This is a guest post by Stacy Mayfield, a 32-year-old preschool teacher who has cerebral palsy. I read a guest post she’d written for Offbeat Bride about her Dr. Seuss wedding, loved her spirit and sense of humor, and asked if she’d share some of that here. Stacy lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, two bulldogs, two cats and forthcoming baby (due in April). As she describes herself, “I push the norm with every push of my wheelchair.”
“Can you please keep an eye on the door while I help my daughter?” my mom pleaded with the stranger, transforming an innocent bathroom user into impromptu security guard. It was 1986 and we were in a Disney World restroom. The largest stall was only large enough for one adult, had no grab bars and required immense creativity. Mom left my wheelchair outside the stall and lifted my 6-year-old self onto the toilet.
This was before the American with Disabilities Act in 1990. Now there are buttons that open doors, grab bars and sometimes even more than one designated accessible stall (gasp!). Progress is evident; however, “accessible” to one person might not be to another. I’ve been in places where the doors wouldn’t close behind my compact manual wheelchair to afford privacy. Heaven help those with motorized models.
Thus, I offer my first morsel (nuggets seem too large…everything in moderation): Know what “accessible” means to you and your family before you go out. Do you need ramps in every situation, or can you/someone you trust safely jump a curb? Can your child walk at all if there are steps with railings? What is his/her physical limit? Once you have answers, you also have the ability to plan. You can call ahead and ask about certain wheelchair-friendly features and be more comfortable if you encounter unexpected inaccessibility.
Maybe I should say when you face inaccessibility. My favorite ribs place is a hole-in-the wall restaurant with a maximum capacity of 40 (including staff). I’m glad I bring my own wheelchair to save space, but I’m 8 months pregnant, so I guess everything cancels out. When I have my own child, they may have to sit on my lap.
I love this place…but I’m also very vocal about the difficulties I face, and I continually ask the owner about the progress of his building remodel. Which brings me to morsel number two: When you advocate for physical accessibility, it teaches your child to do the same. My mom would inform managers of inaccessibility issues, write letters to schools and tell me, “Baby girl, you’re worth every bit of effort. Don’t let anyone say you’re too much trouble. If everyone had to spend the day in a wheelchair, the world would be full of ramps.”
Amid her physical accessibility rant was perhaps the biggest piece of advice yet (a nugget, even): When you challenge the perception of “normal,” your child will, too. I remember being in a toy store when a young woman with a toddler asked my dad what was “wrong” with me. He said, “Nothing. Well, she can be stubborn. What about your kid?”
As I grew older, I learned to answer the question earnestly, while still reframing the word “wrong.” If people asked my mom or dad the question when I was present, I’d say, “I can hear you just fine. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with me, I just get around in a chair instead of walking because my brain makes my legs work differently than yours.”
When I became a preschool teacher in my twenties, I told my classroom the same thing and allowed as many disability-related questions as they could manage. I was comfortable in my own skin, self-confident and happy to create a new “normal” for the next generation.