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What People Don't See When I Walk Into an Elevator

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Today I got a chance to go shopping with a close friend of mine. She was taking me out shopping because we weren’t able to celebrate my birthday due to the coronavirus closing the mall.

Many counties in our state have gone to the green phase. We donned our masks and headed to the mall. The issue began with a sign at the elevator indicating it was for people with strollers and wheelchairs. I had neither aa stroller or a wheelchair, however, I have an invisible disability and need to use the elevator.

The visual perception part of my learning disability makes using an escalator very difficult. The moving steps make it difficult for me to know when to step down. People will often tell me to just step down. The constant movement of the steps and my lack of eye-hand coordination make it difficult to coordinate the movement. I have found using the elevator or steps to be more beneficial when I shop. I prefer steps, and as long as I am careful on the stairs, I can use them.

One of the hardest parts about having an invisible disability is that other people can’t see it. I don’t have a condition that requires adaptive equipment such as a cane or wheelchair. The only part that may clue you in is if you see me struggling on an escalator or tripping on steps. I have experienced many falls from not being careful. I also credit time spent in group fitness and other exercises for helping with my body awareness. It will not cure my disability, but it helps with my balance and eye-hand coordination.

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Many people have thought the problem is visual and suggested glasses. My disability is brain-based, not eye-related. I have also been told my shoes must be the reason I am falling. I have fallen in sneakers and my own bare feet. I do wear flats, mainly because I am tired of people assuming it’s my shoe choice that caused a fall. I also find it easier to wear ballet flats or sandals to keep up with my students at work, and keep the low heels for special occasions.

Thankfully, nobody at the mall stopped my friend and me from using the elevator. I understand the reasoning — they don’t want a crowd of people, close together in small spaces. I am anxious about what will happen if I am told not to use the elevator unless I have a wheelchair or a stroller. Will they believe I have a disability, even though they can’t see it? Would I have to leave the store and not be able to shop?

I know if I was denied elevator usage, it would be a case for using the Americans With Disabilities Act. The Americans With Disabilities Act requires reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. I also know to use my advocacy skills to educate others on my invisible disability.

I can relate to people with physical disabilities trying to navigate the community prior to the Americans With Disabilities Act. People in wheelchairs struggled to navigate stores and buses. People who were visually impaired fought for Braille signage. Individuals who were deaf fought for TTY telephones. All they wanted was to have equal access to places in the community. The beauty of universal design is that it benefits all people. Examples of universal design are people movers, elevators, and doors that open automatically.

I want to be able to be independent and access my community with ease. My disability may not be one you can see, but it is there. Accommodations such as elevators are essential for me to have the independence I need to live my life.

Getty image by Vector Pocket.

Originally published: June 24, 2020
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