Touring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a wheelchair taught me about more than music

One of the things my lovely wife and I have always wanted to do is visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Wouldn't you know it the cards fell into place for us to go this summer, which was great, except for my wife still being on chemotherapy for breast cancer treatment. This added dimension made the trip especially interesting.

The museum is situated right on the shore of Lake Erie, a very beautiful location. The building itself, a glass tower designed by architect I. M. Pei, is not the style I would have chosen for a rock-and-roll museum. To me, something more along the lines of a big, funky barn would have been much more fitting.

Also, I would have added some kind of parking close by. You have to park by the science museum next door, which is fine if you can walk, but not everyone can do that.

When you're on chemotherapy for cancer treatment, you have good days and bad days. That's over-simplifying it greatly, but that's basically what it is.

On the day we visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, my wife would never have been able to do all the walking required, so we brought along a borrowed wheelchair. She's wheeled around other disabled people before, but she'd never needed to be wheeled herself, and I'd never used one in any fashion, so it was all new to both of us.

After paying to park in an enclosed garage, I got the wheelchair set-up (took me a while to figure out how to do it). Then I loaded my wife in and proceeded to try to find my way to the hall of fame.

Finding anything for the first time can be a challenge, but doing it while pushing someone in a wheelchair? Now, that's just taking it to the next level.

For example, when we got out of the parking garage and up onto street level, we could see there were several ways to make it to the hall of fame. However, it was impossible to determine, just by looking, which would be the better way to go while dealing with a wheelchair.

All it takes is one link in the chain to be broken — an escalator, say, or a narrow passage or steep curb — and all of a sudden, you can't make it anymore. This is something you never have to worry about when you're a normal pedestrian, but is hugely important when you're not.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is described as being "handicapped accessible," and, sure enough, when we finally got there, there were ramps and wide doorways where the wheelchair could fit. Still, handicapped accessible does not necessarily mean you won't have any problems if you're dealing with a wheelchair. Three issues especially come to mind:

— 1. The museum itself has seven levels. There are escalators, stairs, and elevators. We, of course, needed to use the elevators because we were dealing with a wheelchair. The problem is that not all the elevators go to every floor.

So we found ourselves crossing the rather large expanse of the museum many times, back and forth, in attempting to switch to the widely separated elevator banks so we could see the various exhibits. I eat my spinach so I'm strong enough to do this, but for others who might not be, all the extra walking and pushing could be quite taxing I'm sure;

— 2. There was a long circular display featuring the early legends of rock and roll. Included were many sets of headphones and tablet computers. The idea is you first read about the artist, then put on the headphones and make selections on the tablets to listen to samples of their work.

This is all wonderful — if you're not in a wheelchair. The problem is the tablet computers are mounted waist-high for when you are standing. My poor wife had to sit up stiffly in the chair and crane her neck just to be able to see the display.

Clearly, whoever designed this wasn't thinking about users in wheelchairs, who, let’s face it, paid their full admission price just like everyone else so should be able to enjoy all the exhibits fully just like everyone else; and

— 3. The museum has lots of rooms and auditoriums where films highlighting various artists are shown throughout the day. One of these rooms is gotten to via a hallway where the walls feature signatures of many of rock's greatest performers. The hallway is long, curving, and dark, and there is special lighting that really makes the signatures stand out.

Here's the problem: the hallway itself slopes downward at somewhere between a 5- and 10- degree angle. If you're walking, you can easily deal with it; if you're with someone in a wheelchair, it's not so easy. Going down the hallway, you are forced to pull back on the wheelchair so it doesn't take off; going up the hallway (and it's a long hallway, remember) you are now pushing the wheelchair all the way up.

Again, I'm in shape and my wife is not heavy, but if I weren't in shape, or she were heavy, or if she were alone and had to move the chair's wheels with her hands, this would have been quite the ordeal, believe me.

Consider again that this place is advertised as being "handicapped accessible." Truly, after this experience, I would strongly recommend anyone dealing with any kind of walking issues to call first when visiting a new place. That's the only way to make sure you'll be able to handle it.

Quite frankly, I'm shocked that a place described as handicapped accessible was in so many ways problematic for a person in a wheelchair.

Before taking this trip, I had no idea what wheelchair users have to deal with on a daily basis. After this experience, I have much more respect and admiration for both the handicapped themselves and their caregivers in consideration of what they have to deal with.

All it takes is one un-crossable curb or stairway or whatever to just ruin their day. Long ramps and wide doorways may not be the most architecturally attractive building design features, and I hate walking from the back of the parking lot in the rain when all the handicapped spots are empty as much as anyone else, but we need to support handicapped accessibility in every way that we can — it's the only way to make sure all of us can safely get where we need to go.

Think about this, too — you or I are only one fall, sickness, or accident away from needing to use a wheelchair ourselves.

If you like music, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum is definitely worth the trip. I'm very glad we finally got the chance to go, even though we had to use a wheelchair.

I guess, when you consider some of the bumpy pavement we had to negotiate using the wheelchair, you could say we literally "rocked and rolled" our way through the Rock and Roll museum. How about that.