The holidays are that tricky time of year when I can’t wait to spoil my nephews with a Monster Jam Hot Wheels track and a sandbox excavator, but when I’m also agonizing over where my family will choose to host our celebrations. Since I became a wheelchair user in 2015, I no longer consider their homes as places of comfort. No, I now view each person’s home in terms of how I will enter it and how much independence I will lose in the process.
This year, my cousin invited me to a girls’ game night/Christmas party. I pulled into the driveway and groaned when I saw the setup outside her front door: a pair of two-by-fours balanced parallel to each other on the two-step entryway. In any other situation, I would have thought that maybe they were doing a renovation or some project that required wood. Tonight, however, I knew immediately what the purpose was. My cousin intended to push me up the stairs, while my wheels teetered precariously on those two-by-fours. Mortified as she was, he couldn’t blame her for this situation. I don’t expect everyone in my family to add ramps to the front of her house for my comfort, but she had tried. Also, when she and her husband built her house, they installed 36-inch doors in her bathroom so I could relieve myself in peace. A poorly conceived “ramp” can be stressful right now, but as a manual wheelchair user, it was a simple thing to fix with two women willing to help, and nothing like the all-night fear of not having access to a bathroom . .
Which brings me to Christmas Eve at my uncles’ house. Their house has a driveway of about eight steps, steep and slippery in the Midwest winter. Two guys carry me and the other five look at me and give me advice on how to do better. A pulley system was suggested last year.
Inside, the layout looks like something out of wheelchair users’ nightmares: small rooms, narrow hallways, and even more stairs. The bathroom is the worst. My chair doesn’t fit through the door, so for me to use, my cousin holds out a small round mechanic’s stool. I transfer to him and then she carefully carries me from the door to the bathroom. Meanwhile, I pray that one of the small wheels doesn’t get caught in the cracks between the tiles and send me tumbling to the ground. When we get to the bathroom, I climb into it. My cousin is leaving so I can have a moment of peace. Once this is done, I am stranded and must yell for someone to come in and get me out. Nothing like yelling “All clear!” from the bathroom during a party to make you feel like a functioning member of society.
Still, despite the inaccessibility, I keep coming back every year. Watching my nephews open their presents and listening to my grandfather’s favorite old Christmas record makes it all worth it in the end. The holidays just wouldn’t be the same without my family and their haphazard attempts to make me feel comfortable. Wheelchair users reading this no doubt have countless similar stories about the trials we must go through to simply hang out with friends and family. I hope this season we can all laugh at our past failures and triumphs as we work together to build a more accessible vacation, without the need for a pulley system.
Do you have your own stories of inaccessible vacations? We’d love to hear them (the more ridiculous, the better) in the comments below.