My Mobility Challenge Lessons

An accident this winter has laid me up with a major knee injury that needed surgery and has severely limited my mobility for the next few months.  My disability is not permanent and as a self-employed consultant I can work from home where I get to modify the environment to suit myself. But here are some things I have come to realize post-accident.

1.     Getting around on crutches is harder than it looks.  Especially if you can only put weight on one leg.  You are always worried about falling. Hallways, doorways and doors are never the right angle or partially blocked.

Check your hallways and doorways today.  Clear things that have ended up in the hallways and that protrude into doorways.


2.     That piece of paper on the floor or the spilled drops from a coffee cup become a major slip risk when you are mobility challenged – whether you need crutches, a cane or wheelchair. 

Good housekeeping is good safety for all.  Install a culture of cleaning up all spilled and dropped items immediately. We are all responsible for housekeeping.

3.    Good grab bars are very useful.  Grab bars in washrooms help all people who have a challenge with mobility of any type.  In my house, I have no grab bars, so I must improvise with window ledges, fixtures, furniture and my husband. I am finding that grab bars would be useful in many spots – like near the sink, near the shower and in the kitchen. 

Do you have secure and solid grab bars in your washroom stalls, near the sinks and anywhere else that someone may need help with balance or to change positions?

4.     Elevators are a necessity if you cannot walk on stairs and open many experiences to those who have a mobility challenge.  Elevators  added to meet accessibility codes are often tiny and may only hold one person in a wheelchair and their companion.  In a regular elevator, it is much easier if the person in a wheelchair can enter first and turn around to face the door before everyone else gets on. 

Check your manners and be considerate of those in wheelchairs, on crutches or using a walker or cane.  They may be slower but have every right and probably a need to get to their destinations.

5.     Inviting me out?  Great I need the break.  But first look at the proposed location and make sure I can be accommodated.  It doesn’t take much and I will gladly share my needs and bring any special items that you would not have. 

Plan how you could accommodate various disabilities in your company meeting locations and add accommodation planning to all checklists for company outings.  This pre-planning will allow you to quickly and easily meet the needs of employees and visitors with disabilities, whether they are permanent or temporary.

6.     Emergency evacuation procedures for those in wheelchairs have always struck me as rather lacking – stick them in the stairwell to wait for someone to carry them down.  Now that I am using crutches or a wheelchair to get around these procedures positively scare me! 

Take the time now to work out details on how you would evacuate people with any kind of mobility problem. Even if a person uses a cane or just has a problem going up or down stairs they deserve to know and be involved in designing a complete evacuation plan.

7.     Self-pity and inactivity are an easy reaction to the realization that you now have a permanent disability.  Those that move beyond that and get on with their life have a lot of skills that can help your organization. They have had to become problem solvers, engineers and do-it-yourselfers. 

Ask them what they can do and present your environmental problems to them. You might be surprised at the innovated solutions they can propose!  And in doing so you will find not only applicants that are qualified to do the key requirements of the job, but that will bring a can–do attitude and problem solving skills to the work place.

8.     The saying “There but for the grace of God go I” is so true.  I have been skiing for over 20 years and I am a skilled skier.  So, a transverse across a beginner trail was done without concern – until I found myself landing hard on my knee and rolling and sliding down the hill.  With the help of surgery, my knee will heal and I will regain my mobility but not everyone is so lucky.  There are so many ways to become disabled and it is not anyone’s fault that they are disabled. 

Approach each person with a positive attitude, not pity.  That paraplegic confined to a wheelchair may be exactly the skilled designer you need and a champion wheelchair basketball player on the side!

Our world is built for those with two good legs who can move themselves confidently through their environment.  If mobility is a requirement for most jobs in your organization, you need to re-evaluate your work environment and plan changes that would accommodate various mobility difficulties.

A bit of thought and planning now will prepare your organization to hire that person whose disabilities may at first glance blind you to their truly amazing abilities.  It will also help you to accommodate short term disabilities.  Planning and building in accommodations for mobility problems is a good business decision.   Who knows who your planning might help – it might be yourself or the CEO!

Carolyn Hughes