So we plan the trip of a lifetime, to take our children to Guatemala, the country their grandmother comes from. It’s two years of planning and saving to make it happen. Off we go to Central America ready to see all the sites we can get to. When we arrive, I notice something I began to take for granted in the States: no wheelchair ramps. Not to mention the boat docks have boards missing, making them unusable for wheelchairs. Paths to ruins are inaccessible unless on foot or in a four-wheel drive. Even the hotels’ sidewalks are just plan impassable for a chair.
Stairs, stairs and more stairs. Not stairs as in perfectly built to some standard code, but stairs constructed by the Mayans, who apparently had very short feet and the stepping ability of giants. Stairways are built on the sides of 2,000-year-old temples that would have a condemned sign on them back in the U.S.
Has anybody down here ever heard of a handrail or a ramp? How about decent access to a bathroom? Yeah right! Of course we didn’t want to stay at the “El Presidente” hotel; we wanted to see the real country.
With such inaccessability, aren’t there complaints from the disabled? But then I had to ask myself, “Where are the disabled?” I hadn’t seen many but was expecting greater numbers due to the poor quality and access to healthcare. The few I do see are reduced to beggars in small tourist towns, hounding you until you give them money or until they are told to go away by someone who works at the establishment you are in. What opportunities do the disabled have when the rest of the country has minimal prospects?
It makes me think of our own country and all the things we have. My child takes regular classes in school and has access to all the things he needs. (He doesn’t have all that we want for him, but thankfully he does have all that he needs.) He has the opportunities and doctors to offer him the best of life compared to anywhere else in the world. If we go to see national monuments or historic sites, we can always count on accommodations for the disabled. He can enjoy every ride at Disneyland and see the mud pits in Yellowstone till I am sulfured out.
The fact is, I see more disabled people out in public and at all the vacation spots in the U.S. because, frankly, they can! Our country has made modifications for the disabled because we have the luxury of being able to so. As the most affluent country in the world, we have mandated access to businesses and attractions for the disabled because we should.
As the parent of a child with disabilities, I am thankful for this profound demonstration of our country’s compassion. It tells me that we care as a nation for all of our citizens. The nation’s founding principle that all men are created equal means we are willing to make some small changes to make that true for a few more. It’s not perfect, but in this month of our independence celebration, as I sit in a foreign country, I can say with all joy that I am proud to be an American.