Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Accessibility Adventure

It’s Friday night, and it’s my sister-in-law, Diane’s, birthday. My brother, Tom, and she have booked a room in downtown Portland, at the Regency Hotel for the weekend. My other brother, Andy, and his wife, Karen, have booked a room at the same hotel, just a short drive from our house.

The six of us make up a diverse group regarding politics, religion, texting versus calling versus emailing, our philosophies on tipping waiters and waitresses, food and drink choices, and temperament. But we share a devotion to the Red Sox, the Patriots, the great State of Maine, our individual families, and to one another. We get together often and always have a great time.

We decide to meet at their hotel bar, the Armory. My iBot battery charge is low, so I don’t bring my stairclimbing wheelchair. I’m not concerned because I have been to this bar before, and I know it’s accessible.

There are four steps down from the hotel entrance to the bar floor, but they have an elevator. I just can’t remember where. Kim asks the bartender, and he says, “I’m afraid the elevator isn’t working at this time.” Bad start to the evening. One of the reasons my brothers chose this hotel was because they liked the bar so much. Already, accessibility issues, my accessibility issues, are impacting the group. But nobody wants to make me feel bad, so the change in plans is dismissed as insignificant.

We find another, accessible bar to have some drinks and appetizers, and then arrive at Vignola Cinque Terre, where we have dinner reservations. They direct us to a handicapped accessible entrance which works well. We have so much fun at dinner we decide to set out to one last bar for a nightcap.

We reach Ri Ra, and it's already packed on the bottom floor. This is ten o’clock on a Friday night after all. We decide to go upstairs where we know it will be less crowded. Everyone except Kim and I take the stairs. We follow a long hallway to where we know the elevator entrance is located. We have used it numerous times over the years. As we approach the elevator, our progress is stopped by a large pile of construction debris. The venue is undergoing renovations. One of the employees comes up to us and apologizes, but offers no recourse. I say to Kim, “Go up and get the others, and we’ll have to try somewhere else.”

As Kim and the others are headed downstairs toward me, a manager offers to clear out the area in front of the elevator. Assuming it will take too long, Kim declines the offer. The manager apologizes and tries to get us to stay, but our momentum, emotional as much as physical, carries us out the door. 

This is particularly disappointing for me. Twice during this evening, our group couldn’t enjoy a top-notch venue because of my accessibility issues. But, to their credit, nobody directs their disappointment toward me, but rather toward establishments that don’t give wheelchair access a priority.

We head across the street to a nondescript hotel bar and have our last round. Someone in the group says, “Not a very good night for you, Mitch.”

“True, but at least I get a blog post out of it.” Everyone laughs.

The next night, Saturday, we meet Tom and Diane at the Armory, the same hotel bar where we had tried to meet them on Friday. This time, I use my iBot wheelchair.

At the top of the stairs, one of the patrons comes up to me and says, “I saw you earlier in the day when you were up on two wheels. That’s the coolest wheelchair ever.”

“That was nothing,” I reply. “Watch this.” He is suitably impressed as Kim guides me down the stairs. After dinner and a drink, we decide to call it an early evening. The bar area has become full, and people aren’t shy about gawking at us as we ascend the stairs. When Kim gets me to the top landing, the crowd breaks out in applause, and Kim takes a bow.

Three takeaways:

Just because certain elevators and lifts don’t get a lot of use by people in wheelchairs, they need to be available and in working order at all times.

This weekend excursion highlighted the importance of having a wheelchair like the iBot. As most of you know, it’s no longer for sale, but I’m pretty sure Dean Kamen, the inventor, hasn’t given up.

My wife, my brothers, and their wives are the best. Nobody let the accessibility issues ruin our fun. 


  1. Once again, i admire your 'tude. i have faced similar accessibility issues and turned away. i almost always call ahead, and if the venue is not accessible, i just don't go. so good on you.

    1. I call ahead too, except if I know they have an elevator. I guess that approach doesn't work anymore.

  2. A great insight into the realities faced by a wheelchair-user. As always, your positive approach shines through. Having supportive and understanding friends and family must make all the difference, too.

  3. Ah, the amazing ibot. Any updates on its current situation?