Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What Do You Envision When You Hear the Word “Wheelchair?”

Is it something like this?

Or more like this?

Here’s Why I Ask

Last weekend, my brothers and I and three hot chicks we hang out with decided to go to dinner at a high-end steakhouse downtown. Because I had been there a couple of times previous, I knew the drill. There were steps to the front entrance, so I had to use a side door. That led me to a section of the restaurant with only two tables. The rest of the restaurant was one step up from this section. Someone else in my group had made the reservation, and later confirmed the reservation, both times mentioning that someone in our party of six would be in a wheelchair. Sure, I could have brought my iBot (stairclimbing) wheelchair, but I saw no need to.

Diane and I let ourselves in the side door, while Kim and Tom went to the main entrance. Andy and Karen were already there and sitting at the bar. When I saw that both tables on the lower level were occupied, and nobody looked like they were finishing up their meal, I knew there was a problem.

Wrong Kind of Wheelchair

Kim spoke to the maître d’ to indicate that Sturgeon, party of six, had arrived. The maître d’ led them to a table on the upper level, and Kim asked “How is my husband supposed to get to this table? We told you he was in a wheelchair.”

Here’s the thing. For some unknown reason, whoever made the table assignments that night assumed I was in a manual wheelchair. We know this, because he responded to Kim’s question with, “Oh, we have people to help him up over the step.”

“His chair weighs 450 pounds. I don’t think anybody is helping him up over the step,” she pointed out.

That left only one good option. The maître d’ walked up to the table of six at the bottom level and began speaking to them. I couldn’t hear him, but I know exactly what he was saying. He looked at me. They all looked at me. I smiled, and they began standing up. A team of waitstaff moved their drinks and appetizers to the table on the upper level. Thankfully, they hadn’t been served their entrées yet.

All’s Well That…

Restaurant staff apologized profusely, set the table for us, and everything went well from that point. I certainly hope they did something for the people who were displaced mid-meal. As for us, it was par for the course. If I let things like this bother me, I won’t have much fun when we go out. And we did have fun.

Moral of the story—don't make assumptions about your ability to accommodate a disabled person. If you're unsure, ask questions.


  1. When you assume, here it comes, wait for it . . . It makes an ASS of U and ME.

    1. This old adage applies in both directions here. They made a poor assumption, but so did I. I assumed that they would treat me the same way they treated me the two previous times I had been there, but with changing employees, etc., I should've confirmed.

  2. Ha, I think I might have gone to that restaurant. I've learned to ask very specific questions about accessibility. I've had them tell me "no problem!" only to get there and find two big steps up to get in, and the bathroom on a lower floor with no elevator. Or a completely wheelchair-inaccessible bathroom. And I always let the manager know, and I always follow up with phone call, and a Yelp review that mentions any problems. If I can't use your bathroom, it doesn't matter how good the food is - I can't go to your restaurant. This should not be par for the course!

    1. You are right. We can't ask enough questions. Just when we think we have the situation in hand, something new happens. But I keep forging on!

  3. I agree with you, most I think see a manual chair in their mind. Getting the power chairs around is impossible when there are steps etc. I have had to go in side doors so much of my life but I tend to not go back to inaccessible places. I am glad you had fun, I love to go out with fam.

    1. Sometimes the quality of the food pulls me back to certain restaurants, even with the challenges :-)