Tom Shakespeare

Having changed jobs, I have had to learn again the key lesson of disability: that people are disabled by their environment more than by their bodies. I have mentioned the elevator before. Today, let’s talk about doors.

In my previous workplace, I never once opened a door. The entrance was automatic, the corridors unobstructed, and office doors were never shut. Here in the Medical School, there are many heavy fire doors, with spring closers. I am a wheelchair user with short arms. Pulling things towards you in a wheelchair is difficult – you need to brace the chair otherwise you simply wheel forward. To open a heavy door, I need to reach out and jerk back the handle with all my strength. That’s the door to the building; the door to our floor; the door to our office; the door to the kitchen; the door to the photocopier room; the door to the administrative office. Repeated many times a day.

After a month, my right shoulder was starting to suffer. Eventually, I went to the doctor. Tendonitis was diagnosed: an inflammation caused by over use. After a little longer, my left shoulder was in pain too. I had subconsciously switched hands to open doors, in order to avoid the pain in the right. Time to visit the physiotherapist again.

The point is, I am exactly the same person as before, but now I am in a different location, my impairment is causing me more pain and difficulties. If the building had been designed with automatic doors, or fewer doors, then I would have no problem.

But thankfully, there is a solution. The bureaucratic wheels have turned, and now, hey presto, there are automatic openers on the doors I need. Hit the button, open sesame! It’s easier for everyone. There now, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?