The saying goes that to understand another person’s situation one has to walk a mile in their shoes. You also can roll a few hours in their wheelchair.

That’s what Columbus civic leaders did Oct. 27 by participating in the inaugural A Day in a Wheelchair event. Twenty-five individuals spent three to four hours in a wheelchair that morning to better understand what life is like for people who are physically challenged. An estimated 17 percent of Bartholomew County residents (about 13,500) have some form of disability.

The event was sponsored by Columbus Regional Hospital, the Columbus Human Rights Commission and Access-Ability, and championed by city councilwoman Laurie Booher, whose son Collin uses a wheelchair. The purpose was to help decision-makers charged with Americans With Disabilities Act compliance gain a new perspective that could lead to new accessibility options for those who are physically or mentally challenged.

Mission accomplished.

Participants shared multiple problems they encountered, which made them realize that those who use wheelchairs face regular challenges to which most people are oblivious. For example:

  • The slant of downtown city sidewalks steers wheelchair users toward the street, requiring extra work to move in a straight direction.
  • The city’s brick pavers on downtown streets make maneuvering in a wheelchair more difficult than on a smooth surface.
  • Wheeling up ramps requires more effort than people think.
  • Loose leaves hamper a wheelchair’s traction.
  • Restrooms and elevators can be challenging to get in and out of.

“As much as we try, our environment is just not set up for wheelchairs,” Mayor Jim Lienhoop said after participating in the event.

A Day in a Wheelchair is a great idea and an event that more people should experience in.

Columbus strives to be a welcoming community, and that must extend to residents and visitors who have disabilities. Efforts to fully understand the challenges faced by those with physical and mental disabilities, such as A Day in a Wheelchair, can aid in making better decisions with regard to the ADA compliance of city buildings and infrastructure.

That’s the right thing to do.

Those who organized A Day in a Wheelchair are to be commended for the valuable learning experience, and participants deserve kudos for stepping out of their comfort zone and seeing life in a different way.

The Columbus community will benefit from this.