(This blog tells my family's story. To see more, click "blog" at the top of this webpage.)
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.
5/17/2018 06:14:48 am
It's so bad that everything nowadays moves so fast but the mindset says slow regarding accessibility matters! Glad you make it to the Theater and had such a great time :D
5/17/2018 02:06:07 pm
You're right, Patricia. We definitely need faster progress with accessibility!
5/17/2018 09:38:47 am
I truly admire the perseverance shown by Beth in all her trials along the way. Things the rest of us do not even consider. And "measuring our lives in love" - what a beautiful concept! Love does conquer all.
5/17/2018 03:35:21 pm
Hi, Jill! That day at the theater, we saw a sign on the door that said, “525,600.” The number of minutes in a year. Yes, “measuring our lives in love” is a beautiful concept!
Reading this, I felt a mixture of annoyance--surely Harvard, with all its resources, should be able to keep an elevator running smoothly; Hilarity--it is a bit unnerving to find yourself in a stuck elevator, but the way you present the story here is very funny; and delight that you and Beth had such a lovely experience at Rent.
5/17/2018 04:00:20 pm
Thanks, Amy! Sorry to annoy you with this post, though I felt the same way about the old elevator. And yes, the musical Rent was very memorable! 525,600 minutes of a year, measured in love. <3
5/17/2018 11:10:50 am
Phew! Besides bringing tears to my eyes and making my heart race - stuck in an elevator; it is a beautiful story of strength, courage, and patience. Thank you for sharing 😊
5/17/2018 04:06:57 pm
Wow. Thank you, Jan! I really appreciate your comment. So nice to hear that our story resonates with you!
5/17/2018 03:36:12 pm
Wow. Just wow! You have a beautiful way of pulling the reader into your stories. I,too, felt a mixture of frustration and irritation, yet amazement at one more obstacle that Beth’s perseverance enabled her to overcome; not to mention another example of your dedication and teamwork. Thanks for another great read!
5/17/2018 07:18:45 pm
Awww. I’m humbled by your enthusiasm and support. Thanks so much, Deb!!
Stories like this do evoke strong emotions in me since my dad became disabled. People without a disability, myself included, take for granted that we have options. If an elevator breaks down, we can take the stairs. It's not a big deal. Yet, disabled people rely on them, and everywhere should make it a priority to keep them well maintained and working!
5/18/2018 04:14:25 pm
Thanks for commenting, Ruth! Yes, accessibility is easy to take for granted until either we or someone we know has a mobility challenge. Then, it’s incredible how difficult access can be. I agree that access needs to be more of a priority everywhere!
It's always disappointing to see accessibility challenges. I'm seeing more and more places getting fixed up for accessibility purposes these days. Beth is such a trooper for trying to do things on her own. I love how you've been there and trying to ease things for her. ♥
5/19/2018 08:04:20 pm
Thanks, Nancy! Yes, I’m glad to see more accessible places, too!
5/24/2018 07:12:47 am
As you know my best friend has been in a wheelchair since 1975. Being with him on many trips made me realize how many everyday things we take for granted. I have enjoyed reading this I can empathize with many of your feeling. Tell John I said hello
5/25/2018 01:05:27 pm
Thanks, Tony! You’re right — spending time with someone in a wheelchair really does remind us of all we take for granted. It also makes me more grateful for so many things. Nice to hear from you!
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