Dear Ambulatory and Ablebodied Public At Large,
Four years ago, I posted a guide to walking geared to assist the clueless perambulating public to not be an annoyance (or danger) to those who travel seated in wheelchairs and scooters. Recent events when I’ve been out and about have led me to believe that this is an appropriate time to revisit this issue. Herewith some helpful hints to navigate public spaces.
Say you're in a large downtown mall and on your travels come to significant grade change. In front of you are two choices: a perfectly lovely set of 3-4 steps and a ramp. Do try taking the steps instead of the ramp, which after all is designed for people who use wheeled contrivances. Should you have a chronic illness or pain issue, you should of course use the ramp. The able-bodied are also more than welcome to use the ramp, provided they do not block the access of people using mobility devices (it’s considered rude). And no. I don't believe that a herd of more than 20 people streaming down the ramp while two people in wheelchairs wait at the bottom like salmon about to swim upstream are all in possession of an invisible illness or disability.
If you are assisting someone in a manual wheelchair by being the person in charge of pushing said wheelchair, please think when you have to park them while waiting for e.g., an appointment in a busy clinic. Assume they’re a human being and try not to place them out of the way in a corner where they can't interact with you (unless that’s what they want). On the other hand, consider the environment and how others use it. Parking the chair in such a way that it obscures half of the entrance will only allow other able-bodied people to enter while blocking the way for those who use mobility devices, parents with strollers and delivery people.
Let's talk about texting. Cell phones themselves require some degree of etiquette in public spaces and it’s certainly a good idea to pay attention to your environment in order to avoid falling off a subway platform or accidentally meandering into traffic. Admittedly, it’s easier – or should be, anyway - to look at your surroundings when you're talking on the phone as opposed to texting. This is why I suggest that you take a moment to stand still on the outer or inner side of the sidewalk to complete your text while out of the way of other pedestrians. Walking while texting puts your fellow humans at risk of you walking into them. This is very uncomfortable and especially so for those of us who are seated. Also? It's just good manners to not require aforementioned seated individuals to be hypervigilant. It requires all of our attention to navigate the sidewalk full of people without having to also risk getting a crick in our neck looking up to check for those insane enough to text while walking.
This next one isn’t technically about walking, but is often done by those who are ambulatory, so we’ll squeeze it in anyway. Should you for some mysterious reason decide to ride your bicycle on a sidewalk as opposed to the side of the road, please do so slowly. Whizzing along at max speeds might be fun and get you where you need to go when you need to get there, but it’s bloody unnerving for the rest of us. There’s a reason they call it a sideWALK, y’know.
To summarize: pay attention and remember what your parents taught you about courtesy. A lot less people will be swearing in your wake.