Besides snow, Harvard presented other accessibility challenges. With massive historic buildings, wheelchair access often involved out-of-the-way back doors. Some required making prior arrangements for keys, key cards, or lifts.
An unanticipated obstacle ruined a cold morning. While Beth’s roommate traveled, the only elevator in Thayer dorm broke down. She couldn’t find help to get down the steps in time for the shuttle to the pool. Frustrated, she called her coach for the first time about missing a team practice. When the elevator was fixed, it remained unreliable. Temporary fixes for the elevator varied in duration.
Harvard’s maintenance director gave us his cell number and put a repair team on call. He explained that a new elevator required gutting the historical building—not an option. Unfortunately, replacement parts for the ancient elevator had to be specially made.
Beth hated to ask for assistance.
However, she loathed missing classes and practices more, so she placed the phone numbers for the maintenance director and floor proctor on speed dial. They usually responded quickly. Noah hadn’t gone to bed yet early one morning when he and the director carried Beth down two flights of dorm steps at 5:45 a.m. for swim practice. I helped with the stairs whenever I could. The day arrived when the elevator could no longer be fixed temporarily. The director offered to put Beth up in a nice hotel close to campus. She chose to stay put and arranged for help to get down and up the steps.
The dorm elevator added ongoing stress. During that time, a relatively new elevator at the back of Annenberg came to a stop partway to the dining hall with only Beth inside. One of the servers heard her and stayed close by, talking to her for about 30 minutes until the elevator moved again.
Over the weeklong semester break at the end of January, Beth and I boarded a crowded bus to visit New York City. A four-hour drive one way for a two-day visit. The Broadway musical Rent highlighted our trip. At the accessible entryway to the theatre, we waited to be seated near the actors' entrance. Recognizing one, Beth was star-struck when he greeted her with a smile and a hello. Drew Lachay, from the boy band 98 Degrees, played the role of Mark. The opening song introduced us to the beautiful concept of measuring our lives in love, through all 525,600 minutes in a year.
We planned to taxi back to our hotel after the show.
Beth wore unlined boots with no socks and a dress that bared her knees. Theater patrons quickly filled the taxis in the frigid night. Taxi drivers also tended to avoid people in wheelchairs, and Uber didn't exist yet. We ended up walking a mile to the hotel, stopping every few blocks at an open business to warm up. It was one of the rare times she let me push her wheelchair to protect her hands from the bitter cold.
A mom with a story
to share about injuries that never heal and fortunate accidents. About guilt, disability, perspectives, and unexpected adventure.