How I Responded to Broken Elevators as a Woman With Rheumatoid Arthritis


I usually find Monday mornings to be quite disagreeable. I have rheumatoid arthritis and am physically limited due to joint involvement. I may have overdone it over the weekend, and pay for it on Monday as I get ready for work. I love my job, so it is usually easy to push through the stiffness and pain and get going for the day.

On this Monday, it was 0 degrees out as I was leaving my house. The driveway was ridges of solid ice, but the roads were clean and clear so all was well. I arrived at work on time and ready to see what excitement the day would bring me. I work at the State Office Building, which houses many state agencies. The building was recently renovated after a flood several years ago, and is modern and bright. The main atrium has a huge granite staircase with metal inserts to prevent slips. Even on good RA days I usually avoid the stairs, as my feet catch on the inserts and/or I do not feel super steady on my feet first thing in the morning. There are two elevators right in the lobby across from the magnificent staircase, and I usually head straight to them.

That day, as I pushed the elevator button, I realized it was not lighting up. A custodian came up behind me and stated that the elevators were not working. I turned around, cane in hand, obviously indicating that I needed support and assistance with walking. I asked how I was supposed to get upstairs, and he pointed to the stairs and told me that was the only way. I waved my cane and said I was physically disabled and the stairs would be difficult. He then tried to direct me out of the building, across a snowy icy courtyard to another building that may or may not have a working elevator I could try to use. I laughed out loud as a defense mechanism, as I really felt like either crying or screaming.

I sat down in a lobby chair while I gathered my wits. My choices were to go back out of the lobby to see if building security had a possible solution, or try to maneuver the stairs. I was fuming and felt my positive energy was being used up and converted to anger, so I took some deep breaths and decided to try to make it up the stairs. I took one stair at a time, gripping the railing with white knuckles. I made it without any issues or stumbles. Upon my arrival to my office, I found our department operations manager and relayed the situation to her. I asked about contingency plans for elevator outages, and gave her details on how this issue would have a severe impact on a wheelchair user. No answers so far, but I will stay on top of this. I have to as I may not be able to get up the stairs the next time.

I refuse to let this dictate how I will feel today or to replace my positive mindset. I also refuse to let blatant examples of ableism get to me. But I will use this situation to figure out potential solutions and to educate others.

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