When You Must Use Stairs with a Cane
Recently, I traveled to a county government building with a lady who was forced to use stairs with a cane. It was an adventure.
I was surprised to find that access to this building was difficult for a cane-user and the building would have been completely inaccessible to a walker or wheelchair-user.
The American with Disabilities Act applies to government buildings, and many other public buildings. Other government buildings I have visited have been made accessible and accommodating to people with various mobility disabilities. In other buildings, there had been signage directing the public to ramps, elevators, parking spaces, and accessible entrances and exits to government buildings.
Obstacles to Accessibility
However, I saw no signs and no ramps or elevators for the disabled or elderly in this building. According to the county building’s website, this building had several elevator entrances from the parking garage below. Unfortunately, we never found any of them. The only elevators we found led to a large ground level plaza where traveling the path to the front doors of the building took between five and ten minutes.
Once inside the doors, I expected a ground floor lobby with main elevators. No, there was a flight of stairs to the main elevators, that’s all. No elevator and no ramp for the mobility-disabled were provided. So, my companion had to climb the stairs, about ten of them, to the main elevators. Luckily, she knew how to use her cane correctly and held on to the handrails and took them step-by-step up to the top. A wheelchair-user or walker-user would have been halted right there at the front doors by the stairs.
After our business had been conducted, we sought another way out of the building hoping to find an elevator that would take us to the parking garage or at least help us to avoid the staircase. That side of the building was under construction, I was told. So, going down the staircase was the only way out of the building. It took her some effort and time, but she did get down the stairs safely, where she again faced a walk across the plaza to get to the parking garage.
Using a Cane on Stairs
Do you know how to safely use stairs with a cane? You may need to know how to do this someday. To climb stairs, first, place your cane in the hand opposite your weaker or stiffer leg. With your free hand, grasp the handrail. Step up on your good leg first, then step up on the weaker leg. To climb down the stairs, put your cane on the step first, then your weaker leg and then, finally, your good leg, in order to support your body weight.
If you are a companion to a cane-user, walk at the side of the person on the steps. Take time and make sure they are placing each foot squarely on the step. They may need to rest for a moment between steps. Don’t attempt stair-climbing on dimly-lit steps, or on narrow, steep steps that would be challenging even to the able-bodied.
Accessible to All
If I had to take my friend to this building again, I would call ahead. Try to find out exactly where there are handicapped accessible elevators from the parking garage, so we could avoid the stairs. Better still, I would ask if I could transact business by mail, fax or email with the office, instead of traveling there at all. And, I will find someone in that government office to complain to about the obstacles she faced today.
Disabled and elderly people are part of the public, and public buildings are supposed to be accessible for all citizens, including those who use canes, walkers or wheelchairs to get around.