A Potpourri of Accessibility Bad Behavior

Winter is coming, and with it, there will be lots of bad behavior in the Boston area.  I’ll get ahead of the season with an early rant.  Here are some things that make me scratch my head in puzzlement (on a good day) and bring on that fractious feeling (on a not-so-good-day).

Misleading signage.  Like this supposedly ADA-compliant bathroom at the Boston Athanaeum.

Supposedly ADA-compliant bathroom at the Boston Athanaeum

Supposedly ADA-compliant bathroom at the Boston Athanaeum

What is accessible about this bathroom?  I’ll tell you.  Absolutely nothing.  A little baby wheelchair could not even begin to fit in this room.  The lack of grab bars add insult to injury.IMG_0004



The promise of accessibility.  Route 9 in Newton has undergone a transformation over the past year, with shopping opportunities galore.  The plaza that includes Wegman’s has a fully-accessible parking area, complete with more accessible parking spaces than you could want; clear, wide sidewalks; a myriad of curb cuts; and an accessible, pedestrian walkway across Route 9 over to The Mall at Chestnut Hill.  But, oops.   If you use a wheelchair, you hit a full-on dead end…. with all that glittering allure of Bloomie’s just about out of reach.  The developers of both of these malls must have spent tens of millions of dollars designing and building these respective spaces, and they got so so close to getting it right.   They need to finish the job.

The Mall, Chestnut Hill, Newton

The Mall, Chestnut Hill, Newton

The “Now You See It, Now You Don’t” Phenomena.  Here are two examples of perfectly accessible spaces that have been made inaccessible by the placement of pretty things for you to buy (in the Whole Foods case) and trash barrels (Walgreen’s, below).IMG_0005
IMG_0007In both parking lots, there are plenty of spaces, there is good signage, and there are ramps and curb cuts.  In the Whole Foods parking lot though, a wheelchair user must navigate through the parking lot upon exiting the door.  Yes, there are yellow pedestrian lines in the lot, but you take your life in your hands competing with the harried drivers.  It’d be much safer to be able to stay on the sidewalk for as long as possible.  Or hey, maybe just go to Wegman’s, because they are an ADA-compliant dream.

And in the “What Were They Thinking?” category we have the Atria, a big assisted living facility in Quincy, with three designated handicapped-parking spaces.  Yup, three, for a facility which serves a population with the median age of about 87.  In the five years in which we have been visiting my aunt there on a regular basis, I think Marianne and I have scored the designated handicap-accessible spot exactly four times.  We have A LOT of competition for these three spots.  And to top it all of, there is no curb cut for the Outback, where we usually wind up parking.  What were they thinking?

Atria Marina Bay, Quincy

Atria Marina Bay, Quincy

Maybe they weren’t.  And that’s my point:  please think outside the box and consider the needs of all your visitors, whether they be wheeling a chair, pushing a carriage, navigating with a walker or a cane, or lugging along an oxygen tank.   We’re everywhere.

I have a love/hate relationship….with our health insurance

Yes, I am very, very grateful our family has health insurance.   You could even say I love having health insurance, especially with Marianne’s appointment track record:   she goes to myelo clinic twice a year; she has annual/semiannual appointments with a pulmonologist, an endocrinologist, a developmental pediatrician and a regular pediatrician, an eye doctor, a neurologist and neurosurgeon, an orthopedist and GI doctors. I am sure I’m forgetting some arcane specialty.  She has many prescriptions (none that anyone out there with opiate dependencies would want – just saying).  There are wheelchairs, toilet seats and durable medical equipment.

But I hate the feeling that we are being nickled and dimed on all fronts of our health insurance interface.   As of this year, we pay $500 for every emergency room visit (and we don’t go because we’ve avoided going to the doctor, we go because Marianne has a medical EMERGENCY).  We do all our preventative care.  We follow doctor’s orders.  We are excellent, compliant patients, and we pay a monthly premium for Blue Cross,  as well as all the strange parts of the bills that for some obscure reason Blue Cross won’t pay (for example, they might pay most of a diagnostic test, all but $13.28 of it).  We pay an annual out-of-pocket rate of $6,000.  Even after we’ve paid that, we are responsible for 10% of all the durable medical equipment costs.   What’s to stop the insurance company from increasing all of these payments/co-payments/deductions from going up year after year?  Nothing, as far as I can tell.

“Durable medical equipment”  (DME) — these are the words that make me crazy lately.  I think this is health insurance catch-all lingo for arbitrary and capricious billing practices.

It’s the recent iteration of the BC/BS policy on DME that’s got me ranting today.  In our medical equipment supplies that arrive every three months (after we pay 10% of the non-negotiable cost that is billed to insurance, and which I am deeply suspicious is hyper-inflated since it is being billed to insurance), we get catheters, saline solution, syringes, GoLyghtly for bowel management (hope this isn’t too much info, but I know the spinal cord people will forgive me or at least overlook my precision) and until recently, latex-free gloves.  That’s so that those of us who are helping with the bowel management can avoid contact with all kinds of bacteria that I don’t even want to name.

But guess what?  After much, much time on hold and in endless phone loops, I just learned that Blue Cross doesn’t pay for those gloves anymore.  Nope, no first-line anti-bacterial, anti-who-knows-what-protection for those on the front-line.   We’re on our own.

Why provide basic preventive care items like latex-free gloves when some hospital and insurance company in the medical realm can generate – and pay, presumably – astronomical medical bills for hospital coverage when my husband or I get really, really sick with some intestinal bacteria contracted because gloves are no longer deemed medically necessary for care-givers?

And here’s the amazing fact:  a box of 100 latex-free examination gloves costs $3.10 on the internet.  If I bought them from the medical supply company, that same box is $36.65.  Although they claim that they bill insurance a discounted rate, they could not tell me what that rate is.  I bet it’s more than 10 times more.

Round and round it goes.  Pass the buck to whoever will/can pay it.

Obfuscation or beclouding, is the hiding of intended meaning, making communication confusing, willfully ambiguous and harder to interpret (from Wikipedia).  Homework tonight:  use it in a sentence with the words “health insurance……”





“I’ll only be here a minute….”

Look at this carefully:

Parking violators at an elementary school in MA

Parking violators at an elementary school in MA

The owner of that uber shiny, big, white Mercedes Benz is parked illegally (no placard, no need) in the handicapped spot at an elementary school.  I am at this school every Saturday  during the school year with my daughter for her language class, and I’d say every week there at least two cars parked illegally in the three handicapped spaces.

The Town and Country minivan is parked illegally too.  No placard AND they are partially parked in the hatch marks.  Somehow, it’s the Mercedes that really pushed me over the edge, so I took a picture to show to the administration of the school.  Taking the picture made me feel marginally better, because the driver was sitting behind the wheel.

If it’s one of your peeves, how many times have you approached someone so parked only to be looked at in disbelief or with incredulity.  If the offender even deigns to respond, it’s usually a blithe explanation that “No one needs it right now” or “I’ll only be here for a minute.”

Well, check out this post in the New York Times recently:


Calling out the violator either doesn’t work (in my experience) or could result in their meeting your remarks with aggression.   But the ability to take a picture of the car and license plate, email it to the police station and have them deal with it (even if all they do is issue a warning) would be so satisfying.  At least you can feel like you’ve done something.  This app sounds genius to me.

What do YOU think?

The (Tired and Moody) Modern Hotel, Boise ID

Last year we loved it.  This year: not so much.

The motel seemed tired this year: the rugs in both rooms (we are a family of five so we rent two rooms) were dirty and stained, the walls were marked up and the bathroom countertop in one of the rooms was burned. The staff seem a little jaded too, and at times seemed rather put out that they had to answer a customer.  Two times our room reservation was messed up (I won’t go into all the details here).  If you need an ADA room, there are only two and one (the bigger one) is in front of the bar, which can be very loud at night.

But check out this photo I took.  This is what really soured me on the hotel:


The owner of The Modern Hotel and Bar thought this was a perfectly good spot to park.

The owner of The Modern Hotel and Bar thought this was a perfectly good spot to park.

The car parked oh-so-illegally, in the ADA-defined spaces AND in the cross hatches for minivan entry and egress is the OWNER of the hotel.  There are two ADA-spaces:  one was taken, so we parked in the other.  But because this black car was parked in the cross hatches where the ramp would go, we couldn’t get our daughter out of the car without backing into the road.

When I went to the desk to make them aware that someone was parked in such a way as to impede our daughter’s mobility in the parking lot, they nonchalantly said they’d look into it.  Because I could see the car from our room, I checked back in with them when the car was still parked there 20 minutes later, only to be told that it was the owner of the hotel and she’d be leaving soon.  She didn’t leave “soon.”  And they didn’t seem to really care that their customer wasn’t happy about it.

I met the owner a day later when she was serving me a coffee in the bar.  As she clearly knew who I was, this would have been the perfect time for her to have acknowledged that she had parked – wrongly – in the ADA space.  I wasn’t looking for her to fall on her sword;  I just would have liked to hear her say, “Hey, I didn’t realize the impact I had on someone who needs those spaces.  Sorry.”  That’s all.  Recognition that those spaces are there for those who need them, and not for anyone’s convenience, would have been sufficient.

If you have two good legs, or set of lungs, or heart, then celebrate that.  Walk a few more feet or even several blocks and leave those spaces for someone who needs them.



UPDATE: My terrible accessible taxi fail at Boston Logan Airport

Last week, I wrote about my experience trying to get my daughter, Marianne, home from the airport after our family vacation.

(See my previous note here: http://www.travelbywheelchair.com/my-terrible-experience-getting-an-accessible-taxi-at-logan-airport/)


Marianne from our vacation

Marianne from our vacation

I naively assumed that I could catch a cab from Logan that was accessible to make the short trip home to Newton.  6 cabs and about 2 hours later, I realized that was a problem.

During my adventure with Marianne, I tweeted my experience to Mayor Tom Menino, assuming that I would get an immediate reaction.  It took some nudging, but I did eventually get a response from the Mayor’s Twitter account a week after the incident.  I was put in touch with the Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Kristen McCosh.  Ms. McCosh was generous with her time and uniquely sensitive to the challenges of traveling with a power wheelchair since she herself uses that form of transportation.  To my surprise, she has experienced almost exactly the same kind of (non) service when trying to use a taxi in Boston.

Kristen McCosh, Commission for Persons with Disabilities, City of Boston

Kristen McCosh, Commission for Persons with Disabilities, City of Boston

While I was extremely pleased with Ms. McCosh’s conscientious follow up, I was concerned with the underlying problems that I discovered with the accessible taxi service for the City of Boston.  According to Ms. McCosh, there are approximately 1,800 licensed cabs in Boston and approximately 100 of them are “accessible” vehicles. She further explained that many of the taxis were modified incorrectly, rendering them unusable by power wheelchair users.  It turns out that the vendor who made the modifications was not qualified (per Kristen) to make accessible modifications.  I was even more frustrated to find that nobody from the City of Boston (per Kristen) verified that these taxis were modified correctly.

Since Ms. McCosh started her tenure, she has personally inspected the voluminous issues with the current “accessible” fleet and is making some specific recommendations for changes.  She warned me that the current fleet will not be modified or taken out of service because they are usable for certain riders in manual wheelchairs.  With the life expectancy of a taxi between 6 and 7 years, it may be a very long time before reliable taxi service is available to power wheelchair users in Boston.

In my view, the city should never have accepted those taxi modifications and the city should be reimbursed for the faulty work.  Those funds should be used to accelerate the deployment of truly accessible taxis in Boston.  More than 20 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is neither fair nor right that some citizens do not have access to basic public transportation.

Ms. McCosh is releasing a report on the accessible taxi service in September.  I look forward to seeing the report and I hope the mayor supports her efforts to turn this untenable situation around.

My (terrible) experience getting an accessible taxi at Logan Airport

After a wonderful vacation with my family, it was time to head home.  Our flight landed at Logan at about 11:45pm and it took approximately 30 minutes to wait for the plane to empty out, wait for the aisle chair to get my daughter out of the plane and wait for her wheelchair to be brought up from the belly of the plane.

Our plan was to take 2 cabs home for the 20 minute ride from Logan to Newton Centre – one of my wife, two of the kids and the luggage and a second for me and my daughter Marianne with her wheelchair.

I did my research in advance and found that it was in fact possible to get a wheelchair-capable taxi at Logan:


The taxi line was very short and the wheelchair taxi showed up at the same time the rest of my family piled into their taxi to go home.  This is when the excitement started:

Taxi 1.  The first taxi the came was advertised as a wheelchair-capable taxi, but the driver looked at us and informed us that it didn’t “pass its inspection” and he wouldn’t be able to accommodate us.  The Massport dispatcher gave the driver a piece of her mind and sent him on his way.

Taxi 1 - the first one that didn't fit.

Taxi 1 – the first one that didn’t fit. 

Taxi 2.  The second taxi showed up about 10 minutes later – it was a new minivan with the accessible ramp cut into the back.  The driver looked like he never used the feature before and spent about 10 minutes trying to move the rear seat out of the way and ended up removing both rows of seats to get them out of the way.  He took out the small extension ramp and loosely propped it up against the back of his van so Marianne could drive in.  She got in the van as far as her chair would allow and it did not leave enough room to close the back door of the van.  By this time, she was very tired and frustrated, but she backed out of van ad the dispatcher called another one.  The person on the other end of mentioned that a Toyota Sienna accessible taxi might be the best solution.

Marianne is pretty tired by now

Marianne is pretty tired by now


Taxi 3.  Within a few minutes, an accessible Sienna approached…and then sped by us without stopping.

Taxi 4.  The person on the radio said they found another Sienna, but then I heard a minute later that the ramp on that one was not working.

Taxi 5.  After a long wait, a fifth taxi showed up — and it was exactly like the first one that didn’t fit Marianne’s wheelchair.

Taxi 5 - same problem as Taxi 1

Taxi 5 – same problem as Taxi 1

Taxi 6.  Just as Taxi 5 was leaving, Taxi 6 showed up.  It was a Toyota Sienna and as advertised, Marianne’s chair fit in the back.  The driver was extremely helpful and eager and carefully helped her into the car.  When she got in, I saw that the taxi did not have wheelchair tie-downs or any seatbelt for the wheelchair passenger (I would never drive her in my personal van without the 250 lb. chair safely secured).  We decided to press on without the safety features since it was so late.

We arrived at home around 2am safe and sound and I was reminded yet again how difficult it is for people in wheelchairs to accomplish the basic things that all the rest of us take for granted – even if they are promised as a basic right.