Saturday, February 14, 2009

How People Feel About Us

The kids have received an invitation for a birthday party that includes miniature golf, bumper cars, and laser tag. I'm not sure if this newly constructed place will adhere to ADA guidelines or not. While looking at photos of the place on the business website and then googling for some additional ADA information from curiosity, I came across a prime example of how people feel about wheelchair accessibility in a short gem by chief disablist Andrew S. Fischer. Overlooking words such as "wheelchair-bound," "the disabled," and "the handicapped," Fischer completely misses how many people use wheelchairs, not just children, but parents and grandparents (and yes, we play miniature golf, or would if we could get in):

In New Jersey not long ago, I went to play miniature golf with my fiancĂ©e. I'll call the place "Golfville." After we'd paid, we discovered that the course consisted of nothing but flat, straight, unchallenging par-2 holes. I immediately complained to the management, and the response was that a NJ law requires any new miniature golf course to be wheelchair accessible! In other words, I mused, only crappy miniature golf courses can now be built – which means no one who isn't handicapped will want to play, effectively killing the pastime – just so a handful of theoretical miniature golf "diehards on wheelchairs" can play. Sounded pretty stupid.

He goes on to say that if making parks accessible was a money maker, business owners would have already made them so. But what Andrew believes is just a myth. Research cited in Slate in fact shows that making recreational places accessible will bring in more money--the economists say this estimate is imprecise, but at a minimum would bring in profits of $4.7 billion. Certainly this is the case for restaurants, where there are often wheelchair users. But would business owners do so because of the profit? No, because they're unaware and often prejudiced, not wanting people to enter their stores and businesses (yes, many of us have had this happen).

But tone, Andrew, tone. I don't think you can convince anyone you actually like people who use wheelchairs, especially given your stereotypes throughout the piece about people's abilities and inclinations. If Andrew S. Fischer actually read the law, he'd have realized that golf courses can have 50% of their courses inaccessible. And accessibility also benefits not just people who use wheelchairs, but people who use strollers and the small kids who play miniature golf too (it's not just adults). The ADA allows both--50% of the course can be more challenging. He'd also realize that this doesn't apply to old golf courses but to new construction--we still can't access old places since they're too small-business to afford modication or it would take a slower-than-molasses lawsuit to get changes when there are often higher priorities. This gives us a few new places to access if one is built.

During spring break almost a year ago, I took my kids to such a place, just the three of us, but had to get help getting the scooter in and out of the building and could not get it back in from the golf course regardless--I had to call my husband to come help (gravity makes out possible though somewhat dangerous, in impossible). The front and back entrances were not ramped, and of course the golf course itself was not wide enough for wheelchairs--though it easily could have been--a few more inches. That the front and back doors were off limit and that there was no curb cut to the cars just hurt--those modifications are nearly cost free. Was I the only wheels user? No, there were two others, teenagers, mostly sticking to the video games indoors. There was no curb cut for the bumper cars, so I couldn't take my children over there or watch them, and one young man just about broke his own back carrying his brother, who had cerebral palsy, over to use a bumper car. Yeah, teenagers with cerebral palsy want to ride too. And a curb cut and an inclined door entrance are cheap modifications. The new boats they'd just built? Inaccessible, no way to even go over to watch them. The party room? Upstairs. For irony, there was an entire row of almost unused disability parking spots that were all empty. I wonder why. With my new scooter, a 150-lb average one that has enough power not to get me tangled up and stopped on a throw rug, there's no way I could get in or out of the building without a ramp (how much did mine for my back step cost?--a whopping $40). In addition, not everyone can transfer out easily. Many power wheelchairs are also far heavier.

Attending any large event or visiting any sizeable place where accessibility is available shows that there are a high number of people who use wheelchairs and scooters and who will attend events, despite our higher cost of living. Concerts, sporting events, fairs, college campuses, grocery stores, even airports--we're everywhere. The places you don't see us--it's because we can't get in. This reinforces the disablist circular reasoning--we don't need wheelchair access because no one in wheelchairs comes here. BECAUSE THEY CAN'T GET IN!

And yet people question our need for access. What I've found is that ADA has given us access to some places, though it's no guarantee for all, and modifications that will put an undue burden on the business owner are not required, which is fair. What places have I not been able to access with my scooter? In one year: a doctor's office, a hospital waiting room, classrooms, parking garages, my hairstylist, a furniture store, an antiques store, a miniature golf course, stores within the mall (because of displays and boxes), the desk section within Ikea (I was told wheelchairs are only allowed on outside aisles), two stationery stores (I tried to buy myself a pen before, I really did), a Scouting event, a kids' carnival, some restaurants, gift shops, the dentist, the aisles in most clothing stores, some restrooms and dressing rooms that are nominally larger but not within legal limits, an educational building at a state park (which could have easily been ramped), the park where I used to take my kids several times weekly, a concert venue, a city park where there are no curb cuts. In one year, not a lifetime. And I've been unable to get into other places because cars parked on the access ramp, sloppily taking up a space and a half. In violation of ADA, scooters were not allowed at an ice show, though wheelchairs were (scooters within the size limit, and most are, are covered). These are examples from the top of my head only--I know there are others. There have been restaurants where I could not go to the restroom, which is an, umm, urgent problem with spinal cord impingement and high bladder pressure. No, I haven't sued these places; it's not worth the stress to me, though I am so tired of this. Many of the modifications, such as not blocking a door with a bookshelf or moving some tables, would be cost free, and others very nearly cost free.

There are three wheels users where my daughter plays her volleyball games. We want to get in, period. I use the swimming pools, fishing piers, sports facilities, and amusement parks he mentions regularly. But sometimes I can't because of lack of access. I would far rather use the swimming pool 3 minutes from my home--newly built--but there's no room for my scooter on the sides (narrow walkway) and the pool's entrance is not particularly accessible. Instead, I must use a pool thirty minutes away. A little planning could have made this pool accessible to more seniors and people with disabilities. There are lots of people who use the Y facilities or the pool I go to who must park their walkers or canes and who need steps into a pool. With an aging population and with more disabilities treatable, more people are going to need access.

Fischer should remember that we're only "wheelchair bound" when the wheelchair can't get in, and before ADA, almost all of the places that are now accessible were not, with the exception of grocery stores so that people could wheel out their carts. (For God's sake, where does this duct-taped wheelchair bound language come from?; not without a consent form). He questions "social integration." We're segregated, as African Americans were in the 1960s. I could not play golf with my children or even be with them, supervise them and make sure no stranger crowded near. Instead, I sat alone and was bullied by a bunch of teenagers who saw me as a good target. At least Rosa Parks could get on the bus, though she experienced serious consequences.

ADA is no guarantee of accessibility, as numerous violations show. A successful lawsuit against Mervyn's doesn't make Kohl's or JCPenney's suddenly make more space between their racks. No one thinks the ADA applies to their business. Everyone seems to think someone else is going to talk them through it and point the way. There are exceptions, and this golf course owner Fischer cites may have been one. Generally, access benefits people on bicycles or using skates, moms and dads with strollers, people with walkers, people who can walk but whose knees are giving out.

ADA is a hope, not a guarantee. Let's also hope people look at facts rather than their prejudices. Even when it comes to investment banking.


yanub said...

This is brilliant, Frida. Be sure to submit it to the next Disability Blog Carnival.

FridaWrites said...

Thanks--I kept adding to it. The joy of afterthought.

stevethehydra said...

Sounds very similar to the UK's Disability Discrimination Act - a law which can only be "enforced" by lawsuits from people directly affected by it - i.e. those already dealing with the biggest burdens of inaccessibility on their time and energy.

If disability discrimination law is to be worth anything, it needs to be enforceable - preferably as criminal law, with state (probably federal, in the US) powers to shut businesses down permanently for breaking it. A law that can only be enforced by civil lawsuits isn't worth the paper it's written on.

When and where is the next Disability Blog Carnival, anyway? I haven't submitted anything to one in ages...

FridaWrites said...

Hi, Shiva, I agree--and this is one nice part about the law with service dogs. It's a criminal offense to prohibit them, though officers may not write the citation. I'll bet changing it to criminal law would have more of an effect since right now a lot of companies are hedging their bets and often the penalty isn't going to be enough to hurt.

Disability Carnival--I'm not sure, I keep forgetting to submit. If you go to yanub's blog (her comment above)--she has a widget in the lower left margin of her blog that shows upcoming carnivals/deadlines.

Penny L. Richards said...

Disability Blog Carnivals are now monthly--second Thursday of each month. Yes please, do submit this!

Glee said...

"we don't need wheelchair access because no one in wheelchairs comes here." BECAUSE THEY CAN'T GET IN!
was a classic situation when I worked as an advocate at a disability complaints service. I would want to laugh at business owners when they said it! Great post Frida


FridaWrites said...

Thanks for the information, Penny.

I'm not surprised that this is the reasoning used, Glee. It is true that I avoid certain kinds of businesses (clothing stores) because the general rule is that I can't get between the racks, but I've found some smaller and newer stores where I can--and where the manager says she goes around with a tape measure every day to make sure there's 36". I hope that other people with disabilities find them too.