One of my husband’s best friends is getting married next month on Lake Winnipesaukee. Knowing the hotel, they reserved rooms that would sell out quickly, I had a lovely conversation with the owner. She was eager to meet our accessibility needs. They, of course, had a ramped room available, but when I asked about the bathroom door width, we learned Geoff’s wheelchair would not fit through. Certainly, not the end of the world, but I’m hard-pressed to spend $200 a night on a room when Geoff cannot easily access the bathroom.
When we travel as a family which is not often, finding a truly accessible house to rent is virtually impossible unless we stay at a hotel, which is also incrementally more expensive. People are surprised when they consider the size of their door, not realizing it was smaller than would allow a wheelchair to squeeze through. Two years ago, at the TD Boston Garden, we were taking the kids to see Frozen on Ice. Geoff does not like to remain in his wheelchair for performances; however, where I had purchased our tickets would not allow him to bump up a couple steps to transfer into a seat. Still grateful to a man named Steve, I explained our issue and he was able to resolve our situation by moving our entire party of 12 to a private suite complete with a bathroom and access to snacks. This was an upgrade we certainly did not expect, nor could we have afforded.
“Well, Mom, why don’t they just make all doors big enough when they build houses?” I explain that there are building codes now for just about everything, but that there wasn’t always. Houses or buildings which were built a long time ago don’t have the same rules. Where we live in a mountain based tourism community, most places are built up and include countless stairs.
Universal design is a beautiful thing. People consider it when constructing a new home thinking of retirement. Do we really want to be climbing two flights of stairs when we are older? My brother Greg is an architect on Martha’s Vineyard (Hutker Architects for those of you looking to build on the Cape or Islands). Visiting him before we had children meant going to work sites to check on cool design projects. He was a student at Northeastern University when he first taught me about the concept of UD, and even back then, before Geoff was on my radar, UD made so much sense. Bedrooms and bathrooms on the main floor with easy access to the kitchen or family room can be both practical and beautiful.
But we also consider universal design when looking at the political bathroom scene of 2017, about who is allowed to use what bathroom and when. Bathrooms are made even more comfortable and spacious with wider berth and doorways. Geoff has taken our daughter into the men’s room, just as mothers from the history of time have brought their boys into the “ladies’” room. When the answer is so obvious to a child, we expect it to be as simple for the rest of the adult world. Universal design. Bathrooms built for everyone, accessible for all, whether one is disabled, able-bodied, old, young, male, female, transgender, etc. Our children love handicapped stalls or family restrooms with dad. Obviously. There is more room. Our kids also know how some bathrooms used to be just for white people and some used to be just for black people and how the world doesn’t work that way anymore because it was wrong, unfair, and unjust. We clarify: the world should not work that way anymore, but it does, and so we need to understand why and make sure we educate everyone we know.
Until then, I really think someone could make a lot of money creating an accessible VRBO or Homeaway or Airbnb link for housing. Maybe that already exists in an affordable format. And if does, please share what you know in the comment field. We live better and more easily when we are more informed. Universal design works: here’s to all things great and wide.
Heather Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 7 and 5. Please check out her novel True North, website www.heatherkrill.com, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.