Get out of my way…in memory of Mike

May 7, 2009

Last Saturday, a member of my office family passed away from a battle with cancer.

At the memorial service, the pastor told a story about Mike’s Baptism.  As a Baptist, they do full immersion.  The pastor had not considered the fact that Mike, a wheelchair user,  might not be able to climb the 6 steps up to the Baptistry.

It is worth mentioning that areas of religious ritual are exempt and are not required to be accessible.

The story continued:

Pausing in the middle of the service, the Pastor began to panic.

He whispered to Mike, “We could get some help to carry you up.”

Mike replied, “That’s ok, I can manage.”

“Do you want to lean on me?” continued the pastor, trying to be helpful.

Mike was much more able than our bias would let us believe.  He said, “Just get out of my way.”

This is how I will remember Mike.

He cold-called me one day to inquire about work.  We talked for awhile about being a Registered Accessibility Specialist and the minimum requirements.  Since his background was solely in construction, I was not expecting to hear back from him.  A few weeks later, he called to say that he had gotten the State to pay for his attendance at the Texas Accessibility Academy.  In the end, I did nothing but get out of his way and let him work.

When I was training him to inspect buildings for compliance with the Texas Accessibility Standards, I had to remind him that he was not inspecting for himself.  A narrow door or 6″ curb were no barriers to him, a steeper ramp was just a minor annoyance.  The Standards are written for the sake of those who are nowhere near as strong as Mike (or stubborn, he apparently mowed the grass with a push mower strapped to the back of his chair).

Listen, Architects.  When it comes to designing buildings, just get out of the way. That’s all.  Don’t design barriers into your buildings.  There are plenty of people, like Mike, that are not looking for special accommodation.  They just want you to get out of the way so they can work, play, eat, worship, gather….


I will miss you.  You are a real inspiration to me.  And I think you gave me way too much credit.

Peace be with you, until we meet again.