Elevator Shaming

We’ve probably all seen those campaigns to get people to lay off the elevators and take the stairs more. There’s good reasons of course, it’s exercise after all, saves electricity, etc. I know when I worked at a hospital a few years back there were signs at every elevator telling people to take the stairs. However this blogger spins it differently. At first I kind of thought she was being a little oversensitive, but after reading her post, I’m really pretty behind  her.

Lesley states that on the surface there’s nothing wrong with putting on signs and starting initiatives to take the stairs. But go a little deeper and it makes more sense with my project here.

“Unfortunately though, these efforts don’t happen in a vacuum — they happen in context with a lot of other, less positive messages. They happen in the same culture that condemns any perceived laziness and less-than-perfect physical condition as moral failures. And that’s where things get a little more complicated…Culturally, it places a heavy value on the ability to climb stairs in the first place, and marks this as both “normal” and the perferred state of things. It reinforces the idea that disabled bodies (or bodies that just aren’t in good enough shape to run up a few floors) are somehow broken, mismanaged or defective, and together with the plethora of other ableist crap we live with every day, this has a powerful and cumulative impact on their quality of life. In a world that sees good physical condition as a signifier of morality and good character, this is a problem.”

Lesley also goes on to talk about some buildings that go beyond signs and actually built their elevators in hidden areas and stairs in plain sight to encourage their use. Another building created elevators that open every three floors to annoy the rider into taking the stairs. The point of contention arises when you think about how disabled people have been fighting for accessibility rights for ages and here people are thinking their innovativeness will fight obesity and not how it will affect those in need on the accommodations.

The blog article also discusses how this affects the disabled who aren’t in wheelchairs…”If we’re encouraged to think of the stairs as the morally superior choice for those not using wheelchairs, where does that leave the folks who don’t use wheelchairs but for whom climbing stairs is just as impossible?”  The writer talks about trying to take the stairs with colleagues due to a sign like this and ending up having an asthma attack.  She says this happens to people because “the elevator becomes ‘bad’ because it’s associated with disability and laziness; the stairs become ‘good’ because they’re associated with able-bodiedness and some universal standard of ‘good health.’”

Lesley believes this is a cultural institutional issue. I agree. It’s covert, but it’s still saying that if you can take the stairs, you’re better off. The bottom signs I’ve posted even more so talk about blood pressure and calories and longevity. For those who can’t take the stairs, what does it say to them?

I try to use the stairs here and there of course. But at my school we have six elevators all right next to each other. Most people take them. However if we put up signs like this, I wonder what the sentiment would be. But in terms of “elevator shaming,” I think most people would never think about this. We live in an overweight country. Making small changes to the physical activity we do can make a difference. But at what price?



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