The Frustration of "Inaccessible" Accessibility
“Come visit this awesome new restaurant”, my friends begged me, “it’s got great yelp reviews and we’ve wanted to visit it”. “This club has the best drinks and the friendly staff, I think we should visit it tonight”, another friend informed me another evening.
When posed with such ideas, I always have one question for any of my family or friends when they talk about going somewhere I have never been before: Is it accessible?
People forget how important accessibility is
My friends have all known me enough to know my physical limitations and that accessibility is important in my life. But sometimes I have to wonder if they forget that accessibility is probably the number one issue that keeps me from enjoying things and even living life like anyone else.
My friends assume if a place has a ramp that I will be able to join them for whatever adventure lies beyond the doorway, but often they don’t think about asking about the doorway itself. Is the doorway big enough for a power chair?
There are many different aspects to a space
And if so, once I make it in, is there room in the walkway of the establishment for me to enter and be mobile inside safely without running over anyone’s foot! Is there a table where I can sit that won’t have the back of my chair blocking another walkway or hitting a person behind me at another table?
Worst of all is when my friends and I are both new to a place and ask about accessibility over the phone and are told "as long as she can maneuver over one step, we are accessible!" One step is all it takes to prevent me from having a world of adventure beyond it.
Things are not perfect, even with the ADA
This scenario happens to people in wheelchairs every day and when I tell people about it, they are shocked that accessibility would be such an issue in the year 2021.
It is just assumed that the ADA, which was passed 31 years ago, made it easier for people with disability needs to get from place to place and carry out living like anyone else.
I have been through ‘accessible’ entrances that are made for taking out kitchen trash bins and rolling equipment up and down the backdoor ramps.
I have been in buildings where the only elevator that was accessible to me and my wheelchair was a freight elevator not made for human passengers but "freight only." When there is no choice, we do what we have to do!
Problems with sidewalks
There are times when I go down sidewalks and they just end, sometimes with a curb so I cannot even go on the grass or gravel to continue my path. Instead, I have to go back from where I came to safely try to navigate a path that no longer exists. Or, in most cases, just admit defeat of going to my original destination and figure out something else to do or somewhere else to go.
The sad part about sidewalks that are not accessible is that they are in the middle of cities and downtown in smaller towns. They are not in tiny, old neighborhoods that were not built with sidewalks in mind originally.
Sidewalks are often removed during the construction of new roadways, driveways, and entrances, but they are not rebuilt once the other construction is done which leaves us in wheelchairs to either drive in the road to get around a blockage or go far out of our way to get to our destination.
When this happens, it makes it extremely hard for those of us in wheelchairs to navigate the world since we have limited battery life in our chairs and, in my case, limited patience for getting lost trying to navigate a path that is made for people who can step up curbs.
Each obstacle like this takes a bit of joy and fun out of my adventure and it makes me look forward to the day when the accessible route is not the harder one that was an afterthought of builders.
How you can help with this issue
I often get asked by people how they can help make the world more accessible for me and to that, I answer: be observant and report things that need to be fixed or completed to make something ADA compliant.
Keep an eye out in day-to-day life for things that are not accessible and tell the appropriate authorities, be it the city or the town or even the ADA itself about what needs to change.
The most important thing people can do is to vote for candidates that will help make disabled lives better and cause lasting change in our country.
Have you, or someone you know been diagnosed with SMA?