Posts Tagged ‘wheelchair’

Portland Airport Restrooms

February 17, 2009

We are waiting in the airport lounge near the gate and I need a leak. I’m getting into this wheelin’ around lark now so speed off to the restroom. Funnily enough, from my height the restroom sign is occluded by a whole bunch of other signs, but a quick inquiry of a food court server confirms I’m on the right track. I enter the restroom and immediately hear straining. What’s more, its coming from the disabled stall and the pair of socks and shoes responsible for the straining noises seem very fit or un-disabled. As a regular user of disabled stalls in commercial buildings I have never prevented a disabled person from using the restroom, or have I? I so rarely encounter disabled people in restrooms that the disabled stall’s semantics have been redefined in my brain. This is a place:

  • where there’s more space, so you can bring bags and jackets with you
  • that usually only has one adjacent stall (its normally in the corner of the room), so only one other person straining next to you
  • where the toilet is further away from the stall divider so your neighbor is less likely to be able to see your feet and hence, be able to recognize you as an ex-stall-neighbor

In short, the disabled stall is more comfortable and offers better privacy than the regular stalls (for me). My model has just been shattered! I no longer care about comfort and privacy – I just want to take a leak! And Mr. Maroon Socks is preventing me from doing this. Considering my options I decide to relocate to outside the restrooms until I see Mr. Maroon Socks depart. The idea of just hanging out inside the restroom is not that attractive to me.

A few minutes later I recognize my target. He’s in a hurry. I just hope that he was not in too much of a hurry when he cleaned up after himself in the stall. There’s a lot of surfaces that I now interact with these days. Thankfully, he had cleaned up well. I maneuvered my chair around so that I could back into the stall and reached forward to grab the underside of the door so that I could pull it closed – the right hand edge and handle mechanism are too far away to reach. As I’m sitting doing my thing I focus in on an information sticker on the stall door. It actually describes the features of the toilet flush mechanism but its diagram and proximity to the stall locking mechanism make it appear to describe the features of the lock. Perhaps its my pain-medicated state, but it doesn’t seem implausible that the position of the lock on the door should define what kind of flush will occur when you flush the toilet.

Toilet flush options sticker too close to stall locking mechanism

Once I’m finished I approach the sink area and make note of the locations of soap dispenser, sink and paper towel dispenser. There is a small wall separating the sink from the towel dispenser, but by positioning my wheelchair so I’m straddling the small wall, I am able to soap, wash and dry my hands without moving my wheelchair. I’m learning.



February 16, 2009

Two weeks ago I had a serious snow boarding accident resulting in multiple broken bones (in my legs), brain contusions, damage to my tailbone, a lost front tooth and various bruises and lacerations around my body. Basically I’m lucky to be alive and also lucky not to be permanently physically or mentally disabled. My recovery, for at least the broken leg bones, requires that I not put weight on my legs for 3 months – in other words, I’m wheelchair bound.

I have been wheeling around for about 8 days now, but only in my room at hospital or at my brother-in-law’s house in Portland. This means that I am able to make transitions between the following things in any order:

  • Bed
  • Toilet
  • Sofa
  • Car

That’s it! Not a lot of pushing the envelope so far. Also, accomplishing all these things, while awkward and often painful, felt fairly obvious with no unexpected requirements or outcomes. Once you master the basic rule – don’t attempt any transition without applying the wheelchair brakes or things are going to end up more painful than normal – and given that I was lucky enough not to break any arms or shoulders, I’ve been able to do most things without being manhandled by someone else.

Well, something changed today. It was my appointment with my surgeon to remove stitches, generally clean me up and determine if I can go back to California. His office is at the Portland Legacy Emanual Hospital near the Trauma unit where I was previously staying, so the surroundings were familiar. We arrived a few minutes early and I needed to make a restroom stop. I told my wife I would join her in the waiting room and headed off to find a restroom. I found one, used the button on the wall to open the door, managed to maneuver myself and the wheelchair into the disabled stall and do my business. None of it was easy but then I didn’t expect it to be easy. There are lot of micro adjustments to positioning to allow doors to close around wheelchair parts and so on. However, once I exited the stall and headed for the sink things got surprising. The soap dispenser and sink were co-located so no problems there. But next I needed to dry my hands. Looking around I discovered that the paper towel dispenser was on the opposite wall from the sink. In order to get to it I had to maneuver my wheelchair, which meant grabbing the grips on the wheels with wet hands. Doing this felt very disjointed and somewhat unsanitary. I was immediately struck by the apparent lack of consideration for wheelchair bound patrons of this restroom within a hospital. Was this a one-off oversight or would this turn out to be a pattern that I would discover over the course of my recovery? It was at this moment that I conceived the idea to keep a log of my experiences while in a wheelchair. As a designer I am used to gaining insight into other peoples’ lives by observation and interview techniques but here is a perfect opportunity to learn by actually doing 24/7. It doesn’t get any cleaner than this. There are no cheating options. I can’t just say, “Oh screw that! I’m walking around this obstacle.” I can’t walk! I can hardly crawl.

So here marks the beginning of my blog. I intend to list my experiences here. I hope that some of it will be entertaining and light hearted. I hope not to offend anyone, especially people who have to reside in these contraptions permanently, but if I do, I apologize in advance. I ultimately hope that the outcome of this could be some new product designs, but if nothing else, I would like to raise my own awareness of the lives of a group of people that in the past I have politely acknowledged and sometimes offered help, but never sought to REALLY understand how their life plays out on a daily basis.