My power chair allows me to solely move about and venture into the world with ease. Would I say that I am more independent when using my power chair? To some extent, yes. However, my independence is dependent upon the accessibility of my environment.
When I use my manual chair and come across a restaurant with a step or a side walk lacking a curb-cut, whoever is pushing me, can usually just pop me up or down the step or curb. This is not the case with my power chair. First of all, when I use my power chair, I do not always have a companion accompanying me. My power chair is also quite heavy. It can take up to four strong and competent people to lift my power chair up just one or two steps.
Even though the American with Disabilities Act (the legislation written with the intent of creating an equal opportunity for all) was signed into law over twenty-six years ago, I still encounter building entrances blocked by stairs, and sidewalks that just end. Just yesterday, I ate at Fairhaven Pizza here in Bellingham. The entrance is one step up. There is an alternative entrance, only half a step up, through a different restaurant, and down a skinny hallway. I am not able to enter either way without assistance. (Fairhaven Pizza is a wonderful establishment; they would upgrade if the city would allow them to do so).
Fairhaven Pizza is not the only place that exposes my dependence; Bellingham has many more restaurants and shops that are not accessible to those of us who cannot access stairs. And just like Fairhaven Pizza is not alone here in Bellingham, Bellingham is not alone when exposing people's dependence on others. New York City for one (see previous blog posts on this topic).
Without curb cuts, ramps, and elevators (or a personal team of four strong and competent people), my power wheelchair is just a hunk of junk; without the change in mindset and accessibility, my power chair is no more liberating than my manual chair when I am on my own.
It is not solely the invention of technology that will continue to improve people's lives, but the changes of the social and physical environment that will fulfill equity and justice for all.