The World is Not So Accessible After All: The Constant Struggle for Independence and Equality for the Disabled

ADA Accessible! Yeah, yeah. It’s a word disabled people, like me, hear quite often. One would assume that going somewhere that claims to be ADA accessible would be a breeze, but that’s not the case. Often, “accessible” means something completely different to the owners of these properties; it means “adequate” or “good enough.” The problem is that it’s often NOT good enough.

Seriously.

Seriously.

This article shows pictures of seven absolutely ridiculous, totally dangerous wheelchair ramps. Some of them don’t even touch the ground. How the hell are these ramps considered to be in compliance with ADA standards?

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) understands that altering existing structures costs a lot more than making new construction accessible, which is why it tends to only focus on those new buildings. The law requires that public accommodations such as banks, hotels, restaurants, and stores remove architectural barriers in existing facilities when it is “readily achievable.” In this case, that means “without much difficulty or expense.” Things that qualify include adding a handicap parking space, installing a bathroom grab bar, widening a doorway, etc.

The purpose of the ADA is “to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities … the Nation’s proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals.” The ADA also is intended to reduce federal payments for social security income and other federal tax-funded disability programs.

Juxtapose this paragraph with reality and you’ll see that there’s a problem. There are certain requirements in place that have helped, surely, but we are nowhere near total equality, full participation, or independent living. The ADA even states that restaurants are NOT required to print their menus in braille, meaning that waiters have to read the menu to blind customers. 1 – that’s going to take a long time, and 2 – that does NOT promote independent living. While many restaurants –Olive Garden and Applebees – actually offer braille menus, the fact that it is not a requirement further distances the disabled community from equality and independence.

In addition, a restaurant with a basement-level bar is not required to provide disabled access to the basement area, unless it is readily achievable, meaning “easy.” Why should it have to be easy? It’s not easy living with a disability, so why put the burden, again, on us? The burden should rest on the business owner. It’s like they’re tiptoeing around it so as not to upset their economic interests. Anyway, as I was saying, if alternative access to the basement area is “impossible,” then the restaurant is required to provide bar service at the same prices to customers with mobility impairments in the restaurant. I see several issues with this:

1- It’s not just about price. It’s about community, inclusion. If no one disabled can get down to the bar area, they cannot interact with people hanging out at the bar. It’s not just an economic thing; it’s social. We’ve all had days where we just want to hang out with friends at the bar, but imagine being in a wheelchair and unable to hang out with your buddies due to a lack of accessibility. Yet, the restaurant is still meeting ADA guidelines. Pfft. Maybe it’s good enough for them, but it’s certainly not good enough for us.

2- You could very easily lose business due to this fact. The disabled community is not a teeny tiny part of America; according to the US census, nearly 1 in 5 people have a disability. In 2010, that statistic translated to 56.7 million people. This is not a handful of people; this is a significant portion of the population. Many, many people are also related to or close to someone with a disability. Not providing access could quickly turn off customers.

Furthermore, the promises made in the ADA are not met. It’s this “good enough” mentality that is making it hard.

It’s simply not good enough. We need to reassess our values and goals and how to truly achieve them.

This man is trying to spur change in that area within the city of London. Check out his recent race against the “tube” and how it clearly shows what “good enough” means nowadays.

This post will be updated periodically. Check for updates as time goes on.

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