Those who object to the idea of ADA
compliance, whether building owners, merchants or public agencies, have discovered a more subtle method of letting us know where we stand. At first they simply complained loudly, and were not afraid to take their objections directly to the media. Demonizing those who filed ADA complaints or lawsuits based on state laws has served to halt many of the attorneys and plaintiffs in their attempts to bring about compliance.
Failing in those efforts, they simply delayed making any required changes as long as possible. That stalling could go on for months or years, depending on whether they had customers or guests who required accessibility in order to do business.
A weak gesture indicating compliance could be the next step, including such minor and inexpensive improvements as striping an accessible parking stall or placing the blue International Symbol of Accessibility on their windows next to the front doors. Somebody must be selling those stickers cheap on the Internet, as many of the entryways where I encounter them have doors that are so heavy that they require another person's assistance for me to enter them.
I believe the final step taken by these reluctant business owners or public agencies is the most common. They have installed the accessibility features required by law but simply 'neglect' to maintain them. I'll bet that dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people with mobility disabilities will be left stranded on the sidewalks of America when bus lifts or power door openers don't work today. That happens to me on a regular basis, and I am not out in public every day.
On two of my last four bus trips, the bus drivers appeared apologetic when they could not get the lifts to deploy. On both of those occasions there were other passengers standing with me outside the bus waiting to load, and everyone was late to their destinations. Except me of course. Unfortunately I wasn't late; I just couldn't make the trips. At least on the ramp-equipped vehicles there is no excuse, as the ramps can usually be unfolded manually. However, that only works if the bus driver is energetic and willing to get up off the seat to lift the ramp by hand.
Power door openers can be the worst problem, as there are far more of them than there are bus lifts. For those with limited hand function, the magic pushbuttons can be a real blessing. They can also be a real problem if they are not operating.
Architects and building owners are now designing doors that forgo the accessible handles that allow us to slide a clenched fist behind them. Instead, they choose a combination of slim handle designs and power door openers. When they install the door openers they must figure that they can keep the door closers' tension at higher settings, since we won't have to use our puny arms to open them. That creates a real problem when the power openers aren't working.
These devices sometimes just need to be unlocked with a key when the building opens, or have power switched on somewhere. I find it amazing that so few people who work near those doors actually know how to make them operate, including receptionists and security guards. Those door openers also need to be maintained periodically, especially if they are not working.
One of the simpler types of accessibility features requires maintenance as well. How many times have you encountered disabled parking spaces with paint so faded that you can't even tell where the access aisles are located? Just as common seem to be the missing parking signs, whether removed by vandals or just someone who wants to make the space available for everyone.
Have you run across any items that don't work, or that impeded your progress in other ways? Did you alert somebody in authority that repairs were necessary so that they could be repaired by the next day? Were they operating when you returned?
I contend that inoperable or deteriorated accessibility features are far more than an oversight. They appear to be a passive-aggressive method of resisting ADA compliance and the practice seems to be very widespread. The Department of Justice has levied fines against transit systems that had an inordinate number of inoperable bus lifts, but when a local business has a door opener that never seems to get fixed it is unlikely that the enforcement agencies will have time to look into the situation.
Until a better method of bringing about compliance comes along, I guess it will be up to all of us to simply keep reminding everyone that the ADA has been the law of the land for 22 years, and will not be going away. Thanks for joining me in that effort as you are out and about today.
© 2012 Michael Collins