Inaccessible Accessibility: It’s Time to Get Serious

Inaccessible Accessibility: It’s Time to Get Serious

Let’s really get serious about what accessibility is. The website Disabled World calls it the “‘ability to access’ the functionality, and possible benefit, of some system or entity.” In short, the more people who can use the product, service, or venue, the more accessible it is.

This is a good rule, and common sense needs to prevail in society. There are many public venues whose accessible areas are very inaccessible. Others have accommodations that allow only a subset of people with disabilities to be able to use the space. With simple changes or additions, the space could be made accessible to many others.

I have already written about the wheelchair accessibility of airplanes. In my opinion, this is a crucial accessibility requirement that needs to be addressed immediately. Another problem that should be fixable is the amount of damage done to wheelchairs during airline travel — thousands are damaged or lost each year.

Let’s look at big public venues, such as stadiums. Americans spend about $56 billion every year on sporting events. I live in Chicago and I am a big Cubs fan. In fact, as I write the first draft of this column, I am preparing to go to a game. It will be my second game of the year. I would go more often, but the accessible seating area is set up in a way that doesn’t work for me. It has its good qualities: no steps, an elevator up to the seats, and a nice area that is set up in a safe location. I have seen wheelchair users access this area. There is even a restroom that is spacious and only for people with disabilities.

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But here is the problem, and the simple solution: As a person with LGMD2L, I walk with a cane, but my biggest issues are negotiating stairs and getting out of chairs. In the accessible area at Wrigley Field, and in almost every other stadium I’ve been to, the only option for me is a low folding chair. I’ve often mentioned, and will say again, that variety is the key to greater disability access. If venues would add some higher seats, this area would be so much better. Instead, I often hurt my shoulders getting up. And now that I’m dealing with a recent shoulder injury, I am not able to sit in the accessible area. Instead, I have to opt for regular bench seating that may put me in the precarious situation of using stairs.

This issue is similar in other places, like restaurants and coffee shops. I have started to look up places online before I go out. There are great restaurants that I will never be able to go to. They have no high seats and their low seats are often tiny, with a sitting area that doesn’t allow room to get my hands on the seat to lift myself. To get out of such a chair, I’d have to let myself fall to the ground, then crawl to a window ledge or another place where I could push myself up. Ridiculous? Yes, and all it would take to remedy this is to set up different types of seating.

Hotels are no different. My recent fall was in a hotel where the bathtub was set several inches above ground level and was also very slippery. I travel a ton, and luckily this isn’t the norm, but I blame myself because I should have known better than to use it. Hotels often have lobby areas with only low seats. Even in pool areas, it’s impossible to find a chair I can get out of.

Finally, let me talk about the sidewalks in many cities. I can tell you from experience that in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, we spend a great deal of money on fixing streets. This is essential, but sidewalks are often forgotten, and many times, even a curb ramp is too steep.

I have volunteered to do a walk-through with staff at various stadiums. I’ve told them that I would cherish the opportunity to give them suggestions on accessibility improvements. But no one has ever taken me up on this.

My column on effecting change holds the answer. We must come together to advocate for improvements. I would love to know your thoughts on this matter.


Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.

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  1. Cynde Rose says:

    I absolutely agree with everything you said. My 39 year old son also has LGMD2L. I would also like to spread the word on this subject.
    Society has a long way to go in making public venues handicap accessible.

  2. Madhuri Chatterjee says:

    In India we do not have theatres, banks, schools, colleges even health care facilities accessible for specially abled people, senior citizens. Many of these public places do not have ramps in case of fire what is to happen to these wheelchair users. My son is 19 yrs and has DMD

  3. Tracy Barhite says:

    Hi Ralph, you hit the nail on the head! I too find all the above difficult. The one place I would add to your list of inaccessible places is often the doctor’s office. All of the one’s I’ve been to have ramps and hand rails. Most have push buttons to open the main doors, but I would like to see push buttons to open interior doors. I would also like to see taller seating options. Only one of my doctor’s (in Arizona during the winter) has high chairs which make it so much easier to use. It really makes me appreciate the place’s that have better seating options and accessibility.

    • Ralph Yaniz says:

      Tracy, you are so right! I’ve had to stay standing at doctors offices because of seating. If there is a couch I’ll take that because I can turn myself and get up. You’d think places like doctors offices would be more knowledgeable.

  4. Debra S Love says:

    I agree. Just this week I attended a birthday party at a well known upper class chain restuarant and was sadly disappointed in the seating because I couldn’t get up out of the chair. Since it was a buffet I was unable to get what I really wanted to eat because of not being able to reach it on the buffet and not being offered assistance to carry it to the table. It is common sense, we think, but others not afflicted with mobility issues have no clue what it’s like to like with muscular dystrophy. Thank you for being a voice and I continue to offer polite suggestions to public places to help them have some common sense on mobility issues.

  5. Rebecca Gregg says:

    Your article expressed the same concerns I have as well. It takes so much of my time and energy to go anywhere, because I have to research the chairs/seats that they have; the bathrooms’ accessibility(I really need bars on both sides or I have problems getting up), etc. I would love to be an advocate for fellow people with disabilities to help change the way businesses, sports teams, etc. do things.

  6. Dorothy says:

    Totally agree. I’m always amazed that even at MDA symposiums there are low chairs. What the heck? Before booking with any hotel for meetings demand higher, accomadating chairs, MDA.

  7. Catherine E. says:

    Completely agree. I’ve often argued that “one size fits all” is a sad way to accommodate those with disabilities. Too often, I see accommodations that appear to support those with upper body strength rather than anyone with a systemic issue. I am a power chair user for 20 years. I was diagnosed with MD as a child, with further diagnosis of LG in my early 20’s. All this was a long time ago, before DNA was used pinpoint specifics. One very frustrating new trend I’ve noticed is a shift in how “roll-in” shower is defined. Instead of the full size tub conversion, I’m see more and more half-wall roll-ins. The interior size is 5-6’ but the access is only 3’. The seated area is not large enough for an attendant to help with the transfer to the installed bench. Too often, I end up showering in the bathroom instead of the shower, which leaves a mess for my husband to clean up. We are headed to Hawaii in November. I notice from the photos on the hotel site that this half-roll in is what I will have to deal with while there.

    • Ralph Yaniz says:

      Catherine, You are completely right! These things would be so simple if they just checked with us. Basically, I would love to have that ability for the people who need the accommodations to be able to have input. That way we can do it right!

  8. Leonard Glenn says:

    Ralph, just read this today. I feel that living with a disability means you have to accept more -good and bad. More help is a good thing but hard to lose your independence. More research/planning is a prudent thing to do when traveling, but most people look for new and exciting things to do and I spend more time making sure it is accessible. In Europe, people will recommend great restaurants and never consider a bathroom in the basement as an issue. More frustration – TSA makes you take off shoes, belts, etc., get up out of the wheelchair and make you get wanded because you can’t lift your arms over your head. I am all for security, but with all the technology available today, there has to be an easier way. More money, no need to be explain that one. More disbelief – people still park illegally in handicap parking spots, able-bodied people buy the handicap seating at Yankee Stadium because it is cheaper – no one gets up out of a handicap seat on the train or bus!!
    Lastly, more hope that people like you will help us all progress. Thanks

    • Ralph Yaniz says:

      Leonard, all of the things you mentioned and more! It is amazing the things that people do, and don’t do. I appreciate your kind words but it really will take a village. I will reach out to you and maybe we can find some time to talk about Advocacy.

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