My Trip To The Zoo: An Accessibility Learning Experience

If you read my article “The River Denial” (all about the difficulty of asking for and accepting accommodations) you read that I was planning on taking my wheelchair to the zoo and making my first public appearance as a disabled person to cap off my Summer of Accessibility!

Yeah...didn’t happen. At least not as planned.

It wasn't really my fault. I didn’t “chicken out,” if that’s what you were thinking. I really did try, but like for many of us, things happen.

Here’s what happened…

Accessibility on the go?

I was in trouble before we even left. The night before, my wife, two nieces, and I had our animal adventure, it became apparent to me that neither of our vehicles could fit my chair, a stroller, and two children.

I tried every angle and packing orientation, but it was not meant to be. I thought about how this works for everyone else. Do they have to buy vans or larger vehicles if they want to transport a chair, stroller, and children? That must be very expensive and frustrating.

(I’ll point out here that much of what I'm going to write might be second nature to several of you, but it’s new to me, so feel free to share your own stories in the comments section)

Accessibility for hire

So, early on it was clear my wheelchair wasn't coming with us. I was bummed but accepting. For $10 I could rent a manual wheelchair or for $30 a motorized scooter.

Not commenting on how totally unfair it is that a public location wants to charge disabled people to see the animals. It is, but that is for another time.

I read online that if I want a motorized scooter (aka spend $30) I need to get there early in the day. Although I was very proud of my family for leaving earlier than expected, all motorized scooters were checked out by the time we arrived. I wondered exactly how many scooters they actually had being I only saw 2 the entire time we were there, but maybe everyone was hanging out in the shade.

Someone has to push

So, a motorized scooter was out. (Not that I really wanted to pay $30 anyway) I couldn't bring my chair, but even if I did, who would push?

When I announced to the world that I was going to make this zoo trip my first wheelchair public outing, I failed to remember the biggest obstacle this zoo would provide. Hills and cobblestones! Oy!

It’s very apparent as soon as you enter the front gate, this is not a very easy-to-navigate location. They do a great job making their exhibits accessible, but getting there is quite different. If I had brought my chair or rented one of theirs, somebody would have had to push me.

My clan consisted of a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old, and my wife who was busy pushing the 7-year-old and the 5-year-old in the stroller because it was 85 degrees, and the zoo is big. And, let's be honest, the 5-year-old probably would have wanted to ride in my wheelchair while I pushed. (She’s cute like that.)

No fault to anyone, my self-care needed to take a back seat again. This time to the needs of the youth. These are the sacrifices we need to make, unfortunately.

I survived

Fortunately for me, I survived this experience. My nieces helped because they are not very “zippy” so I didn't have to rush and there was plenty of time for breaks. I was able to use the stroller as a walker, so when things became difficult, I at least had something to lean on.

Things weren't great a few hours after and the next few days, as well. But, it was still a wonderful experience and for the most part, satisfied my expectations of a fun and educational day out.

*Bonus advocacy experience*

When we arrived at the zoo, the parking lot was already full. Even though driving by, we saw plenty of open spots, the parking attendants put out a sign that said they were at full capacity and everyone needed to find street parking. My wife pulled into the turn lane and inquired, “Why is it “full” when there were plenty of spaces?”

The parking attendant, who was clearly already upset from having to be outside on a hot day informed us that a certain number of cars need to leave before they can open it back up. And, again, he tried to hurry us out of the lane to get in the line trying to find parallel parking spaces on the road.

My wife turned to me and asked: “Is it ok if I tell them about your ankylosing spondylitis?” So, nice of her to ask, but when have I ever had a problem with telling people? “Sure, go ahead!”

So, she shared with the parking attendant that her husband has a disability and can not walk all the way back from whatever spot we might find.

“Do you have a handicapped permit?" he asked.

I could have hugged my wife for what she said next.

“Not everyone with a disability has a parking permit!” she said.

They called a supervisor and then escorted us to an approved spot. I made sure to limp a little more than I already was. Ya know, just in case. Do what makes you comfortable, but don’t ever be afraid to educate someone. And along those lines, always be willing to fight for accessibility.

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