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The Mall Experience

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Adapting to a disability was proven very difficult through this experiment.  Going out in public such as a mall as this example depicted was a very different experience than what a wheelchair bound person would experience in the comfort of home.  The experience was very helpful in learning how to assist people with disabilities.  The experience presented a number of challenges and feelings that could only be understood by someone who had lived through it.

            The experiment began with the mall entry where it was well equipped with adapted curbs to allow wheelchairs easy access to the mall entrance.  Automatic doors were installed and working at the entrance, and the halls were wide and accessible.  Elevators were provided to access the second floor of the mall, but these were located at only one end of the long hall.  Escalators were located at each end of the mall and there were stairs in two stores.  The shopping trip began when the mall opened in the morning and continued through lunch.  Most of the stores in the mall were wheelchair accessible, but some of them placed shelves and racks very close together, which made it difficult to maneuver through the stores.

            Part of the experiment consisted of trying on clothes.  This proved to be a difficult experience.  The door to the dressing room was wide enough for the wheelchair, but the room itself was not big enough to allow the door to close easily.  Assistance was needed to get the door past the wheelchair and closed.  Changing in the small confined space was even more difficult.  There was not enough room to move around in the room and the hook to hang the clothing on was too high to be reached from the wheelchair.  One small bar was provided to help a person rise out of the seat for changing pants, but the amount of space available continued to make the whole experience very difficult.

            The restrooms in the mall were more handicapped friendly.  The door was not automatic, but could be opened easily and was wide enough for easy access.  Inside the bathroom there was plenty of space and bars available to make the process as easy as possible.  There was a sink, mirror and paper towel dispenser set low for easy access to people in wheelchairs.  Although everything is a little more difficult from a wheelchair, the restroom proved to be the least challenging event to that point.

            Lunch was eaten at the café court in the mall.  It was a large wide open space in which a person in a wheelchair could very easily move around.  Some of the tables were spaced close together, but several of them were set up specifically for people in wheelchairs.  The counters at the individual food stands were rather high for wheelchair access, as it was very difficult to see over the counter.

This made it difficult to see the menu that was posted behind the counter.  Ordering the food and receiving it was a fairly simple process.  The difficulty came about when it was time to carry the tray with the food and the beverage on it to the table located across the room.  The tray was too wide to fit easily between the chair arms, which required a balancing act with the tray on one arm, while using one arm to move the chair.  It was a very difficult task.  Once the food was safely on the table, the eating experience went very well.

            After lunch it was time to leave the mall and return home.  Although there were some challenges for a person in a wheelchair it was a fun and eventful day.  The experience was very important for someone wishing to have a career working with handicapped individuals to develop an understanding of the difficulties they go through every day.  It helped to realize where the complications of the handicap lied and where assistance might be needed.  A person with a disability typically wants to be as independent as possible and the activity helped to identify changes in the mall structure that would make that more possible.

  The exercise helped teach when it is better to allow the handicapped person time and space to be independent and when it becomes necessary for safety and dignity to intervene and provide help.  There were moments during the day in which it seemed very difficult to get around and it was tempting to leave the wheelchair behind and walk the rest of the way.  At those times it was important to remember that a real handicapped person would not be able to do that.  That realization helped to develop a new appreciation for people in wheelchairs.  The experience was absolutely essential for anyone wanting to truly understand the difficulties faced by the people they work with on a daily basis.

            Certain changes would have made it better for a handicapped person to have a better experience in the mall.  One big change that would have made it better would be additional elevators.  One elevator in the entire mall is not enough to effectively accommodate them.  If something would happen to require a quick evacuation from the mall, there would not have been enough elevators to provide access to all disabled people.  Even when there are no emergencies, having only one elevator for the entire mall proves as an inconvenience for the numerous disabled people who visit the mall daily.  A second large needed change is the dressing room situation.

This was just tested in one store in the mall, but was a serious problem in making wheelchair customers dependent on the assistance of others.  The bathroom was designed well designed and maneuverable for disabled people.  The only possible change would be to add automatic doors, but the current door was not difficult to open and manage.  The layout of the café court was very effective and wheelchair friendly, but the trays used for serving food needed to be small enough for a wheelchair bound person to be able to set the tray on their lap in order to allow them both arms free to move the wheelchair.

            Over all it was a fun learning experience.  It was a valuable tool to help a person become more aware of the daily struggles of disabled people.  Until a person experiences it themselves it is hard to realize how many simple tasks, such as carrying a food tray or putting on pants, become much more difficult when the use of legs is taken away.  The day allowed people, who have the use of all faculties to gain a new appreciation of those with limited abilities.  It was a valuable learning tool and a pleasant experience, with the few exceptions in which it proved difficult to be disabled.

The experiment would be beneficial to learn coping with other disabilities such as vision impairment and hearing loss, because these groups have a whole different set of obstacles that others take for granted.  The only negative side of the experiment was that if people with real disabilities found out the person did not really require a wheelchair they might feel offended by thinking the person doing the experiment was making fun of them.  This could be corrected by explaining that it was a training experiment designed to gain a better understanding of the problems faced by the disabled population.  It would in fact be a very valuable experiment for people who design malls and other public buildings as well as those who build and provide funding for them.

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