Why Accessibility Matters

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed into law. It is a piece of civil rights legislation that makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone with a disability in all aspects of public life: meaning jobs, health care, schools, transportation, and any public or private facility that is open to the general public. Disabled Americans fought hard for this bill, many being arrested and brutalized in hopes of its passing. One of the hallmarks of this bill was accessibility. Any public building without wheelchair access is automatically discriminatory against disabled people, as it isn’t open for disabled people to get to.

Quite recently, I discovered that the ADA is seen as a controversial bill by many. Maybe it was my own naivety, but I was genuinely surprised that many people dislike this extension of the Civil Rights Act. A bill, currently being discussed in our government, is threatening to roll back enforcement of the ADA, which would greatly hurt disabled people. This bill, HR 620, would make it harder for disabled people to file complaints against places that are inaccessible, and make it a lot easier for businesses to get away with not being accessible.

An argument against the ADA that I’ve recently heard is that it’s an expensive burden on small businesses to meet the standards of the ADA. I was told that it’s unreasonable to ask small businesses to pay to be accessible to everyone. I was told that the government shouldn’t have a say in how a business conducts itself, and that profits should drive a company to be accessible or not. Essentially, the ADA was positioned as being a burden to small businesses rather than a protection of the civil rights of disabled people.

This discussion points to a much larger issue, in my opinion. It points to the general acceptability of ableism, belief that disabled people are burdens, and a grave misunderstanding as to what accessibility really is and why it matters.

First, lets talk about life before the ADA. The world was largely inaccessible, which left many disabled people living in group homes under subpar care, simply because it was their only option. Investigations into such homes revealed them to be abusive and neglectful, but disabled people didn’t have access to public buildings, school, or work, which left them without hope.

Not only did the ADA make it to where jobs can’t discriminate based on ability for hiring, but now the buildings had to be accessible as well. I mean, it’s pretty easy to say, “we don’t discriminate in our hiring process” while simultaneously being inaccessible to disabled people, showing how actions truly do speak louder than words when it comes to laws. Disabled people were unable to attend schooling for the same reason. When it comes to disabilities, discrimination is seen not only in prejudiced behavior, but also in denial of access.

Second, lets talk about life with the ADA. It absolutely is a whole lot better than life before the ADA, that’s for sure, but there are still many obstacles (literal and figurative) that disabled people face daily. The world around us is still largely inaccessible. Unfortunately, it’s not really a problem you notice until you have to. Before I became disabled, I didn’t recognize how loosely most places interpret the ADA.

For instance, the ADA states that all places need to be accessible to enter. Many places have accessible entrances, or alternative entrances, for this very purpose. However, once you are inside they aren’t really accessible at all. Often, it’s hard to move around in your wheelchair or with your mobility device, or there will be steps that lead to different parts of the inside of the building. For example, I went to a restaurant one time where there was a ramp to get in, but the bathrooms were down a large flight of stairs. I had to have someone walk up and down the stairs with me, to help support me, so that I wouldn’t pass out along the way. It would have been near impossible if I was on my own. It absolutely is impossible for many other disabled people.

In the past year and a half, I have discovered what a nightmare accessibility truly is, even with the ADA. I have encountered ramps too steep to push myself up, and almost too steep for my boyfriend to push me up. I’ve seen ramps that inexplicably lead to a step. There are ramps that are ridiculously far from the front entrance, not a huge problem if I’m being pushed in my wheelchair, but almost impossible if I’m trying to push myself or am using my rollator.

One of the most infuriating cases was when we went to a park, which cost us $45 per person to enter, which claimed to have disability accessibility. Once inside the park, we discovered that the accessible part of the park was one small path that went from the entrance to a scenic view in the back. That’s it. None of the attractions or exhibits were actually accessible, yet we were charged full price for the ticket. Honestly, I’m still peeved about it. Fellow disabled people, beware of Lookout Mountain park in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Their accessibility is a joke.

I know that seems like a rather petty thing to be upset about, I mean, there are much worse examples of inaccessibility out there. But, I think it’s important because not only does it demonstrate the frustrations of faux accessibility, but it also shows how profit isn’t necessarily hurt by inaccessibility for most businesses. Many get away with charging outrageous prices for disabled people, simply because we don’t have any other options. Others get away with being partially accessible, while still requiring us to pay full prices.

Which brings me to the most important point, in my opinion:

Third, we are human beings, not dollar signs. An argument founded on saving money in the name of discrimination will absolutely never make sense to me. It is also incredibly dehumanizing to tell disabled people that their right to exist in the world is less important than your profit margins. Because, that is truly what is at risk here. It’s not about disabled people being denied access to one or two places and just going to the places that are accessible. As described above, most places do everything they can to skirt the ADA already, so take away its bite and most places will become completely inaccessible again. What it truly comes down to is whether or not you believe disabled people have a right to exist in this world.

Denying us access is denying us the right to exist.

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© 2017 spooniewarrior.com


I am a mother, partner, teacher, daughter, writer, and blogger. I'm working on turning my private hobby into a public one, whether the public asked for it or not. I have a BA in theatre and a Master's in Education (with a Montessori integration), making me a highly overqualified internet ranter.

3 thoughts on “Why Accessibility Matters

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  • September 29, 2017 at 11:18 pm

    This is a fantastic analysis. I’ve had a number of people tell me, ”oh [x place] is accessible. It says so on their website.” But there are so many questions: how far is the handicap parking from the door? If someone is on crutches, it can’t be too far away. How rough/icy are the walkways? Does the door have a significant lip (I know I can’t get over some door frames in my wheelchair.) Does the door have an automatic opener? Because, *legally* a door has to be a certain weight to require an automatic opener. There are a lot of places that I can’t go because I could never get the door open and get through it in a wheelchair. How accessible are the bathrooms? (The comment in your post about the bathrooms being down a flight of stairs! What is that about?!?!) Bathrooms may have a handicap stall, but that doesn’t mean someone in a wheelchair can use it. Are non-disabled people going to use the one handicap stall? Are the paper towels or hand dryer near the sinks? Because if not, what does someone on crutches or with a wheelchair do once they have wet hands? How far apart are the tables? What if the chairs aren’t fully pushed in? Am I going to be able to pull up to the table or will there be a bunch of supports and legs under the table in my way? If we’re going shopping, how far apart are the clothing racks? (I’ve never been to a store where I can get a my wheelchair between the racks of clothing.) What if I want something on a shelf that’s too high?

    It’s all of these questions and more that make it so difficult for people with disabilities to go out in the public, even though places claim to be accessible. And that’s not even accounting for sensory issues, like chemical sensitivity, noise sensitive, dietary issues, etc. This is why it’s so easy to just stay home.

    We’re told to ask for help. Someone of us don’t have people to help us go places or who will help us when we get there. Sure, I could ask my husband to take me clothes shopping, but I know he doesn’t want to go, and I don’t want to bother asking my friends because I know that dealing with my wheelchair is a pain. I’ll ask every once in a while, but I don’t want to be a burden. Asking for staff helping at stores or restaurants can get old really quickly, and sometimes, we just want to be able to do something without asking for help.

    To me, accessibility is such a joke. Places may claim they’re accessible, but legally accessible is far different from being accessible in real life.

    • September 29, 2017 at 11:56 pm

      I completely agree! It’s ridiculous what many places get away with calling “accessible.”


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