I always thought I was a normal person. It appears I am not. I am a special needs person, since currently I need a special door to reach my office. Before, I worked in this ancient building in the city centre, which in terms of accessibility was a disaster, but at least it had character. One and a half years ago we had to move to a new building. Nobody was happy, except me. I dreamed of being able to get everywhere without being confronted with my illness. Well, I found out that I couldn’t use the main entrance of the new building because it can only be reached via a staircase. Due to my illness climbing stairs to me feels like climbing the Mount Everest probably feels to you. When I found out that this was only temporarily, I was relieved. When later I discovered that temporarily meant ‘two years’, I was not amused.
Luckily there is also another door to enter the building. It was labelled ‘entrance for disabled people’, but everybody could use it. Well, maybe not everybody. People with a disability who have not much strength, like me, couldn’t because the door was too heavy. In the summer the door was always open but in the winter the porter complained about draught, so the door was shut.
Together with a colleague I filed a complaint because of the inaccessibility of this new building. An automatic door opener was installed. Each time when I arrived in stress at my work place, the door calmed me down, because it took so long to open. But I won’t complain. At least I was able to get inside by myself.
Then all of a sudden there was a sign at the door saying that from now on it was only to be used by ‘invalids’. I later heard that it had something to do with complaining neighbours.
Each time I wanted to get in or out via that door the porter said:
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It didn’t surprise me. After all I don’t look disabled. I just look pretty normal and often only physiotherapists notice that I walk a bit strangely. After discussing the invisibility of certain medical conditions, the porter usually let me pass. Sometimes he also removed the barrier tape, which blocked the way.
However, when I wanted to leave the building together with a colleague, just to feel a bit normal and not so special, I was allowed through, but my colleague had to use the other door. The management didn’t allow for non-disabled people to use that door. Fortunately a few weeks later they eased their policy.
Some months later the door got a fancy scanning system. If there was a porter saying I could not pass, I just said ‘wait and see’ and held my card in front of the reader and the door magically opened.
Now there is no more porter. The barrier tape is gone too. Still I feel special, and not in a good sense. I guess it has something to do with the fact that I still wish I were able to use the same entrance as my colleagues and that while I have conquered one door there are still many heavy doors, strange attitudes and paternalistic forms of behaviour left in and outside that building.
Auteur: Silke Hoppe