Landing : Athabascau University

60 Minute ACCESS Challenge: Wheelchair for half the day

I finally took Carrie Anton up on her invitation to take the 60 Minute ACCESS Challenge. Based on the number of emails I sent to Carrie I must be a little challenged in some way.. very grateful for the patience and glad I finally tried this out!

For the record, at Home Campus here in Athabasca we have a couple of wheelchairs available at the main building and a single wheelchair at ARC. I am unaware of what we have at POC/TBC. I made arrangements with Facilities for use of the wheelchair at ARC. It took moments to set this up and I thank the Facilities crew for their assistance. Top notch as always!

It hit me right away prior to receiving confirmation that we keep a wheelchair at ARC.. "How do I get back to ARC from the main building in a wheelchair?" I really wanted to dive into this challenge, so it was all systems go from picking up the wheelchair. Lucky for me I was not tested on that particular hurdle (also for the record: Duane Terrien offered a ride back to ARC.. I hadn't even started the challenge yet, and colleagues were looking out for me).

Sixty minutes is not a sufficient period for this challenge, by rights I should have stuck it out the whole day. I knew I had errands to run downtown over lunch, so the challenge effectively lasted from 9:00 to 1:00. For the most part, I sit at a work station all day. I get up with some frequency to retrieve printed matter, grab food or someone else's food (we take our fridge-raiding seriously here at Biz), take in a meeting, etc. But boy there's a lot of sitting. I found navigating the wheelchair around ARC to be quite reasonable. The aisles were accommodating with minimal steering corrections. I think I'd need a month to really get the hang of basic mobility in a wheelchair, but the model I occupied for 4 hours was quite easy to use, instantly, and to basically good effect. In short, it was my first time in a wheelchair and I did not bump into things constantly or hardly at all, in fact. Some of our swinging doors were a bit tricky to be sure, and Janice Robocon closing the sliding door in my face ("jokes") really added to my experience. I will remember to repay Janice for that moment of levity.

To back up, I want to point out the reactions from colleagues. There was genuine concern from a few parties (I am thinking of you, CDE...) when I emerged from the elevator in the wheelchair. It's pretty neat to realize we do care about one another, and it's easy to forget with the daily grind. There were frequent offers of assistance.. to be honest, I fear most of these offers were sarcastic jibes from FB colleagues, they enjoyed the whole situation--and I will forever appreciate your kind concern. There are many reasons to take the ACCESS challenge, but I can guarantee you it brings energy into your work area. It is interesting, people want to know about it, it makes us all think.

So I am getting around without too much grief, I mostly sit at my work station anyhow, no big deal. The first big deal came when I found myself in need of the facilities, as they say. For the record, Dwayne Morrill is a great guy and I would endure the stings of 10,000 scorpions to hear his musical laughter. But in the interest of going that extra mile, he sort of let me down. No, he would not assist me with my bathroom break. So yeah, I cheated there. Then there was the kitchen. You cannot reach much in the kitchen from the seat of a wheelchair. You can pull up sideways to the sink and get the use of that, you can have your way with the fridge, but forget about the Double Chocolate Brownies Amanda Demko thinks she's hiding from me up on the fridge. So I went without my brownie for the day.

Something else I realized is that you use your lap as a catch-all in transit. You can't hang on to stuff, you're too busy with propulsion. Thank you to a colleague *we will leave nameless* for pointing out the questionable representation of a carrot in the lap. Attention HR Disciplinary Review Committee: It was all a misunderstanding.

By hour two I will tell you something, my backside was not enjoying the seat of the wheelchair. The final 2 hours were a bit of a constant squirm. Someone helpfully pointed out I could adjust the foot rest attachments and bring my knees from my chin down to an approachably natural level. Funny how I missed that. Lorna Dennis related a period she'd spent in a wheelchair, and the way it brought her to eye-level for all the stuff at toy stores you'd ordinarily have to bend down to see, if not completely overlook. Sure it's a cliche to talk about 'changing your perspective' and all, but it is amazing at how literally true this is almost instantly.

I recommend this challenge to any and all of you. It's worth doing, you will learn things. Thank you to Carrie Anton for another great campaign and to all my long-suffering colleagues here at FB.


  • What a day hey Mike?

    Thanks for taking me up on the ACCESS Challenge. There are so many things that we do take for granted. I know people at AU are caring and helpful. Thanks for reminding us.

    The next step is incorporating what we've learned about barriers to access, keeping it top of mind when we plan spaces, acquisitions, IT, logistics for meetings, and the general state of someone’s when in pain. Many people that I know, who use a wheelchair are very cheery. But their reality often has medical problems arising by nature of sitting for long periods of time.

    Thanks for taking part. Your experience has some great learnings for everyone.


    Carrie Anton November 26, 2014 - 4:41pm

  • I also did this challenge for a couple of hours.  I found that small spaces were quite difficult and had to push things out of my way a couple of times.  Ramps onto things were fine, but only when I could hit them head on.  If was getting onto them at an angle I sometimes couldn't make it and had to try again.

    Colin Elliott November 28, 2014 - 10:49am

  • Excellent! What a bunch of champions you guys are!

    Colin also did vision simulations.Comment here:


    Carrie Anton November 29, 2014 - 6:17am

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