a man is being carried up stairs in a fireman hold while he waves to another friend behind him carrying his wheelchair up the steps

Trying to Experience an Inaccessible World

I have so many stories to tell regarding this topic. I have talked about how lucky I consider myself in previous articles.

I was relatively self-dependent up until my early 30’s. As I lost some strength, I had a great group of friends who would help me so that I could participate with them.

Two Philadelphia games in the same weekend

I wanted to talk about an incident that I found humor in. I have always been a big sports fan. I live outside of Philadelphia and I have always rooted for the Phillies, Eagles, Sixers, and Flyers. For you non-sports fans, those are the team names for Philadelphia’s four major sports teams.

I have attended many sporting events in Philadelphia. My friends would occasionally travel to other cities to watch our local teams. They always invited me but I usually declined. In December 2005 the Flyers and Eagles' schedules aligned where both teams were playing in St. Louis the same weekend.

A trip with close friends

The Flyers played Saturday night and the Eagles played Sunday afternoon. It was only 5 of us going and 2 of them were my closest friends. This obviously made me more comfortable.

I was still pretty strong and the only thing I needed help with was getting up from a chair. I brought my manual wheelchair to get around. I was still walking back then but only short distances.

Hotel and venue accessibility

We flew out early Saturday morning from Philadelphia to St. Louis. We stayed right in the downtown area. Our hotel was only a few blocks from both venues.

The hotel, sporting venues, and the bars and restaurants we went to were all accessible for me. No issues in that area. We also saw our Flyers and Eagles win their respective games.

Visiting the St. Louis Arch

The only touristy thing we wanted to experience was the St. Louis Arch. I never knew that one could go inside the Arch and that there was a viewing area at the top. Unfortunately, I didn’t really research the accessibility of the arch.

We checked out of our hotel Monday morning and left our luggage at the front desk. We proceed to hop in a cab and have him take us to the Arch. This was the weekend before Christmas and it was freezing in St. Louis.

The cab dropped us off in between the Arch and the Mississippi River. The wind whipping off the river made it feel about 0 degrees. We were standing in front of at least 50 steps. Obviously, I can’t climb steps.

Unable to climb the steps

Without even discussing it, my friend Steve bends down in front of me and throws me over his shoulder like a firefighter would carry someone. Up the stairs we go as my other friend Frank carries my wheelchair.

Once at the top I sit in the wheelchair and my friends push me inside the arch. Another friend purchases the tickets for the tram ride to the top.

We are directed to the tram car when someone stops us and lets us know there are 2 flights of steps to get down to the loading area for the tram. We are all laughing at this situation but wait, it gets better.

Sitting on the floor of a small tram car

After I’m carried down the 2 flights of stairs, the inaccessibility gets even worse. The tram cars are small. You need to be able to step up into it and you need to duck at the same time. Two of my friends jumped in. Another friend sits me down on the floor.

My two buddies who are already in the tram car pull me back on the floor as far as they can. My other 2 buddies step in, my legs are still hanging out of the tram car. So they each grab a leg and pull them up so that the doors can close.

Here I am sitting on the floor of this tiny car with two guys on each side for the almost 10-minute ride to the top. We still laugh about it to this day. I was grateful for the opportunity and that I have great friends who do what they can to include me.

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