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.
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.
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