Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Handicapped Access

Door from parking lot
New door from parking lot. The button to
open the door is at the right.
I was delighted when the automatic door was installed at St. Paul’s off the elevator lobby. I have helped more than one wheelchair-bound visitor enter the building from the parking lot in times past. It has been a cumbersome task and one that would be almost impossible without an escort.

Unfortunately, the new door and door opener have yet to provide reliable access for the handicapped. Ever since it was installed, I have pressed the button to activate the door opener when entering or leaving the building to see how well the new arrangement was working. In fact, the opener is virtually useless. I would guess that pressing the button works about once in ten tries. I have complained about this, but the automatic opener remains a cynical joke. Why can we not get this piece of technology to work? A door opener is not, as they say, rocket science.

As helpful as a working automatic door opener would be, that mechanism is not the only piece of infrastructure needed to facilitate access to the building by people with limited mobility.

Broken sidewalk
Broken sidewalk outside door to building.
Entering the church from the parking lot in a wheelchair is made difficult by the fact that the path to the door is uphill. As if this weren’t bad enough, the sidewalk outside the door is broken, presenting another hazard to anyone navigating the path to the door using a walker or wheelchair.

It is gratifying that St. Paul’s is making some effort to facilitate access to the building by handicapped persons. Unfortunately, we are not paying sufficient attention to details. We seem to be solving the access problem only in the abstract, rather than thinking about what a handicapped person actually faces.

Being a welcoming church requires more than self-declaration. Being welcoming requires putting ourselves in the shoes of visitors and asking ourselves what visitors want and need.

Postscript. I have suggested that we should have an automatic door opener on the handicap rest room. Even the able-bodied can find the door to this facility tough to open. An automatic door opener on the rest room would be very helpful and a thoughtful addition to our physical plant. Of course, the door opener would not be helpful if it worked only as well as the opener on the door to the parking lot.

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