May 1, 2007

Universal Design... not!

Its 2007, and there is still disablism, in case anyone was confused on that point. ;) This is my entry for the second annual Blogging Against Disablism Day. The first one was my main vehicle into disability blogging, so I'm very happy to get to take part in it this year. I will apologize in advance, its not as grammatical or smooth as I might like. This is a topic I'm pretty upset about, and it shows.

As it says in my little bio blurb up there, I am among other things the third parent to a darling little girl who just turned six months last week. When she was first born, I was very worried about my ability to take care of her, but as I got a chance to try it out, my worries turned to a different tune. I was perfectly able to take care of an infant, what I was unable to do in many cases was make any use of any of the care devices. There is a notable dearth of child care equipment with room under it for my feet to go, or an arms level access.

So here we are, six months later. I can't use any of the highchairs we've seen, so I feed the baby on my lap with a towel to protect my clothes. I affectionately call her bouncer chair the "demon chair", as its terribly low to the ground and I hate being off balance when I put her in it. It makes me feel like I'm going to drop her. The changing table is an exercise in back pain, and the walker barely passes muster. And mind you, we knew in advance that I'd be taking care of her, and many of these things were bought with that in mind!

Cribs and playpens get a special mention. In the early days, we used a bassinet when I had the baby, and all was well. It had room underneath it for my feet, it had casters on the bottom, it worked great. But bassinets are a phase, and soon she was too heavy and mobile for her bassinet. The crib came out. Cribs, by their general construction, are useless for me. If the side is up, I can't reach over it. If its down, it blocks me from getting close enough to reach into the crib. Playpens have similar problems, even if I pull up along side, I can't get two arms into them. We're adaptable people, we looked at our other options. For a long time, she spent her days surrounded by many pillows on my bed. She loved it, it was easy for me to use, and we put off worrying about it. But this phase has also just come to an end. She is now capable of pushing herself over obstacles and off the bed about as fast as I can disengage my wheel locks.

There are some internet sites dedicated to disabled parenting, but mostly they show you how to build or adapt existing equipment, there's nothing you can just purchase and use.

On an interesting point, I have not actually had any problems with my hearing impairment in this way. The only sound based device, our baby montior, has a little light display to tell you what volume the baby is at.

I'm frustrated. I'm not a fanatic, not every piece of baby gear needs to be usable by 100% of the population to satisfy me. (Though of course, I'd be a huge fan.) I, for instance, will not appreciate a stroller who's catches are labeled in Braille. There should be one to buy, though, for those who do. And there should be strollers that hook into manual wheelchairs for propelling, and a high chair or two that has room under it for a wheelchair. There should be equipment that has bigger, easier catches for use by people with limited hand motion or strength. They sell utensils, desks, and even shoe aids for PWDs, but not child care gear??

Though society would like to think so, we are not sexless, infertile, spinsters who weave baskets all day. We are mothers and fathers, godparents and babysitters. We need adapted gear to take care of kids with just as much as we need aids for other daily living activities.


Anonymous said...

But you're the best Godmother evOR! :) Baby and I love you!

Penny L. Richards said...

Brava! Couldn't agree more. I love the idea of accessible changing tables and high chairs. There must be a market for this stuff--beyond parents, think of all the grandparents caring for grandchildren, full- or part-time. Nobody likes to kludge together solutions where a baby is concerned. Somebody should be making and selling safe and creative alternatives.

Anonymous said...

Makes a lot of sense to me.

Penelope said...

So true. I'm 22 and want to have kids someday. I've already started looking around to figure out how the heck I'm going to find equipment that works for me. So far the answer is that I won't.

Kay Olson said...

And think of all the grandparents out there who could help with daycare if only they had equipment that accommodated aging backs, failing sight, etc.

Philip. said...

What a thoughtful, interesting, well written post.

I'll be back to read more :-)


Wheelchair Dancer said...

OMG! I hadn't thought about that... No one plans for disabled parenting...



Disgruntled Ladye said...

This is something that worries me quite a bit (for when/if I get around to having children). I have limited hand strength and dexterity, and when I babysit my niece and nephew, my god, the baby/kid devices are like torture! Strapping a kid into a car seat when your fingers won't bend is an exercise in futility.

Why there aren't any companies that manufacture this stuff is beyond me. There's obviously a market.

Anonymous said...

I know there are cribs out there that are adapted for wheelchair users. They are sold on different websites. (I can't think of any of them right off the top of my head), but if you do a search you can find them.