For individuals with hypermobility disabilities, an unexpected crowd is dangerous - Metropolitan Planning Council

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For individuals with hypermobility disabilities, an unexpected crowd is dangerous

Fifteen years ago, Vicky Schmitz developed a hypermobility disability; these kinds of things occur all the time and "it happens suddenly" she explains. Accurate information about delayed trains, broken escalators, and all the little things can make or break her commute.

Image courtesy Lynn Renee Photography

Vicky Schmitz is a disability advocate and serves on Metra’s ADA Advisory Committee.

This profile is part of a series that highlights MPC's work with policy experts, service providers, advocates, and paratransit users to create a vision for a better transportation system. Each of these stories is featured in "Toward Universal Mobility"—a groundbreaking report that includes 32 policy recommendations designed to unlock opportunities for older adults and people with disabilities.

“People who are very healthy one day can become temporarily disabled — because of a surgery or an injury — and they don’t know what to do. An everyday commute becomes a challenge.” Vicky Schmitz said. “It happens suddenly. You go in for a procedure, and your doctor tells you you’re not supposed to bear weight for six weeks… or they put you in a scooter. How do you manage your commute?”

It happened to Vicky fifteen years ago. One day after walking in high heels, she noticed a bump on her foot. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but it was a dislocated metatarsal. Some time after that, a doctor told her something she had not known before.

Vicky has a hypermobility disability, a rarely diagnosed genetic disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. There is no cure or treatment and her mobility will worsen over time.

The BNSF train Vicky took to her job for 35 years quickly became more difficult to board. She didn’t used to notice the number of stairs on her route, the closest handrail, unexpected stones on the sidewalk.

“I used to walk six blocks from my house to the Burlington Metra station in Brookfield and a mile from Union Station to my job,” Vicky said. “Now I make sure I can park next to the ramp instead of taking four stairs.”

Vicky has since become an advocate and serves on Metra’s ADA Advisory Committee. She calls herself a “broken record” talking about the importance of accurate information about delayed trains, broken escalators, and all the little things that can make or break her commute. She once entered Union Station to find a stalled escalator and a crowd of hundreds of people. She enlisted the help of Metra police to navigate through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. Had Vicky known, she could have just entered from street level at a different entrance, and not risked being knocked over and overwhelmed. When a person’s balance feels off, and their body feels weak, an unexpected crowd is dangerous.

That all could have been prevented with better information that helps the elderly, people with disabilities, pregnant women, the sick or injured, and everyone who depends on public transportation.

“If you make commuting convenient and comfortable for people with disabilities, it will help everyone,” Vicky said.

Explore more of the stories in this series.

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