I hope I don't offend or upset anyone by writing this post; I am simply sharing my observations.
Here in Germany there are individuals with disabilities, just like there are all over the world. What I have noticed, however, is that there are fewer people in wheelchairs and "hover rounds" then in the States. Is this because there are fewer individuals with disabilities, or is it because living in a wheelchair is not as convenient here? There are ramps, but not in every building. When you do find a ramp it is often very - VERY steep. There are not elevators in every building and most of the buildings have multiple floors and a step or two to access them.
There are two men and one woman that I see on a weekly basis, I'd like to tell you about them.
One man I see every day looks like he has suffered from a severe stroke. The entire left side of his body hardly works and yet every day I see him walking. He and I must be on the same walking schedule, or maybe he's out all day - I'm not sure. When you see him you can tell it is extremely difficult for him to walk yet he does not use a cane, walker, or wheelchair. His good hand is curled with arthritis and his back is curled with age and yet he still walks. I'm not sure if it's for exercise or if he's walking so he doesn't lose the little mobility he still has.
The second man I see about once a week. He only has one leg and is very thin, but I wouldn't call him frail. He uses a walker, one of those fancy one's with the seat built in. To get around he stands on his leg and uses his walker for balance. He pushes his walker across the cobblestones and walkways to the grocery store, does his shopping, and then walks back home with his bag slung over his back. When he gets tired or if it's raining he'll sit on his walker under the cover at the bus stop or the awning at the grocery store.
The woman I see about once a week as well. She's in a wheelchair. I've only ever seen her with her husband. When I first saw her, she and her husband were leaving the building I was in. She had to go up a flight of stairs to get to the main entry and then go down a couple of steps to get out of the building. Her husband had taken her out of her wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs and he carried the wheelchair up. She didn't wait for him to come back down to help her get up the stairs; she did it on her own. Holding onto the stair rail she would pull herself up a bit then with her outside hand she would lift up one leg then the other. She did this all the way up the stairs. Her husband helped her to get back into the chair and then helped her get down the couple of stairs at the front of the building.
Leipzig and most of the other European cities we've visited haven't been handicap accessible. But because of this inaccessibility people adapt and I think they are stronger for it. It isn't convenient for people to be in wheelchairs and scooters so they find other ways of getting around. The population as a whole tends to be more aware and willing to help. When people see someone who does have a disability (or even just a woman with a Kinderwagen) they help without being asked. Because the infrastructure isn't in place to accommodate these individuals the society does.
My question for you is this.
Are we doing our Americans with disabilities a disservice by making their lives more convenient?