The Latin term “euphemism” means “the other word.” It is a matter of tender sensitivity, not to the Romans, but to us frail creatures of these politically correct times. In my little life, which may or may not be more time-consuming and obnoxious than yours, some of these softly spoken words, cautiously employed, range from "handicapped" to "disabled" to "mobility impaired." I never think about that. My legs don’t work right, I’m stuck on a wheelchair and so what?
Well, here we go. That "so what" seems to have been of some interest to The Courier News, because they were very conscientiously writing a story about the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (thank you dearly President Bush the first) and they tooled me around downtown Elgin to see what is and isn’t different since then for a guy in my predicament.
Before we take this journey, let me explain that I am a ‘liberal’ who craves his freedom, but also a "conservative" who never expects some entitlement or service that would cost an already struggling city more than it’s worth. Be real, the majority can walk, so every curb ramp, every bus ramp, every extra-jumbo bathroom is a gift I may not deserve, but that little life of mine would be a little more unlivable without them. Sometimes legislation has consequence.
That caveat complete, let’s say three things about Elgin, or to be more definitive – downtown Elgin – or what I call "the village," since it seems a lot of folks around here think “downtown" is some Emerald City called “Chicago." I’ve heard one can take a train there, and perhaps I should, since the Metra is handicap-friendly too. Thanks to the ADA one more time.
But, back to Elgin, and those three things;
1.) Elgin is a very old city, at least in its core. I happen to like old buildings, but they do not necessarily like me. They have big nasty awkward steps I can’t negotiate without additional biceps and volunteered assistance. It’s also a three story town, and built mostly before Mr. Otis popularized the elevator, and due to fire codes, the doors have to be pulled out towards the already steeply inclined wheelchair idiot rather than pushed inward with his failing uphill momentum. (See Newton).
In short, there are a several fine businesses down in that village I just pass by rather than dance through the humiliation.
(Now, I know those big boxes out on Randall Road are a blissful cornfield, with automated sliding doors that I could navigate my chair through on an excellent adventure, but I don’t drive or covet the fluorescent consumer experience.)
2,) Elgin is hilly. Not a lot we can do about that. I tend to get off the bus upside at the crest and work my way down. Day trips are planned, never capricious. But let me tell you blissful bi-peds something. Uphill may be laborious with big hand- driven wheels, but downhill can be downright dangerous, especially after the ice and snow has come. If you see me moving slowly in either direction, it’s just that slow beats the alternative of surprise.
3.) Elgin is a permanent construction zone. Every street and sidewalk that is not torn up will be soon. And after they fixed it, they will soon tear it up again, probably to build a smooth ramp for guys like me and then later a bumpy red ramp for guys that are blind. I believe in infrastructure, I love “improvements” and the aesthetic of brick, and this is a brick town. But like every other citizen of this now 100,000 strong metropolis, I gotta ask – Is it ever going to be done?
So all that said, I want to thank the Courier News for believing that I might be an expert on something, even if it is just my own limitations. I showed them a couple of places that I found difficult to navigate and a couple of places that I find quite welcoming (like my very accessible bank up there on Spring and Highland--and one should always be able to reach one’s deposits.)
I did draw the line at the martial arts academy; an old guy in a wheelchair doesn’t need karate lessons. But, the newer buildings are a revelation. The library and The Centre are wheelchair nirvana. The Centre even has special showers for us folks. I easily get to the symphony, albeit in the back row, and most of our restaurants have capacious bathrooms.
Twenty years ago, life was more difficult for us crips, so all praise is due to the ADA and Bush the father. Sometimes even the much derided concept of “social engineering” has an upside.
Most of my life has been lived, but I’m still a rolling stone. In case the Courier missed my point, Elgin’s a pretty good place to circulate in, sometimes a challenge. But if it were perfect, I’d leave.
When asked about the subject, I tell my friends, “tomorrow I’d rather find a ramp than a cliff.”
And if we are all lucky in life, I’ll never write about this again, since "me" is my least favorite subject.