woman's reflection on elevator looking at sign showing person walking up stairs

How a Sign on an Elevator Makes Me Feel Sad About My Asthma

I work on the third floor of my office building. Thanks to my asthma, taking the two flights of stairs up to my office always leaves me short of breath, so instead, I walk past the stairs to the other side of the building to use the elevator.

The signs on the elevators make me feel guilty

There are signs posted on the elevators that encourage you to take the stairs instead. The signs feature colorful, clipart legs easily skipping up the stairs. The signs say, it’s good for the planet and your health! Sure, I get that. But every morning when I hit the call button and wait for the elevator door to open, I look at that sign and feel sad. It reminds me that my asthma often limits my physical activity. It makes me feel guilty. I impatiently wait for the elevator to come before any of my coworkers see me. If they do see me, my paranoia kicks in and I am sure they are all thinking “Lorene is so lazy, she always takes the elevator.”

Sometimes I run into a coworker in the parking lot. They always want to take the stairs, and I will have to make an excuse as to why I want to take the elevator. My go-to excuse is “my hands are full (I’m usually carrying a laptop, my purse, my lunch) and I don’t want to trip on the stairs because whoopsie – I’m so clumsy!” OK, I am clumsy, but that’s beside the point. I’d rather people think I avoid stairs because I’m clumsy, and not that my asthma sometimes limits my physical ability.

Despite my avoidance of the stairs, I do get a lot of activity in during my workday. I take walking meetings or walk laps around campus. I attend Zumba and yoga classes offered through our workplace wellness program. I even have a standing desk. I just can’t seem to climb those two flights of stairs without having trouble breathing. One flight is doable, it’s the second flight that pushes me over the edge.

Once in a while I fold under peer pressure and take the stairs

A few days ago approximately 40 coworkers and I attended a meeting in our auditorium, a short walk across my employer’s campus. Walking down the two flights of stairs and to the other building was easy.

When the meeting was over, we walked back to our building as a group, talking and laughing with each other. We walked into the building and everyone moved in a straight line right to the stairs and started climbing. I was in the middle of a conversation with a coworker, who also started walking up the stairs. I felt the panic set in. I either needed to excuse myself from the group to take the elevator or attempt to climb the two flights of stairs knowing I would be out of breath when I reached the top. Either option would cause embarrassment on my part. I felt the peer pressure and chose the stairs.

I made it to the third floor, and all I wanted to do was calmly walk to my desk to catch my breath in private. I had my rescue inhaler if needed. However, my coworker wanted to finish our conversation in the hallway. Trying to talk when you are out of breath is not easy. I was trying so hard to act and look like everything was just fine while I was struggling to catch my breath. I finally excused myself, sat down at my desk and started to breathe easier. No inhaler needed thank goodness.

About that sign on the elevator - is it motivating or ableist?

We all have different levels of physical ability. Some physical limitations are more obvious than others. Sure, putting a sign on an elevator may motivate employees to take the stairs and incorporate a little more physical activity into their day. The flip side is the sign is kind of ableist. It makes me (and I’m sure others) feel guilty every time I use the elevator like I’m cheating or just don’t care about the planet enough to take the stairs. This simply isn’t true. Recently, a young mother with a yet-to-be-reported previous health condition fell down the stairs to her death in the NYC subway, because there was no escalator. This was tragic.

I believe that we should stop assuming that everyone is able-bodied, and instead make every space welcoming to all.

Have you had similar situations with taking the stairs? Let us know in the comments!

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