Archive for Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Cane gives new perspective

November 8, 2006

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My view of the world changed in early September. Both my grandmother and my mother suffered from debilitating arthritis. I have known for years it was likely that I, too, would eventually suffer from similar problems. Over the past few years, my joints, particularly in my hands and my knees, had begun to show signs of the progression of the disease. The effects of my arthritis had also been worsened by my inability to take anti-inflammation drugs because I am a diabetic.

In September I had an unfortunate run-in with one of my dogs, and my knees buckled. I took a rather nasty fall which led to a gash on my leg and several hours as a guest of the emergency room at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. When I emerged and visited my own doctor, it became clear that it was time for me to start using a cane, if only to give me a bit more stability to avoid further tumbles.

Since I began to use a cane, I have become much more conscious of the problems faced by people with limited mobility. It is remarkable how many places in Lawrence and at Kansas University are difficult to maneuver if you depend on something other than two legs alone to get along. Accommodations required by law to help those of us with mobility challenges are not always so accommodating. I've also noticed that people react to someone with limited mobility in remarkably varying ways.

I certainly have seen both sides of humanity in the past several weeks. I cannot count the number of times recently when folks have rushed to help me with a door or to offer to lift a package. I've been pleasantly surprised at the number of motorists who actually wait patiently at road crossings as I make my way slowly across. And I can only express my gratitude to all the students at the law school who've held the elevator door open to let me hobble in. My blessings on them all.

On the other hand, I've had a number of experiences which left me saddened. For instance, there's the Lawrence restaurant at which I was told that if I wanted a table I'd have to walk down a steep flight of stairs even though there were empty tables within five feet of me upstairs. I was told that the restaurant had a policy which required equalizing customers amongst the waiters. The alternative was to stand and wait without a place to sit.

I faced the unpleasant dilemma of upsetting my friends by leaving or upsetting my friends by making a fuss. I chose to make a fuss and we were seated upstairs but I and my friends were embarrassed. Why was that necessary?

Then there's the liquor shop where I went to purchase wine for a party. I told the clerk that I needed a case of wine. Rather than help me, she told me that I'd have to bring the bottles over to the cashier myself and then I'd have to carry them out to my truck myself. Is this the way to keep customers?

I'm coming to believe that everyone should be required to use a cane or a wheelchair for a week like Chancellor Hemenway did a while ago to learn how it feels to be someone who has no choice but to use such aids everyday. I'm beginning to think that this may be the only way to make Lawrence and KU truly welcoming places for those folks who may need just a little bit of extra help.

- Mike Hoeflich, a professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.

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