Elevators and Executive Orders

Healthcare reformMayor Bloomberg is at it again.  This time he issued an executive order requiring city agencies to promote the use of stairways instead of elevators because “exercise is good for you.”

It may seem completely innocuous, but I don’t think it is.  First of all, this can quickly become ableist – there are people who can’t climb the stairs and if we make stair climbing “good” and elevator riding “bad” we can end up stigmatizing people living with disabilities.  This can be magnified for those whose disabilities are invisible or not immediately apparent.  It can be extra horrible for fat people, especially those with invisible disabilities, since there is added social stigma heaped on fat people who are seen as being “lazy” in public.

Everybody has the right to choose how highly they prioritize their health and the path they take to get there.  Though there are a number of studies that show that physical activity is one of the things that people might choose to help improve the odds of health (though health is never guaranteed and not entirely within our control), there are no studies that say that the movement has to be, or even should be, stairs.

Stairs can actually be a pretty difficult way to get movement in – they can be hard on the knees, hard on the back, hard on the hips, and you can fall down them so there are plenty of people who are interested in doing movement who would be well within reason and common sense to choose some other kind of movement.

I am certain that people should have free access to true information about things that can affect their health.  I am certain that providing a wide variety of movement options that are safe (both physically and psychologically safe) is a positive thing.

After that I think it becomes, at best, a grey area and I believe that “encouraging” movement – in particular a specific kind of movement, or movement that can be observed and judged by others – can end up doing more harm than good, especially among populations who have been shamed for not doing movement, or not being good at movement, in the past. This is exactly why “take the stairs” has no business being an executive order.

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Published in: on July 22, 2013 at 7:50 am  Comments (36)  

36 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. For me, stairs are no big deal. I even enjoy taking them. On the other hand, I’m married to a fat guy with one of those invisible disabilities. He has a serious heart condition. Taking the stairs has the potential in some situations to be lethal for him. If we’re together, then we’re taking the elevator together. Why? Because it’s healthier for him and I don’t want to be separated from him.

    And Mayor Bloomberg is welcome to take that fact and insert it in the place where it will do the most good.

  2. Yeah, somehow I think Mayor Bloomberg never has to go up the stairs behind a dozen or so other people who are sweating and panting for breath and not going as fast as Mayor Bloomberg. Also, nobody behind him is muttering for him to hurry his butt up. Oh, and gee, I bet he never had to work at a place where he had to stuff his feet into tippy, pinchy, absurdly angled shoes in order to look “professional.” Let him climb stairs in high heels if he’s so het on making people exercise his way.

    Another invisible disability that’s going to be stigmatized, BTW: Exercise-induced asthma.

  3. Urg. I run a few times a week and weightlift another few times a week but my hips feel like they are being ripped apart while using stairs….any more than 3-4 and I am in tears (thanks to my wonderful 9 year old twins…their pregnancy was a killer). I have been told repeatedly when using the elevator or escalator that a “fatty” like me needs to exercise more.

    • I know how you feel about the hip thing. I’m fine on flat ground and gentle slopes, but the second I have to climb more than one flight of stairs I get terrible stabby pains in my right hip. It’s one of those awesome debilitating things that nobody can see, and because people see me walking around just fine when I’m not forced to use the stairs they assume I’m just making it up or exaggerating to “get out of” doing it.
      I shouldn’t have to explain to complete strangers that I have a deformed socket in my right hip. I shouldn’t have to feel like I need to say anything! And you can bet if a policy like this went into place I’d need to do a heck of a lot of explaining just to get people to shut up about stairs being “good for me”.

  4. I don’t think anybody should be forced or shamed into doing anything, but it would be good to have stair access for people who want it. I worked in a tower block and decided one day it would be good to take the stairs. It wasn’t possible, because stairs are often just there as fire escapes in emergencies. So if it’s possible to get buildings to actually open up the stairwells, I think that’s positive.

    I can’t ever see a time when everybody’s going to be using them en masse, though, especially in summer. There is no air conditioning in stairwells and even climbing a couple of flights of stairs can make you hot and sweaty in a very unpleasant way. Combine that with a restrictive skirt and/or high heels, plus workers running late for work who don’t have time to bound up 20 flights, and stairs are never going to be the default option, no matter how many directives there are.

    • I don’t think anybody should be forced or shamed into doing anything, but it would be good to have stair access for people who want it.

      Yeah, this is what I think too.

      I always take the stairs because elevators make me dizzy, and I like running up the stairs and don’t usually get winded unless it’s, like, ten flights or more, so I was surprised when I read somewhere that a lot of the taller buildings in cities don’t have stairwells open to general use. I don’t even care if they’re lit or air conditioned, I’d just like to be able to use them.

      But shaming people for not taking them is an asshole thing to do. Even if your only reason is, “I didn’t feel like it,” that’s still a good reason!

      • The most sensible fire safety restriction on stairs in a skyscraper is that you can get into the fire stairs from any floor, but you can get out only on the ground floor. So if you want to exercise on the stairs, you go down at the end of the day or at the start of your lunch hour.

        No access at all traps people if there’s a blackout.

  5. Yes, I think Bloomberg isn’t banning elevators; the idea is to have stairways which are visible; clean; well-lit; and inviting.

    There is not reason why a public building cannot offer (at the same time) nice elevator service and nice stairways so that people can choose.

    • \I’m a big confused – I haven’t seen any suggestion that he is banning elevators or anyone arguing that there shouldn’t be stairs, though considering New York City’s needs I think there might be better uses for their money. Nevertheless, the issue with the directive is that one of the main goals is to publicly encourage people to take stairs which is problematic for all the reasons I listed in the blog post and others have listed in the comments.

      ~Ragen

    • He’s not banning elevators, no. And believe me, I’m all for making stairways easier and more pleasant to use. More choice is good. On the other hand, his reason for trying to make stairs more available isn’t about choice. He’s flat out said it’s to combat obesity.

      Me? I walk stairs for fun sometimes… and I’m still deathfatz. Under Mayor Bloomin’ Idjit’s plan, he’s encouraging people to assume that any fat person who doesn’t take the stairs just doesn’t want to get fit and is deliberately spending all our healthcare dollars. Never mind that there are a lot of good reasons to take an elevator even if the stairs are nice and the person in question doesn’t immediately look disabled. From time crunches to invisible disabilities to having a companion who cannot use the stairs to simply being tired and wanting a break, we should get to make the choice not based on what the Mayor of New York wants people to think of us, but based on our specific preferences and individual needs.

      It’s not the stairs that have us riled up, but the reason he wants us to take the stairs.

      • I’m stealing your “Mayor Bloomin’ Idjit” line. I was just calling him Loopypants up till now. I like yours better.

  6. Wow, does he remind me of the jackass that got on my boyfriend and my case for taking the elevator with my boyfriend’s mom. Best part this was at the hospital where you can’t take the stairs unless there is a fire or the power is shut off.

    The lady has no knee caps and can’t even walk out the front door or up and down stairs without help, so like hell we are going to take the stairs (if we could but can’t) and make her fend for herself.

    • If someone complained about me using the elevator, I’d imagine trapping their nose in the door like Gonzo from The Great Muppet Caper. Of course, being Gonzo, he enjoyed it.

  7. During one of my vocational training courses at a local college I walked to college every day and then took the stairs up 4 of 5 floors since there was 2 lifts for all the students. I didn’t lose any weight but I did trade some muscle for fat and dropped a whole 1/2 a dress size, which since I like my clothes baggy meant I was wearing the same stuff and nobody noticed at all. Most of the people riding in the lifts were thin to average body size, yet if I went to cue I got the ‘looks’ and it was actually quicker to climb the stairs that it was to wait for the lift.

    But I’ve never had any problem climbing stairs in the past, I’ve recently had more problems due to being sedentary because of injury and am slowly rebuilding my stamina and muscles. But I still get pissed off when I see a sticker in my local job club lift that promotes how many calories taking the stairs would burn, as I’d be taking the damned stairs if I were able.

  8. As a longtime New Yorker, I can say with some degree of certainty that Mayor Bloomberg needs a major reality check. Many buildings have stairways that are either not accessible for anything other than an emergency or are hangouts for gangs who, without going into the gory details, create unsavory and sometimes even unsafe conditions. Who wants to deal with that? Not me!

  9. Thank you for addressing this, Ragen. I have to admit, I was pretty pissed off when I heard this story on the news. Stairs and I do not get along. In fact, I feel ridiculous when I use them, as my two knee replacements cause it to be slow going. I feel like I am holding everybody up, I am in pain and I break out in a stress hotflash!Bloomberg is an ass!

  10. I don’t know how much an apartment or house weighs, but Mayor Bloomberg needs to stop sucking up endless resources and lose some of the weight of his many residences.

  11. One minor point– I’ve got some knee problems, and going *down* stairs is difficult for me in a way that going up stairs isn’t.

    • Same here. I’ve fallen down more staircases, and damaged more joints and things than most ppl I know. Just over 3 yrs ago, I was moving out of dorm, and was carrying a big box since I wanted to save it. I was on the upstairs, but a friend helped me carry it down the stairs inside. As I was trying to get out of the doorway on the outside, so she could close it and we could do the same thing to get down, my foot went over the first step, and I came crashing down.

      Luckily, my face and torso landed on the box (it had a new groove in it), but my legs landed on the stairs. My right leg was more damaged than the left, and now I have nerve damage on the shin. Most of the time I can’t feel anything there, but when I do, it’s like those ghost-pains that amputees and veterans describe. Incredibly painful.

      Add that to all the times I fell on my kneecaps while up the stairs (concrete stairs), and falling on the sidewalk, and you get a disaster.

      I tried to get help from my doc, but he basically said I was a big fat fatty, and sent me to a nutritionist to treat my “arthritis” that I’m sure I don’t have.

      • I forgot to mention that I am now deathly afraid of stairs since all these things happened.

  12. Stairs are also tough on athsmatics, who often have no problem with level surface walking for exercise.

  13. Stair-climbing’s just great for you – unless you have any of the following – fibromyalgia, arthritis, knee issues, back problems, balance/co-ordination issues, asthma, uncontrolled high blood pressure, you’ve had a stroke, you need to use a cane, walker, or wheelchair, etc etc etc etc. The list goes on! Personally, the stairs in our apartment building have become my enemy because my collected health problems make climbing them a daily struggle. As a claustrophobe I LOATHE elevators, but nowadays I see them as a blessing.

    • I’m with you. I’m claustrophobic as hell, but my sciatica doesn’t appreciate me walking up four flights of stairs.

  14. You first, Bloomberg. Plaster your city with pictures of YOU using the stairs. Or better yet, have a Where Is Mayor Bloomberg? app and on-line tracker so we can see how often YOU use the stairs and how many steps you take in a day. Do it yourself before you command others.

    BTW, why is it thin people can scowl at me if I hop into a lift to go up 6 floors, but I’m not allowed to scowl at someone who takes the lift up one floor because “it’s going up anyway”??

    • Yeah, a Where’s Mayor Bloomberg app like Where’s Waldo! I know that isn’t exactly what you were after, but it’d be funny.

  15. I’m all for things like walkable communities and designing buildings with inviting stairs that can be found easily. There is a big difference, though, between making options available and creating a weird kind of societal pressure.

  16. Michael Bloomberg, physician to the world! Amazing what a few zillion bucks will buy you. He can now prescribe for millions of people at a time. Able-ism, ageism, people recovering from orthopedic treatments – whatever. Dr. Mikey knows more about you than you know about yourself.

  17. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    Ugh! I have no problem walking down stairs, but climbing more than a flight of stairs flares my sciatica like nobody’s business. I’m starting to want to drown Bloomberg in a vat of soda, and I don’t even live in New York!

  18. arggggggg!!

  19. I have no physical issue with stairs, but I’ve got two kids under two, elevators are my best friend. Even before I had kids and I took the stairs it’s not like I suddenly dropped tons of weight, this just further stigmatizes people and creates a wider divide for people who aren’t considered socially acceptable. Mayor Bloomberg is an ass.

  20. Like a lot of people, I have no physical issues with stairs, most of the time. However, I don’t know what the situation with stairwells in buildings in New York City is, since I live in Ohio. What I can say is that where I live, some of stairwells in some public buildings, especially the older buildings, are either used for emergency purposes, have railings that are in disrepair, which is dangerous, or are generally uninviting (dark, well out of the way, narrow, or any or all of the above). I usually don’t mind taking the stairs (I write as a hobby, and walks are how I get many of my ideas), however, making it an obligation of sorts or guilting people into doing so, or holding the threat of shame over their heads should they choose not to take the stairs for whatever reason, be it a disability, visible or not, an illness, visible or not, or even not wanting to take the stairs that day, that’s simply Not Okay in my book.

    All this makes me both glad I’m not in NYC, and sad for those who are.

    • I forgot to add, the “most of the time” is due to the fact that I occasionally get headaches that also come with nausea and dizziness, all three of these make it more difficult to walk up long flights of stairs.

  21. *Random* every time I hear his name I just think of the Colbert show and the sparkler 4th of July skit “Sorry kids I wish I could have extinguished your parents, but thanks to Mayor Bloomberg my sad is only eight ounces”


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