When Sidewalks are your Streets

I’ve been writing a lot lately about how excited I am for spring – and I haven’t been lying, I really am so happy for winter to be over. But there is one part of spring (other than the rain) that I don’t love – and that’s the sidewalks here in Pittsburgh.

If you drive at all in Pittsburgh, you know how bad the potholes in the streets get by the end of winter. The city has a “blitz” every year once the weather starts to warm up, where they try to fill as many as possible as quickly as possible. It makes for a much smoother drive around the city.

There’s no equivalent blitz, though, for the sidewalks. Just like cracks in the roads get worse over winter, so do cracks on the sidewalks. It’s probably not something that you pay much attention to, unless there’s a piece so uneven that it makes you trip. But the “smaller” cracks are things your probably don’t notice at all. However – I notice. I notice a lot! It’s something that I actually have to pay constant attention to. Think about that noise that your car makes when you go over a pothole too quickly – it’s basically the same for me in my chair going over cracks and holes in the sidewalk. Not only could it damage my chair (which can take a while to repair, and leaves me quite literally stuck while it’s out of commission), but I could actually get hurt if I wasn’t careful! I could fall forward, or sideways… or really any direction – I could really get thrown by a big enough bump if I was going too quickly. My wheelchair has shocks, but they can only do so much. A lot of up-and-down bumping and jumping over cracks really starts to wear on me, physically, after a while. It’s actually tiring, too!

So I’m constantly looking down while I drive around. I have to move around and swerve constantly to find the least-cracked part of any given sidewalk that I’m on. I think I probably look like I’m drunk and can’t stay on a straight path – and I’m sure it makes it more difficult for people to walk around me! But if I don’t, I have to go so super slowly on each and every crack that it would take me forever to get anywhere. I even have specific paths memorized, and will go out of my way a little bit if it makes an easier, smoother drive. (Unrelated to spring – cobblestones are THE WORST. Those, I will avoid at all costs. They are always the most bumpy, uncomfortable ride.)

I know this whole post is basically a long, extended rant about how bad sidewalks can be for people who use wheelchairs, but I think that’s not the most important takeaway. When people think of accessibility, they think of ramps and elevators, maybe Braille or sign language. They don’t tend to think of sidewalk conditions. But sidewalks actually affect my day-to-day life a lot! Accessibility touches on so many different things that you wouldn’t necessarily think about – and unless you actually talk to, or listen to, someone with a disability, it’s likely that you’ll never realize it and nothing will ever change.

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