Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
, there has been a growing perception on the part of the general public that all problems with accessibility have been solved. They see scattered accessible parking spaces, some signage, a few ramps and lifts on buses so all is well, right?
Well, not exactly.
Our landmark civil rights law, that was supposed to open up doors in society that had been closed for generations, has not quite performed up to expectations. Enforcement of this law when violations occur, and they occur daily, can require a protracted process of filing a complaint with the federal government
which may not result in any action. The other option is taking a scofflaw to court. When a lawsuit is filed in local or state courts it might require enduring a long, and perhaps even expensive, experience in the company of an attorney. In the long run, business owners and the media may ravage the complainant's reputation in an attempt to avoid making changes that the ADA requires. While that certainly seems unfair, I am not making that up.
Unfortunately, the pattern of ignoring ADA requirements which is so prevalent today rarely causes concern in anyone but the disability community members who are impacted by those failures to comply with the law. Like many of my peers, I am frustrated by the current situation and the reason can be found virtually anywhere we look.
A trusted colleague in California has been leading the fight to have the state's new electric vehicle recharging stations designed with accessibility in mind. That would simply entail making sure that the controls and access to the wiring are within wheelchair reach ranges, and that there is some type of unloading striping created between a few of the stations so that people could get out of their vehicles if they are in wheelchairs. Surprisingly, there has been a series of continual roadblocks put in the way of the advocates by the California Building Standards Commission,
the state entity responsible for the planning of the recharging stations.
With the push to electrify the nation's highways through the use of electric and hybrid vehicles, it is very frustrating to see a government bureaucracy excluding people with disabilities from those benefits at this early stage of the process. If this continues, it will probably necessitate lawsuits to gain the inclusion that the ADA mandates and that will likely result in another orchestrated attack in the media against a disability community that is simply trying to get that state to do the right thing.
I was recently contacted by a friend who is a lifetime member of a college alumni association. He has been a significant contributor to their athletic programs and scholarship funds during the 50 years since he graduated. He was complaining that many of their sponsored trips and other events are completely inaccessible to him since he uses a power wheelchair. The brochures and newsletters he receives do not indicate that any thought has been given to accessibility, as some of the alumni events are even held in private homes.
We also discussed the inaccessible European River Cruises (I'm not about to give them any publicity by linking to their website here)
that continue to be marketed extensively throughout the United States. I am sure that you have probably seen their advertising on television, usually during prime time, or received their periodic mailers at home. I first began investigating the amount of accessibility available on their boats a few years ago, as a friend was thinking about using a power wheelchair to visit Europe. I am not a fan of cruising anyway, thanks to their many inaccessible ports of call, but it is probably much safer to be floating on a river within easy paddling distance of shore if there is a problem with the ship. That beats being stranded somewhere in the middle of an ocean. It would also be nice to be closer to the scenery between stops.
I was not really surprised when I learned that they could probably get me onto the boat if I brought someone along who could carry me and my wheelchair, but that there would be no way for me to unload at the periodic stops along the route. I also learned that the Department of Justice
did not feel that the ADA governed the situation, since the entire operation except their advertising occurs overseas. In my mind, it only seems fair that businesses that market to citizens of this country should be expected to comply with our laws, but that is apparently not the case yet.
While it may seem like most of my friends or colleagues are complainers, that is not true. Most of them are just sick and tired of fighting the same old battles and not seeing any progress despite the existence of a law
that says there must be access to all aspects of society.
Susan, a longtime colleague from the Central Coast area of California, reminded me that model homes are still not accessible. Builders, developers and real estate agents often team up to get the public excited about what they are building. They like to showcase those model homes, sometimes with events that they advertise as a "Street of Dreams," but their past record is a long history of having no level entry to those homes except in rare cases. It seems more like a bad dream to most of us who use wheelchairs.
Personally, I object to stadium-style seating that requires my friends and me to sit in the front rows of theaters. I also dislike seating arrangements in many older sports stadiums that relegate us to the upper deck or nosebleed sections where we can barely read the numbers on the teams. While those may seem to be minor frustrations at the moment, they can ruin an otherwise good day when we run into those situations unexpectedly.
Here's the deal: People with disabilities have been here since, well, forever. It's about time that those who design, build and maintain our world plan for our inclusion. Quit leaving us out.
Besides, the law requires it.
© 2014 Michael Collins