Each handicap is like a hurdle in a steeplechase, and when you ride up to it, if you throw your heart over, the horse will go along, too. ~~Lawrence Bixby

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What Does "Accessible" Mean to You?

We just returned from a trip to Washington State where we stayed in a hotel for a couple of nights. When I made the reservation, I decided to book an ADA room. (ADA = Americans with Disabilities Act – guidelines and laws that must be adhered to by businesses to a greater or lesser degree.) I did this mostly for the bathroom accommodations, which include grab bars and a shower or bath with some helpful accessories.

So imagine my surprise when we discovered the very narrow space between the beds and the desk and dresser. Had I been in a wheelchair, I wouldn’t have been able to get through that tight spot, which led to the refrigerator. And to the microwave sitting ON TOP of the refrigerator cabinet. And to the coffeepot sitting ON TOP of the microwave. Because I can stand, I could reach the coffeepot (a good thing, or heads would roll), but if I were unable to stand, I’d have been coffee-less and eating cold oatmeal. There was also the matter of the bathroom floor, which was very slippery.

Yesterday I received an email from the hotel asking me to take a survey to rate my experience. Boy howdy! I rubbed my hands together with glee. The rest of our hotel experience was pretty pleasant, so I didn’t have to give them all negative feedback, but In the comments section, I wrote pretty much what I wrote above. Here’s the response I got:
Thank you for taking the time to tell us about your experience at the Lacey xxxx. I am sorry that your stay did not meet your expectations; please allow me to express my sincerest apologies.

Terri, it is extremely difficult to know or anticipate exactly what a person might require of an ADA room. A person with a hearing or speech issue would certainly have no problem with the location of our microwave or coffee maker; whereas a person in a wheel chair might. I do like your idea about "test driving" our room with a wheel chair. My mother-in-law has one...and I do believe I will bring it in and check our room layout.

Your satisfaction and continued trust in xxxx Inn are our top priorities. We look forward to showing you that we are working hard to make sure each visit meets your expectations and our high standards.


General Manager
xxxx Lacey
Well, I do appreciate getting a somewhat positive response so quickly. I found his comment about what different people might require of an ADA room a little odd though – true, a deaf person wouldn’t have trouble with the location of the microwave, but seriously? To have not considered how a person in a wheelchair might get around in the room seems a bit off-putting and not a genuine attempt at making the room accessible. I haven’t researched it fully yet, but I’m pretty sure that if they’re calling it an ADA Accessible room, it has to meet certain criteria.

A few weeks ago, Nan and Gwenlyn and I went for a walk in my neighborhood. (And by walk I mean they walked and I scooted.) Gwenlyn gave me a hard time at first when I whipped out my notebook and made a little map of which intersections didn’t have curb cuts. But after a few blocks, she got it. When we came to an intersection without one, I had to go as much as half a block to find a driveway I could use to get into the street, then scoot up the street to the intersection or to another driveway across the way to get to the other side. “I had no idea,” she said. Well, most of us don’t until we’re faced with it.

My pals suggested I get in touch with the city to see if they have a map of intersections in my neighborhood with curb cuts. I did and they do – or at least, they graciously put this together for me.

Unfortunately, I need a magnifying glass to decipher it, and even then only the major streets are labeled. So it’s back to my own drawing board as I travel the streets and make notes. Maybe I’ll write my own scooter guide, something along the lines of Walk There! 50 treks in and around Portland and Vancouver. Perhaps Scoot There? Roll There?

My point being, in this long winded diatribe: I’m sure people’s intentions are good, and prior to my own experience, I was just as unaware as the next person of what it’s like to require extra space or a curb cut or coffee gear within reach (seriously, don’t mess with my coffee!). We’ve come a long way in this country toward making areas accessible to people with disabilities, but I think we can do a lot more. As an example: there are disabled parking spots in front of our neighborhood library – yea! – but no curb cuts for a wheelchair once it’s on the ground – a person would need to wheel in the street to the nearest driveway. I realize a lot of these things require money, but some of them just require common sense.

Here's an idea:  a dedicated day when everyone uses a wheelchair or scooter for 8 hours. I think it would be a real eye-opener.


dohlink said...

Talk w/ your nephew who works for the city. He got the rail put in place a day or two after I fell off the bus into a pit where the rail was supposed to be. He would know who else to contact...I'm carrying a magnifying glass these days. I think sometimes fine print is used on purpose.

Terri said...

I was thinking he might have some resources and insights.

Nancy said...

Actually, cost is to be born by the municipality or agency responsible for the infrastructure. Compliance is mandatory. Perhaps there is a procedure for filing "complaints," amounting to a legal obligation for them to comply.

Sometimes the institution or municipality can obtain grants from the state or feds in order to comply. That is, if we continue to have useful money in the federal budget.

With love,
Former Bureaucrat

Linda Koons said...

It's so great that you're doing this blog, Terri. You're proving that even with good intentions it isn't always possible to grasp what life is like for people equipped with something other than two standard-issue legs. When I pass someone using a scooter in the grocery store, I've taken to saying, quite casually, "Give me a yell if you'd like me to reach something for you." I'm really too short to get things off the top shelves of some stores myself, and I know I'd be thrilled to have a taller person make me that offer, so I hope this is taken in the spirit in which I throw it out there.

Terri said...

Thank you Linda. Speaking for myself, I am never offended by an offer of help. I've also gotten very good at asking for help - even from strangers in the grocery store!

I remember a horribly embarrassing experience I had many years ago in a grocery store. I saw a one armed man (he had a hook) struggle to get a plastic bag open. I said to him: Do you need a hand? Ohhhhh. Must. Engage. Brain.

Laura said...

Terri, this is great consciousness-raising! With every blog post I become more aware of my surroundings, as well as my own actions. And you can bet I'll be careful before asking someone if they "need a hand," lol!

Tiffin said...

I am laughing so hard here at asking the man with a hook if he needed a hand. That is SO what I would do!

Excellent and thought provoking post, Ter. There is just so much we take for granted and need to have out attention tweaked.

The Bal-Als said...

Love this blog Terri. Such a good post. I've had the same experience in a very good DA room in a resort that had the microwave higher then I could reach seated. I just mentioned it to the people on the desk.
I really love it when people offer help in the spirit that you can take it or leave it and it is no skin off their nose. I actually had a lady who was a perfect stranger argue with me when I said thanks but no thanks as politely as I could, while going through my normal process of putting the wheelchair in the car. She even went to grab the wheelchair without even asking first. She was a bit unusual tho'.

Wendy said...

Terri, When I was in PT school we were required to do two things...1. Spend a weekend with our DOMINANT arm in a cast (let me tell you, it totally sucked), and 2. Spend a weekend in a wheelchair with our assignment to go to one of our favorite places, but we could not get out of the wheelchair...I picked Old Town, Portland, Maine and never made it up the street because of the cobblestones...I ended up cheating a little to get to a favorite restaurant, but then could not access the bathroom. I think that was one of the most eye-opening experiences ever...makes me very empathetic towards those with disabilities! Great post!