Words by Julie - Living Life With Paralysis

An inconvienent teachable moment 1

Life is funny. Especially when the humour comes from irony. This one takes the cake – but first, a bit of background.

My first cheque presentation as a Rick Hansen Ambassador.

The London Clay Arts Centre – before and after.

I had the honour of being the Rick Hansen Ambassador for one of the 55 RHF Barrier Buster grants handed out for the Canada 150 Celebrations this year. The recipient was London Potters’ Guild at The Clay Arts Centre in London. This is an incredible space on Dundas just east of Adelaide – not a particularly trendy part of town – yet – but the work they have done on this building will eventually attract all sorts of new businesses.

The grant they received has helped them be able to welcome people with all sorts of disabilities. The doors all have push button openers, there is a lift to the second floor and there are accessible bathrooms on both floors. The best part is what they have done for people with a hearing disability and complete deafness. Because it is a bit of a loud space – tall ceilings and a long echoey second floor – they have installed acoustic panels to help dampen sounds. You can see them in these photos – they look like magnificent pieces of art but they are the same as the boring panels on the walls in your elementary school gymnasium. They also have installed an FM system that people can use to better hear an instructor during a pottery lesson. The most original piece of technology though is their use of an app called “I can’t hear you” which is voice to text software that allows someone who is deaf to read what an instructor is saying on their own device. Pretty cool.

After they installed all of these features they had a bit of money left over. This allowed them to purchase a wheelchair accessible pottery wheel. I cut the ribbon and demonstrated how I would sit at it –  explaining how the armrests allow for balance and would free up my hands to work with the clay.

It was a fun evening; I got to meet Mayor Matt Brown, hear from different people and tell my story.

Before I left I went to use the washroom. That is where the glow was off the rose. It is a large enough room, with push button access. The toilet has a raised seat and there are bars on the wall. Trouble is, the bar beside the toilet is one that is on a 45 degree angle – what I call “old code”. As you have probably guessed by now, things did not end well. While transferring from the toilet back into my chair my chair slid on the floor (likely because of the fine clay dust) and the angled bar failed to give me enough leverage. My fingers were at an odd angle and one was getting bent by a wheel spoke as my chair slowly continued to slide away…

I had to decide – go down to the floor or seriously hurt my hand. That decision didn’t take long to make, so down I went. All in slow motion of course, so no harm done. It was a bit of a dusty bum shuffle over to the the wall with the push button, but I got the door open and was able to summons some help to get a lift back into my chair.

I was mortified. Here I was, celebrating accessibility in a place and with people who had worked so hard to make it all happen, and I end up on the bathroom floor. And to top it all off, one of the men who helped me back into my chair was the designer of all the renovations. Did I mention I was mortified?

My new bathroom friends all made light of the situation and we had a good laugh. Of course I turned the bathroom into a teachable moment (what “new code” looks like) and we all learned something. I learned that I have got to trust my gut – if I think it’s not going to work well, find an alternative. They learned that an “L” bar is easier for a wheelchair users and a “help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” button (near the toilet) is not a bad idea. See accessible bathroom on my web page.

We left on a good note, though. Outside the back door and into the parking lot was the first forward movement parking marker inspired by me! Earlier in the night I spoke with the woman who got it done. She told me about throwing herself on the pavement just as the painters were about to paint the old parking marker – thank you for making the Forward Movement happen!

Congratulations to the London Clay Arts Centre for the fabulous work they have done to create such an inclusive space. We all continue to live and learn (and laugh along the way).


End Note: Just so happened that yesterday I came across someone looking for an accessible, hand-controlled pottery wheel. I was able to tell them where they could find one!

One comment

  • Judy Redford says:

    Great story, Julie! A good sense of humour can save the day sometimes. Wonderful to hear how many speaking opportunities you have to spread the word re accessibility.

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