Handicapped: What does it mean?

This past Christmas Becky and I visited her cousin, who has, as of about a year ago been diagnosed with ALS. We were able to talk a bit about what it means for him (experientially) to be handicapped. We talked about laws, systems, and attitudes in our society with regard to services for handicapped people. – Much the User Experience kinds of stuff, just not with the web.

It was the first time I had heard someone discuss critically the pros and cons of the implications of the ADA. We talked a bit about how handicapped people are affected by the laws and their implementations.

One example our cousin gave was walking from the handicapped parking to a restaurant. At one establishment the handicap spot was on the same side of the driving road but the spot was further to walk than the closest parking spots. Not all handicapped cases are the same. For some it would be better to cross the street to walk the shorter distance than to walk the “safer” but longer distance.

Resturant Parking

Resturant Parking

We also talked about some experiences he had with Disney and with Southwest Airlines.

Without taking credit for our cousin’s stories or wanting to bash on either of these companies, let me relay the flowing experiences and some reflections on them. It was interesting that his interpretation was that socially in Disney being handicapped, when it came to waiting in lines, meant that you got preferential treatment. This was because there was a separate and often shorter line for Handicapped persons. He remarked that this is not exactly fair to non-handicapped persons. And that the purpose of the laws for persons with handicaps is to make things equal, not preferred.

However, his experience with Southwest was of a different nature. Being a faithful customer of Southwest since the early 2000’s I have often enjoyed my “plane crackers”. He remarked that it was really difficult for someone with muscular challenges to navigate between the rows of seats. (Someone else with several kids, was using a kid to reserve the front seat for other people who were boarding later.) It was also difficult to get seats which were together for his family. I found this a little hard to believe until I was flying Southwest this past January. Having heard my cousin’s story, I took note with new eyes on people boarded the aircraft and how the elderly, families and handicapped people were assisted.

On my way to Oregon, there was a man next to me who had lived in the U.S. for a number of years but was originally from Columbia. He was in his 80s and wore hearing aids. He never heard the cabin bell saying that it was alright to get up and go to the bathroom. This would normally be alright but the light for buckling the seats never went off. When the stewardess asked for his drink he could not hear her ask if he wanted cream and sugar with his coffee. Luckily, I was there to “yell” in his ear and he got cream and sugar.

On the way back from Oregon an elderly lady with an oxygen/nebulizer kind of machine with her was disembarking from the plane. She was slow moving and felt really bad for keeping others waiting who were going to disembark. After most of the passengers had disembarked I asked the steward on duty how he would have handled this kind of passenger in the case of emergency. He said that they hope to never have an emergency, but in the case of one, it would be challenging. They would probably have to do some kind of two person carry to get the passenger out of the plane.

I am not sure that I have a strong closing paragraph for readers. But it is eye opening for me to think of systems (lines at amusement parks or customer service and boarding systems) in terms of User Experience and Usability with disabilities in mind.