Rob Cairns talks to Michelle Frechette about making facilities accessible.
- What is accessibility.
- What do we need to think about for accessibility?
- What are some accessibility considerations?
- What about hidden needs?
Hi All Rob Cairns, here. Today I’m here with my good friend and guest Michelle Frechette. How are you today, Michelle?
I am great. How are you Rob? Thanks for having me.
No, my pleasure doing well. We were just commenting we’re not that far apart for people who don’t know that as the crow flies and we were just commenting about how wonderful the weather was today. Recording this.
I’ve got my. Furnace cranked to 74 right now ’cause. I’m shivering in my Home Office.
Yeah, I I’m sure. I’m sure you are.
So today I thought.
We do something a little different. Those who don’t know you use a mobility scooter, correct? And you’ve got some challenges. I and I think you do really well with those challenges, so you you know you should be commended and say have ago you went to word camp US and you wrote an article on post status and you were talking about.
I do, yes I do.
Mobility issues for for a number of. People and, and I think you. Were talking about them because you want people to be aware and and I, I think it’s really important. So what kind of challenges did you have it with computers?
Yeah, so the article that you’re referencing is called 5 days without a shower. And the first line was that smell at word camp. That was me and the. Reason I well first of all the. Reason I I approached it with some humor is that and I want people to read an article starting with accessibility needs at word camp. US would probably not have enticed people to read it as much as. Why was Michelle not showering for five days and the truth of the matter is I didn’t shower for five days because I did not have an accessible bathroom in my quote. UN quote, accessible hotel room and that was just. One of the. Issues that I, as somebody with mobility issues. Faced at work camp, US and. You know there there. Are more things. Of course my very first experience I pulled up in my my lift and right away like it was. Also, my my scooter was in the trunk of the car that I had been picked up in and right away before I even got my feet. Out of the car till 4 Derosier was there going. Hey can I help you with anything and it was wonderful because you know, if you’re driving a mobility scooter, you’re pulling a suitcase behind you. It can get a little bit. Challenging, especially if you’ve got your backpack with cameras and laptop and everything like I had and. So it does just you. Start to feel like how are? You going to juggle all of the things you have to juggle and. So that was. Really, really kind. Really sweet, I could imagine other people. Not having had somebody watching. Out the window and seeing them approach and having that same wonderful experience of having a friend. Just pop out. To help, but because somebody was helping me, it was easy to navigate that front door. The front door of the lobby of this resort that we were at was not did not have any way to push a button and have an automatic door open up for you. So had I been with a backpack between my knees on the floor of my scooter. Pulling a diet suitcase beside me, I would not have. I would have said stuff in front of. The door but. Like, well now what? Because these doors had to be open. And by hand, and then I would have. Had to find. A way to open it, pull my suitcase. Have my backpack roll myself through. And I thought, oh, this is not voting well, let’s hope it gets better from here and and it didn’t, really you. Know people were kind. People were the reason that this all worked out because people. In our space are always ready to help and lend a hand. And and and I will say in. A non invasive way. Like you know till for if I had. To tell her. No, I got those. Have been like OK, cool and nobody like trying to force. Me to do anything. Or it will grab my stuff without asking and and making me feel like you know, like like I’m not in control of my own situation. Uh so so I get checked in taufers wonderful. So, uhm, he actually followed me with my suitcase to my room to make sure I could get in. Get my suitcase situated. I’m super wonderful person so then I go back down to the lobby and I’m just hanging out with people and I. Was like I. Gotta use the restroom. So like whether what lobby. Restrooms should be good. There’s handicapped stalls. Always let’s hope right in most places so. I went into. The restroom and. My business, if you will, and then struggled a little bit to wash my hands because I couldn’t really get as close to the sink as I wanted to in in a scooter. And then it came time to leave the restroom and the door opened in. And it was a narrow space and it took me a couple of minutes to navigate the door. And the scooter together in that space. And actually make. My way out of. The bathroom so. So yeah. Having a bathroom door. Without a push button or moving both in and out, you know swinging both directions made it impossible for me. It’s almost impossible for me to use. The bathroom alone. So for the rest of my trip there, if I was using a public bathroom, I did the I did the whole girl thing like hey anybody want to? Go to the restroom with me. Not because I wanted to gossip or powder our noses together, but I was. Like I need. Somebody to open the door so I can. Get out again so. Yeah, so yeah it it. It worked, I made it work but it was not without its challenges and I was not the only person there were at least two other people I saw there in. In wheelchairs, there was at least one other person. I saw there who was walking with a cane. And, you know, as my recollection, now I don’t know other people who might struggle. I don’t know people who have breathing issues. And for whom long walks are difficult. But don’t walk with an assistive device, but there are lots of ways that people. Experience, disability and in spaces that are challenging can could make you feel. So unheard unwanted othered outside. Of the loop I mean. Whatever language you want to use for that. It could absolutely make you feel like you. Are the lesser citizen in this situation. If you don’t have easy access. To all of these things.
Yeah, social life.
And so yeah, so that was the major issue.
I have a former partner in life who walked with a cane and that was from the ongoing issue. I’ve had family members who are challenged and and we we need to stop thinking about it as just things like wheelchairs like. Uhm, if you’ve got somebody older in your family, can they open a jar? Can they open? A pill bottle. You know that like those are realistic challenges in life, sometimes I I was in a Walmart local yes.
We have It’s in Canada, lots of. Them and I was in there the other day and. There was a lady who. Who was walking with a Walker wanting something off the top shelf? Do you think in a Walmart store there was anybody around? They help this poor lady, you know? And and I think what people can do. Do is be kind in and recognize stuff like that and take them in it and say would you like some help? Don’t impulse say we.
Ask you said, would you like?
Yeah for sure.
I would assume for you off in restaurants or a challenge like the way seating is set up and things like that, right?
Yeah, it can be for. Sure, you know it. It if I I sometimes use a cane. If it’s a short walk. So so some restaurants I can navigate into. Some of them. I’m further in the parking lot or I know that the dining. Room is deeper. I’ll I’ll get my scooter out of my trunk but that’s you know that means I have to have somebody with me ’cause I can’t lift all the pieces out of the truck myself. Assemble the scooter ’cause it is in five pieces and then navigate into the restaurant. And when I do, I’m almost always asking for a table instead of a booth, and I have to find some place to park. The scooter ’cause? I don’t sit in the scooter to eat ’cause that’s not comfortable. I’ll transfer over. To a regular chair and then try not to be in the way of the service staff and other patrons.
Now and then, and then we’ve got the problem and I hate to highlight this one ’cause I’ve seen it again less. He’s been through it after having knee surgery and she went for a long period of time where she used the cane. We get around and even getting up like 3 steps after surgery could have been challenging. It’s depending on. The steps is you get somebody who goes from parks in a disability parking spot who shouldn’t be there and that just infuriates you.
You know, went like, and I’m sure you’ve run into that mission.
I have, you know I try to have a bit of grace about that because there have been times in the past when. I forget to hang my placard. And I do have a right to be there ’cause I have a handicap placard for my car. UM, but if I forget to hang it, I look like the person that you’re talking about. So I do try to have a bit of grace about that, because sometimes it’s just one of those things where you’re in a hurry. You forget to hang it on. Your rearview mirror. It’s not good to drive with. Them hanging from. Your rearview mirror, ’cause it does obscure your vision. So for anybody who’s. Why did you just leave it there? ’cause it’s not safe. It’s not safe to have things hanging and blocking part of your view. And so I have on occasion I don’t do it often because I have a like. I have a habit of how I get out of my car now. But when I was first starting to use those. I did forget to put. It up once in a while and I get I’m angry doubt on my windshield and it was justified of course. First, because I was not doing what I was supposed to do, identify myself as somebody who had a right to park there. But I do try to have a little bit of grace with other people just in case of something like that. And I’ve also seen, like on Tik T.O.K and things. Where somebody who has. Uh, uh disability get yelled at like they tell stories about getting yelled at her parking in a place because they’re not disabled enough like one person who was a veteran who had a amputation. Of their right. Leg, uh, but they’re young. They’re in their late 20s or something and. Tony’s early 30s and so the. Older woman says.
You should take that spot I was.
Going to park there and they said, well, you know I’m sorry I got here 1st and I do have a right to park here. I am disabled and. So you don’t look disabled, but he pulled up his pant leg and showed. His titanium leg underneath. There and she said, well, you’re not disabled enough. Like, well, what does that mean, you know? So I like I said I try to have a little bit of grace when it comes to that, that kind of thing. If I have to walk into a store and I can’t park close, I just don’t go. You know, sometimes all the handicapped. Spots are taken. And usually what that will mean, especially if I’m by myself, I have to walk into like a Walmart for example. And I’ll use one of their writing cards. ’cause it’s great. You’ve got that big cart. You can put everything. Interview, but if all of the reserved. Spaces are taken then probably all the writing carts are too so. Uhm, but to walk into the store to discover that and then walk back to. My cars a. Lot of walking just to not be able to. Shop so if I. Can’t find a spot. I shop a different time.
Yeah, and I I think you make a really good point. You talk about what we call hidden disabilities and you know somebody can be. Be asthmatic and I’ll. I’ll give you an example of that. I’m I’m good now, but I’ve had days in my past where you asked me to stand.
It didn’t seem.
Like a couple hours I it would have been hard because I I went through breeding problems and people say oh that’s not a disability. Well, it’s impeding how you have life, so we gotta be really careful about stuff like that we got to. Be careful of. People who suffer from chronic pain, for example, and they might get up and walk, but that doesn’t mean they’re not hurting, and that’s what people need to understand.
They gotta be wholly, really careful and I have to ask you, did you? Did you contact the hotel left or stay and say? You know this wasn’t really a disability, bathroom? Or did you just kind of let it go?
No, so one of the things was as a result of my registration there at the hotel is the. The how are we? How do we do e-mail that you get afterwards? And so I took the opportunity to list everything out on there and give them an honest rating about how they did from a disability standpoint. Sadly, and not surprisingly, I never heard back and did not get a response from them regarding my concerns, but at least I was able to voice them.
Now you see where I differ from you is when I write a questionnaire and I don’t get a response and I’m expecting one then. Twitter is fair game.
Yeah, that’s probably true, but I figured you know I had already taken. To this whole. Come to write the whole article on post status and for me it’s it’s not about glass in the hotel as much as my purpose in writing that article, and in the the subsequent podcasts or. And tweets that I’ve done also twits. Tweets that I’ve done. About it is I really am wanting to see some attention at future work camps to make sure that people who have disabilities, people who have allergies, people who have special dietary needs, that they’re all paid attention to in a way that allows them to attend. Camps and have it if it’s not entirely the same experience as full able bodied nonallergenic non special needs people, but it’s a whole it’s a whole experience and that nothing is lacking for them including myself of course. And one of the things I can say is that that. Article and the conversations that I’ve had with people at WordPress and and word. Camp staff has already started to affect a change they have published on make.wordpress.org on the handbook for word camp organizers. Now they have a venue accessibility checklist, and there’s a you know they shared this with. Me earlier this week. I did tweet it out and it’s a really. Great start to like letting people who are organizing word camps think about the things that I’ve talked about and that others have said to make sure that. We can make sure that people are having a great experience when they attend work camps and I will say that somebody who is on the team who is who is touring the facility forward camp US 2023 has been in contact with me throughout their time. Of touring the facility, asking about what about this? What about this? What about this? To make sure that all the things that they think of as they’re there can be answered by somebody who has experiences with disability and with not with their needs not being met. And so I’m just like I’m over the moon that this has really come, you know, risen to. A point where. You know, I I. Didn’t write an article to be. Complaining I didn’t write an article to lambast anybody. I’m not raising my voice in a way that. Hypercritical I have I wrote an article and I’ve raised my voice about my experiences and putting forth ideas of ways that we can do better as a community and ways that I’m happy to help you, you know, move forward in those things, and so, yeah, I just think that that things are moving forward in a very positive way and I’m. Super super excited. Also word camp Europe reached out to me and said I loved your article. We are definitely putting things in place for work. Yep, Europe next year to make sure that everybody has an amazing experience there too. So so that’s pretty awesome, actually. That we can have experiences and then we can use those experiences good, bad, or indifferent to make sure that going forward we have better experiences. And so I’m super excited about that and very grateful that my. Voice has been heard.
I I yeah I, I think that’s really important. It’s any of us that know you as well. Realize that you always publish articles to get constructive change and you don’t just publish them to say. Look at me or you want to be the center of attention. That’s just so not your style. So I.
Yeah, well thank you.
You know, I, I read the article. I said to you at the time I read it I thought you hit it on the head I mean and and I think they’re doing something really important with word camp. US is reaching out to somebody who experiences. All this stuff, and I think you know outside of the word temp space, I think the things that certain. Uhm, institutions and certain places should reach out to people. With similar experiences, tours and say hey, how do we make this better and how can we help you like if if you want disability, people disabilities, say for example to go to shopping malls then you gotta make it accessible and and and that can even be something simple like a 70 year old.
Who just doesn’t have the energy of a 20 year old, then maybe you need to put some more benches out. You know something that’s in. And I know I’m making light of it, but I’m not meaning to, it’s just sometimes some of these changes are really subtle changes, not big changes. If and I love how you touch the dietary needs problem, I went through a spiel where I did a couple of local word camps after. I was diagnosed as diabetic and to be quite frank, I was taking my own food with me. It was that bad ’cause every food was a donate their sugar or this or that.
Well, take care, imagine.
That and here, and at that time I was on high level diabetic medication and I’m like did anybody not think about people you know with dietary restrictions?
Right, and sometimes people think, well, we didn’t put sugary Donuts out. We put bagels and cream cheese, but they don’t serve so high carb that it is a sugar. And so you have to. You definitely have to have people. And guiding those experiences. If you’ve got a dietician, great, that’s awesome. You know who understands those things and as part of the planning, that’s great, but that doesn’t. Always happen, right? We don’t always have well volunteers on these teams and so giving guidance on how to make sure that everybody has the right experience. A good experience. That word kept means that you have to ask these questions. You have to include people who could help make those situations and those experiences better.
Yeah, it’s so true and. It it it’s. Simple things like at some more temps they’ll put pop out or they’ll put water out. And I remember walking into one and say, did he not think to put out any diet pop? Like honestly, yeah yeah, and it’s like.
Yeah, not like when we put out water. OK, great thanks. I’ll just drink water all the time and I don’t get to have the same experience as everybody else.
Maybe I wanted something with water, has no caffeine folks.
Yeah, I know, I know.
And and I do know. That you’re you’re a big. Of a a coffee hauling a bit.
Well, so I don’t know if you know this, but like I say I’m 54. I just had a birthday which you know, so at 54 I started drinking coffee six years ago. Like I went through 48 years of my life thinking coffee smelled wonderful and tasted terrible. And suddenly Like I was. Like I really try it again. Cream and. Sugar I’m gonna I’m. I’m probably never gonna be a drinking black, kind of. Girl but uhm. Yeah, so like six years ago and now I’m a coffee stop.
Yeah, yeah. I am too and I and I didn’t start and I’m a year older than you and. I didn’t start with 30 so there you go.
There you go, right? So there there it is.
And and one and one of the things I do when I was diagnosed as sort of 40. Diagnosed with diabetes of 42 and one of the things I did was I immediately dropped. I put cream in my coffee, but I dropped sugar right out of it and I just said I don’t need this.
Because I can’t stand the taste of the sweeteners in it, so I just.
I don’t need that and I and I’ve managed to drink coffee for over 10 years without sweetener in my coffee. If you can wait.
Well, it’s good. I’m not sure I could get there, but maybe someday, but I I survive on caramel macchiato, so I’m just going to say right here now, if you see me. At a word camp, and. You want to think how could I? Make Michelle stay better. Starbucks caramel macchiato will make. Me a happy girl every time.
So I I think you know, I think. This is all about making some of the right changes for the right reasons or progressive change, right?
Yeah, I think so.
And I think we’re heading in the right direction, I think. Truthfully, the community has heard it, and they’re concerned. Uhm, we’re walking in Toronto the last couple work temps we’ve had from a. The disability perspective have been in public city buildings, so the advantage of that is all public buildings that are municipal buildings must be scooter or mobility aware so that kind of helps a little bit. Yep, so that there’s no question. The the only the. Only drawback to that is you can’t charge for admission to a word camp then, but that’s another.
Oh, that is another story.
Because there is a there is a policy. That in city buildings you’re not allowed to charge any entrance fee for it, so your sponsors have to pick. Up the whole thing.
Oh OK, yeah.
We’ve been through some. But I mean, I think that’s important.
I’ll tell ya. So I was at work at Marklar last June and it was my first Wordcamp post. Yes, post pandemic. And I still call it the apocalypse sometimes, ’cause it kind of felt that way, but. It was as far as accessibility goes, it was phenomenal. the IT was. At a college. And the entrance stories were all buttons. All the ubers and lists that I took, were, you know, perfectly fine with how they may take apart that scooter. Put it back together. The only drawback was that the bathroom didn’t have a. Uh, you know, automatic entrance, most restrooms. Don’t and I know that that’s not something you know I. I’m never going to say like the person who’s at working up US scouting right now for the location or looking at location. She said, I know that’s necessity. I said it’s not a necessity, it’s a it’s a wish list because most bathrooms are not going to have that feature and I don’t expect that. Every single one of my needs we met, just like nobody. Nobody gets all 100% of their needs, but no matter how able bodied you are, so I. I don’t expect that that. Word Camp is going to cater to me. I just want anybody who’s in my city. Patient who’s using a mobility device or who has any accessibility needs at all? Whether like you said, whether it’s something that they they can’t take long walks because of their breathing. You know, that’s one of the things is what I was using a cane and I mentioned this. I think I mentioned this in the article that like Wordcamp US in. Where was it? Uh Nashville in Tennessee. The the location for lunch was so far away from where the vendor hall was, which is where I was a lot of the time. ’cause I was working for give and also from from where. The the sessions were. That for somebody with a mobility device. That wasn’t motorized, and it wasn’t. The wheels it. Became almost impossible and the second day. I didn’t go to lunch. Because I was, I had so much trouble walking the lines in the first day and back, and so those kinds of things we just really. Need to keep in mind. That you know, it’s like I can wheel all over the place now, as long as I can keep. Charging my battery wherever I. Need to so I can I. Can go half a mile to get to lunch. That’s not a problem. But that doesn’t help. My my friends who are slow walkers because of breathing or using a cane because of any issue. Or you know anything like that. So we need to also. It’s not just about mobility. Devices like you said it’s about. Disability needs overall and making sure that any venue is able to be accessible. By all people. Whatever their needs are.
Yeah, it was one of the things you and I were talking about that. Kind of spearhead this whole conversation we were talking about one of our favorite places in Niagara Falls and we were talking about this new tunnel by the power plant, which I have not seen and. And you said to me, is it accessible and I I reached out to? A friend of. Mine who’s been there. He was part of one of the focus groups when they designed it and he said, yeah it is. But it’s a bit of a walk, but what they did knowing it was a bit of a walk, was that put extra benches on The Walking path so that we. I mean, that’s the only thing they unfortunately the nature of where it is. Yeah, it is a bit of a walk, so you might if you’ve got a breathing issue or you’re elderly, you might. Have a problem. But but at least they’ve put the benches in and tried to accommodate it that way and and that’s you know. I think that’s a step in the right direction when people do that and they say. Yeah, wait a minute.
Absolutely, yeah, so you. At my local zoo here in Rochester, the Seneca Park Zoo. It is very unlike. Both zoos are. As they’ve grown very.
Expansive, so there’s a lot of walking involved if you don’t have a scooter or something and you’re you have issues with walking distances. Two years ago. When I looked at going to the zoo ’cause I I take, you know, I’m a photographer and I love taking pictures of. The animals and everything. I I looked. To see at this before I had a scooter, looked to see if they had anything like that there and they did not, but they do now. And so I was at the. Zoo recently to take pictures and I went with some friends who helped me get my scooter. And out of the car and we used my scooter of course. And as I was driving para tips for scrolling fast or sterling or whatever, you’re caught up past the the main area. I looked to the left and there were scooter rental available, so and solar rental too. For people who don’t have strollers with them. So they are. It’s it’s good that public places like that are really taking into account not only that have benches and things like that, but some places that are really expensive like that. Even take into account, and it’s not free. And I don’t expect. Things to be free. But you know, to even you know $1520.00 for a day rental on a scooter like that to be able to. See the zoo like, especially if you get like you said, you don’t own one because. Maybe you have. Knee surgery or you don’t go out that. Often, and you want to go. With your grandkids to the zoo or something. Are providing ways for more family members to be able to be involved in those activities regardless of their disability needs, so I think that’s pretty cool.
Meaning a place that does it really well here is the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. They have that relationship with the Boy Scouts of Canada and the Boy Scouts actually staffed the.
The wheelchair and. Walker rentals and they went compared my birthday, right?
I’ll tell you my my worst experience in Canada was the CN Tower.
When I I was there at for work Camp Toronto. Not the last one that that happened, but the. One prior to that so. We’re talking maybe five years ago now and and I was still walking, not even with a cane yet. But I still. But I had trouble walking. Long distances or standing for long periods of time and I took my intern there on our way home and I didn’t realize we were going to. Stand in line. For over an hour and at some point I. Was shifting foot. To foot and finally he saw some steps. And he’s like what? I’ll hold our place in line. You go sit in those steps, and so I went and sat on the steps and it was the only thing that let me not have to leave. Having paid the money to be able to actually go up and see it because there was no benches. There was no way. Though no place for people with. You know, with stamina. Issues to be able to participate, so I hope. That’s changed, I don’t know. It’s been for a few years now.
It has, it has actually they’ve put.
Good, oh perfect, that’s great, I’m happy.
More functions in down there still.
Yeah it it’s yeah it, it’s just a mess and then and then you’ve got. The whole issue. You know, if you go to a sporting event and things like that and sporting events are hard come, you know I, I think I think in some places they they try but they could do. I, I think sporting events, certainly in Canada, have been pretty good about putting in accessible washrooms, which helps, but I mean there’s, I think there’s.
I think there’s other things they could do better personally, but counter counter heights a big deal.
It is absolutely.
Anyway, I really appreciate.
You jumping on and having the conversation if somebody wants to get a whole day to have it more, what’s the best way Twitter I would assume?
Yeah, of course. Twitter is good the best. Way to find all the ways to get in touch with me is https://meetmichelle.online/. You get links to all my social media. You get e-mail, you can fill in a form. It’s the best way to find anything to do with me.
Thanks, Michelle. Have an awesome day.