Are Establishments and Venues Really Handicap Accessible?

Barriers and Challenges

Many businesses and venues claim to be handicap accessible, but they really aren’t.   I believe businesses truly don’t know or understand the difficulties and challenges that the physically disabled face when visiting their establishments.   I don’t think that the barriers, inconvenience and/or obstacles are deliberate or malicious; I believe people just don’t know or are oblivious until it affects them or someone they know and love.  My husband and many of my friends have admitted that fact. They didn’t pay attention to these things until they met me and watched me struggle with something that was so easy for anyone who is healthy.

All businesses and venues must comply with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements (however, churches are exempt). These businesses don’t understand that simply complying with ADA doesn’t always make things accessible or easier for us; it actually can make things more difficult. Businesses don’t usually consult the disabled when trying to comply with ADA requirements. They do what they think makes sense to them without finding out what really works for us.  That’s why it is up to us to make these businesses aware of the barriers we encounter when we visit their establishments.

Below are a few examples of the barriers, challenges or inconveniences I’ve encountered at various establishments or venues.

  • A well-known chain restaurant in Ann Arbor , MI has handicap parking right in front of the entrance which is great.  However, the curb is so high that I had difficulty stepping up onto it (the friend I was meeting also has MS and she had the same problem).  I was alone; my friend was already inside. Fortunately, another patron entering the restaurant was gracious enough to help me.  The cut-out or ramp for wheelchairs was five parking spaces away and farther from the entrance.  If that Good Samaritan hadn’t come to my rescue, I, who have great difficulty walking, would have had to walk all the way down to the ramp then back past my car to the entrance.
  • That same restaurant and a different restaurant well-known restaurant in Plymouth, MI both have entrance doors that are impossible to enter if you are alone and in a wheelchair.  Trying to open the doors while using a walker proved to be very difficult and frustrating. Someone opened the door for me at one restaurant; at the other, I had to manage by myself.
  • Another example is the doors to restrooms.  Most restroom doors are heavy and very difficult to push open. I suffer from balance issues, so pushing or pulling a restroom door open can be dangerous for me. I have fallen trying to push a restroom door open.  My husband now accompanies me to the restroom so that he can open the door for me.  I hate being dependent on him or anyone else to do something as trivial as opening the restroom door.
  • Finally, the Catholic Church my husband and I were attending isn’t as handicap accessible as it claims to be (we found another church to attend because of these issues).  These are some examples of the unintentional barriers at this church:
  1. The walk from handicap parking lot to the sanctuary/worship area is at least 1/16  of a mile.
  2. The restrooms are at the opposite end of the church (down a very long corridor) from the sanctuary/worship area.  I can only imagine how daunting that must be if someone has incontinence issues.
  3. Finally, accessing the social hall which is right beneath the sanctuary is quite the challenge for a disabled person using a cane or a walker. A disabled person must walk down the long corridor to reach the elevator (which is across from the restrooms).  Take the elevator down then walk back down the long corridor to the social hall.

If you’re using a cane or a walker, leaving Mass to go have coffee and donuts or some other event in the social hall, the hike (and it is a hike) is exhausting. I stopped attending these events because getting to the social hall was just too much for me.  Now do you want to know what healthy person has to do get to the social hall?  He or she can walk down the stairs that are adjacent to the sanctuary and they are at the social hall.  What is wrong with this picture?

I know of other parishioners who have stopped attending this church because the barriers and challenges were so overwhelming.  There is hope.  There is a new pastor at this church.  In the coming year I would like to work with him to improve the experiences of the disabled and elderly at the parish.  And maybe I and others can begin attending that church again. Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes for the situations at that church.

Be an Advocate

These are just a few of the very obvious things that I have encountered.  I have addressed some with the people in charge; some I still have to do so; and others there   are no easy or inexpensive solution, so it is a moot point. 

Those of us who are disabled want to be able to go places and enjoy the same experiences that those who don’t have our physical challenges experience.  I know for me, and probably others who have MS, it can be exhausting just getting to a venue or event (getting dressed, getting in and out of the car, entering the venue).  Then if you have to exert even more energy when you get there, I know I think ‘why am I doing this?’  And I sometimes think twice about even wanting to go out at all.  Do you experience those thoughts?  We really shouldn’t.  The only way to lessen the barriers and challenges that often confront us is to be an advocate—bring these situations to someone’s attention.

I don’t like confrontation but making sure that the disabled can have barrier-free access to establishments and venues is important, so I try to be the best advocate I can be for myself and others.  If you are disabled or have physical challenges, what barriers have you encountered at venues that make your experience there challenging?  Talk to the person in charge: let them know your experience and concerns.  Wouldn’t it be great that at some point that barrier or obstacle is gone?   And just think, it would be because of you!

 If you’re healthy, please start observing your surroundings try to be aware, especially if you see a disabled person struggling (like handicap parking being a long distance from the entrance of a building) .Be that advocate for changes that would make access easier for the disabled.  If we don’t speak up and make business owners aware of the problems, things will never change and there will be those disabled who aren’t able to enjoy all life has to offer.

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