Thursday, April 24, 2008

Little People, Big Problems

Well, I was up forever last night because my legs were killing me, probably because I dared to wear shoes other than my sneakers and actually go out and have a life yesterday! But it was all good, because while I was trying to take my mind off the pain, I happened to turn the TV on right in the middle of a marathon of one of my absolute favorite shows, Little People, Big World.

For those of you who don't know the show, it follows the lives of the Roloff family, who live on a farm in Oregon. Matt Roloff, and his wife Amy, are little people-meaning that they have dwarfism. They have four kids. Jeremy, Molly, and Jacob are all average height, while Zach, Jeremy's twin, is a little person. The show does not focus primarily on the challenges that little people face, but it is a theme in a lot of the episodes.

Anyway, one of last night's episodes focused on Matt, Amy, and two of their friends-who ar also little people-testing the kit made by Matt's company Direct Access Solutions. This kit is a Little People Accessibility Kit. It is meant to be used in hotels and includes pretty much everything a little person might need in a hotel room, including a specially designed step stool and a reacher to get things such as the remote that might be in a place too high for a little person. I thought this kit was an ingenious idea, and I'm wondering why I haven't seen a kit like this in any of the hotels I've stayed in. Maybe you have to ask for it? Then that opened up a whole flow of musings for me about whether it should just BE there, instead of you having to ask for it. I feel like the right thing is to just have it for any little people who may stay in that hotel room, instead of having to ask for it. Because I feel like asking for it is like acting like having a little person staying in that hotel is a special case, something that's out of the ordinary. Which kind of gives the impression that little people (and this goes for all disabled people, not just little people) don't travel and do stuff like "normal" people do. Which is stereotypical. Which is one of the things that annoys me.

And then later in the episode, Matt came out to find a parking ticket stuck to the windshield of his car. Unfortunately it was in the spot where most "normal" people would be able to reach it and pull it out, but for Matt it was impossible. He tried every which way of getting it, it was getting kind of comical, actually. But it really made me think about the little-no pun intended-things that little people may have difficulty with.

Here's another example: In another episode, Matt was explaining how it's difficult for him to get up stairs because he is a diastrophic (have no idea if I spelled that right) dwarf. Diastrophic dwarfs typically have more problems with their joints and bones than other types of dwarves, which is why Matt usually walks with underarm crutches or uses a scooter. Zach and Amy are acondroplasic (I really don't know if I spelled that right) dwarves, which means they will not have as many issues with their joints and bones and will have an easier time walking, climbing stairs, etc. It really opened my eyes and made me realize that, just as I'm forever telling people that CP does not just affect my legs, dwarfism does not just affect your stature.

Anyway, I've been procrastinating long enough. Time to get back to homework. Adios!


Andrea S. said...

There is already a "deaf accessibility kit" that is supposed to include things such as a TTY (to talk on the phone), a door light (so we can know when someone is knocking at the door), fire alarm strobe light, etc. (These days, that TTY should probably actually be upgraded to a video phone, or at least a video phone should be available as an option.)

Major chain hotels have them. Smaller and medium size hotels usually do not. If they're in a big city they might be able to turn to some chain hotel and ask to borrow a kit. Hotels in smaller towns may not be able to do this. (I ran into this trouble three years ago in Trinidad, Colorado: only one hotel in town had the kit and refused to lend it to anyone else. Which was a major problem because that one hotel was very inconveniently located from everything for people like my partner and me who do not drive.)

But, yeah, you do have to specifically ask for the kit. If you're going to a hotel that's small enough that they're not likely to already own the kit then you have to be espeically sure to alert them to your need when you reserve the room so they can figure out a way to get the kit. With major hotels, it's still best to alert them so they can hopefully set up everything before you arrive, but on a few occasions when they haven't done this (or when someone else made the reservations and didn't think to put in the request) they were able to install at the last minute.

For some types accommodations (such as TTYs which cost $100-plus even for the most basic model but would be pretty much pointless for anyone who can hear/speak on the phone without that kind of assistance) I'm not sure how much sense it makes to have it in every single hotel room. But it sounds like what you're really advocating for is the wider use of "universal design" (e.g., -- i.e., for all hotel rooms (and offices and homes) to be designed so that they are already accessible for a wide range of people, including people who happen to have disabilities.

Found your blog via Ouch; will read your "Whisper in my ear" post next.