[Caveat 2: I realize I've written about this before, but it's an ongoing issue and I still need to kvetch about it and remind people about it. Plus, here are some solutions!]
I sound like a broken record: "Is the venue accessible?" I ask every time I plan to attend a concert, workshop, meeting, party. Some people have gotten that question from me multiple times; now I just say, "You know what I'm going to ask." I admit to occasionally asking even knowing I probably wouldn't attend; it's my self-imposed mission to remind people that it's important to consider their venue choices in terms of access. I know it's not always easy to find a place that everyone can access; and I know that people often try and don't always succeed.
But I will tell you this: it feels rotten to be excluded from an event that I want to attend.
I don't expect access to be the first consideration when people are planning events, but I do hope it occurs to them at some point, and even that it's fairly high on the priority list.
Things have come such a long way from pre-ADA days. I can't imagine what it was like for people in wheelchairs before curb cuts and mandated accessible bathrooms and entrances to public buildings. But we still need to do better.
One of the reasons I'm not singing with my choir now (Aurora Chorus) is because of access. The rehearsal room is manageable, but certainly not ideal (and this is a State university building!). The room entrance is at the top tier of the choir risers/steps, and so I'd be stuck there, unable to get to a lower level to see and hear better and participate fully. It worked, sort of, when I was using a walker, though I'm amazed I didn't fall, hauling and bumping the walker up and down the steps. The concert venue they have used for the past six years or so - a church - is abysmal for people with disabilities, both for audience members and for performers. The stage is difficult at best and impossible at worst to access with a wheelchair. But thanks to the persistent efforts of the board and concert committee, the choir is changing venues, and they tell me that this one is accessible, so I may be returning in the fall.
Something that will make that possibility even more doable is the wonderful wheelchair van we now have! I no longer have to wrestle with getting the scooter on and off the power lift, and I can now take the wheelchair out and about, not just the scooter. (More on this in the next post, coming soon.)
Having an event? Check it out!
Below is a checklist I devised of some things to consider when planning an event. Some of these will be N/A if your event is in a private home (but if there are too many N/As, consider changing venues!). These apply to wheelchair users but are also appropriate considerations for people using walkers or canes.
- Assistant: Is there someone - not the host - who can be a point person? Someone to connect with the wheelchair user to show them best access and check with them through the event? I have appreciated this so much when it happens; for example, Artichoke Music does it right! I felt downright pampered there when I attended a concert.
- Location: Is the venue easy to get to by car or mass transit? How's the parking for a van with a ramp? Is it possible to save a parking spot or spots for wheelchair users or people who can't walk far?
- Entrance: Are there steps? Even one step can make entrance impossible. If so, is there an alternate entrance? Make sure it's clearly marked and easy to get to. Another option: some mobility stores have ramps to rent.
- Seating: Will there be designated wheelchair seating? Some users are fine sitting in their chairs, others prefer to transfer to a "real" chair. Paths to seating need to be kept clear - free of equipment, cables, chairs, etc.
- Bathroom/s: Are they accessible? This can mean a lot of things: doors need to be wide enough for a wheelchair; grab bars are mandatory in places that claim to be ADA compliant. If this is a private home, do the best you can to make it accessible. I can walk a short distance if I have sturdy things to hold on to, but not every wheelchair user can. If your bathroom isn't fully accessible, be sure to make that known.
- General flow: Is the event on more than one level? If so, is there an elevator? Are aisles and access routes clear and wide enough for a wheelchair or walker? If there are food tables and products for sale keep access open for wheelchairs and keep the table height low enough for a wheelchair user to see and reach the items - especially the chocolate! For a banquet-type setup with multiple tables, often the tables and chairs are too close together to allow a walker or wheelchair through. Do the best you can to create pathways so the user isn't confined to the perimeter. You may have to remind other participants to keep pathways clear.
- Signage: Have some good, legible signs to indicate where bathrooms, alternate entrances/exits, food and drink are. Make sure they're posted at a level that someone in a wheelchair can see easily.
- Emergency exit: It's not a bad idea to have a plan if it's necessary to evacuate someone who can't walk, especially if the event is on an upper level and the elevator isn't usable. Designate a few strong people who could potentially help someone down the stairs if necessary.
If you are the wheelchair user, it's always a good idea to call ahead of time to find out the particulars and to give the event host a heads-up to expect you and your chair. If they need to make any changes, they will appreciate having advance notice.
|Well, that's one way to see the stage!|
Big thanks to those of you who are already aware and doing much of this. Do you have ideas to add to this checklist? Please leave me a comment below or email me at ladyluck AT teleport DOT com. This is a team effort! Thanks!