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How Having an Accessible Bathroom Changed My Life

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Merely a month ago when I took a shower, I needed help getting undressed, washing my hair, drying off, and getting redressed, but I just did these tasks on my own today. I had to plan when I wanted to take a shower to make sure my mom would be around to help me, and my privacy was severely lacking. At 15 years old, it is not easy to be so dependent on somebody else, and I knew I had to change that.

When people hear the word “accessible,” their minds immediately drift towards those who require a wheelchair, because the word is so often used in that context. But to me, “accessible” does not have to mean a wheelchair can easily navigate through space; for me, “accessible” means compatible. My brand new bathroom is not accessible for wheelchair users by any means, but that does not mean it is inaccessible to me.

Transverse myelitis, a rare neuroimmune disorder, left me a quadriplegic seven years ago, but I have recovered significantly. Although it is a miracle I have regained so much mobility, it is also a challenge, because my recovery has left me extremely unique in terms of movement. While I am able to walk again, my arms and hands are partially paralyzed, and my left hand does not function at all. I am extremely lucky to have regained partial use of my right hand, being it has always been my dominant hand, but also — what good would having the ability to walk be if neither of my hands worked? Making do with a slightly limited, weak right hand is difficult enough, but my life would be even harder without it.

Because my paralysis is so idiosyncratic, it was easier said than done coming up with the way my bathroom needed to be in order for me to be fully independent. My physical therapist, Amy, even took a shower with me to help determine what exactly I’d need. The first thing we came up with was a shelf for me to place my right elbow on so I could reach my arm up high enough to wash my hair. Ideas seemed to pop into our minds quickly after that; an elevated section of my sink to, once again, place my elbow on so I could put makeup on and take my tops on and off; a touchpad on the wall of my shower to turn it on and off was inserted; touchless soap and shampoo dispensers were purchased; and a rainshower head to rinse my hair off easier became part of my bathroom.

I find myself thinking about how my friends go and take showers without a second thought, while bathing myself independently had been a goal of mine for seven years. Daily activities are easy to take for granted when you’re able-bodied, but they should be appreciated and treasured, because it is not easy to be dependent.

Waiting two months for my bathroom to be completed was brutal, but seeing the final product was extremely exciting. The first time I took a shower on my own — which I had never done in my life — I was squealing with delight, and I’m not exaggerating. It was amazing that I succeeded in washing my hair, getting dressed, everything with the way my body works, and I couldn’t be happier. I had always known I was missing out on a piece of my independence, but I didn’t realize just how much independence. I’ve gone from dreading taking a shower to looking forward to it because of my independence, and I’m so thankful everything worked out in my favor.

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Originally published: July 5, 2017
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