel insurance before I take any major trip outside the US.

4. US insurance is pretty much a joke outside the US. Everywhere I went I was told "put your insurance card away, give us your credit card".

5. Plan more travel. Despite my little setback, this trip was amazing.

Roadboy's Travels © 2017

1 comment:

beachdaddy said...

We found similar some good/some bad accessibility when we've traveled too. It's dicey no matter how much you plan ... Often other's reviews will help you plan but if your needs are not the same as theirs they might not be of use either. Rarely are accessible rooms designed as the actual user would like .. It's a field I wish I had known about when I was a lad, as accessibility design has become a passion of mine ... Even in our big new kitchen remodel, while Mr B looked at it from the "pretty" standpoint, I was always looking at it for function and ability to get things done by (me) with bad knees and just about zero disks left in my back ... so bending, lifting, room to move with cain, crutches, walker, wheel chair were all taken into consideration, as well as height of things. I was able to put it to the test for a bit when I had the first knee replacement and it worked amazingly well. Just think how much better it could have been if I actually knew something about design too!!!

I'm glad there are folks like you who take all this into consideration in your work ... those of us who have had issues getting around for years thank you!!!