Accessibility features that would change my life

I was talking with someone the other day about how a lot of standard accessibility features don’t really work for me. A room or building might be ADA compliant, but it’s still not actually accessible for me. Which makes sense, when you think about it. I’m constantly saying how disability is different for every single person, so why should accessibility be a one size fits all?

That being said, I think it’s fair to say that the ADA could use a lot of work. Because at its core, it’s not in place to encourage business owners to help disabled people. It’s simply to lay out the basic rules for at the very least, not discriminating against us. And I mean, it’s barely enforced. Not without a lawsuit, and even then, the disabled person is the one who is vilified in that equation. But also because in so many instances the bar is just so low for what qualifies a place as accessible. Not to mention loopholes that allow certain properties to be exempt.

My apartment is technically accessible, but almost none of the accessibility features benefit me in any way. And it’s a bummer. It makes existing feel like a complicated puzzle you’re constantly trying to solve, meanwhile all the pieces keep shifting. And an even bigger bummer is that so many of the things that could drastically change my life will likely never be something that’s mandatory or commonly available.

Karly - young woman with pink hair and glasses, wearing a white shirt with pink/blue flowers, sits with her arms crossed. Behind her is a wall covered in fake grass and flowers.

Accessibility features like:

Automatic doors/Push to open buttons for every door

If a place has an automatic door, it’s usually just the main entrance. Once you’re inside, all other doors are a standard manual door. Of course, there are rare exceptions, but generally speaking, I’m usually stuck in a building unable to get around by myself. At my last job, I couldn’t get into the break room by myself, so I took all my breaks alone at my desk. In college, my mom had to walk me to my classrooms because it was always a gamble whether or not I could get another student to let me in.

Having an accessible main entrance is great! The truth is that I can’t even rely on those, though. Even big chains and popular establishments don’t have automatic doors. It would make such a difference in my life if I knew that anywhere I went, I’d have access to anywhere I needed to go because all the doors had a button I could press to let me in.

Accessible checkout lines and assistant shoppers

Sometimes I think about how great it would be if I could go shopping by myself. Especially around the holidays. Do you know how stressful it is to try and shop for your mom when she’s the one who helps you actually shop? In the last several years I’ve resorted to buying all her gifts on Amazon, and ugh. I really don’t want to give that guy any more of my money.

I’d love if there were accessible checkout lines where not only are the belt and card reader low, but line had a standard practice of ‘if you need help loading/unloading items, enter this line and we’ll do it for you.’ Or there was a ‘call for assistance’ button that you could press for an assistant shopper. Someone who’s entire job was just to wander around with disabled people or elderly people and help them do their shopping. I know that’s unrealistic. In practice, I’d probably be too shy to even use it. But sometimes I just wish I could go somewhere and the help I needed was like, a default. That I didn’t have to ask and maneuver through an awkward conversation.

Affordable wheelchair accessible transportation

Here’s the thing: a lot of ‘accessible’ cars aren’t actually accessible. A lot of ubers/lyfts that are listed as wheelchair accessible mean they have a trunk that can hold a folded wheelchair. But that’s not going to help anyone like me or anyone who can’t transfer.

All of the wheelchair van taxi services near me, and there aren’t many, are either unbelievably expensive or require a million hoops to jump through before you’re approved to use them. I would love to be able to drop $15 or $20 to get a ride to go hang out with my friends so my mom didn’t always have to drive me. But where I am, that’s not available. The day my 10+ year old van dies is the day I become totally homebound.

Counters and sinks I can pull under

It’s not all about the height of a counter or sink. I have super limited mobility in my arms. They’re basically noodles, but also weirdly stiff noodles. They don’t straighten out, and I also don’t have the strength to lift them up or over. So I can maybe pull up to a counter, but unless I can go underneath I can’t reach that far in front of me. If I pull up sideways, I can’t turn my waist to reach over. I can’t use any of the sinks in my apartment, so I wash my hands with washcloths and spit my toothpaste into small cups. I’d really love to be able to wash my hands the normal way.

Elevator buttons within reach

Even though the buttons aren’t usually “high”, they’re still almost always a solid 6-8 inches too high for me to reach because I can’t lift my arms up or forward. With my footrests in front of me, it makes it difficult to reach forward. And elevators usually don’t have enough room for me to turn sideways. 

I’ve seen (online, never in person) some elevators that have a second set of buttons near the base of the floor so people in wheelchairs, or people with their hands full, can use their feet to press the buttons. I would LOVE for this to be the standard for all elevators.

Less steps, more ramps

Obviously, I had to mention this one. For whatever reason, people assume that this is like, the norm. But it’s really not. Especially in big cities and small towns where not everything is a chain. Plus, I’m not just talking about commercial establishments. Homes and apartments, too! There are so many places that I can’t get into because of one or two steps. And a lot of times it’s for no reason, it’s just part of the design. If there are steps, there needs to be an alternate path available. Full stop. No room for debate. And just go ahead and eliminate all unnecessary steps. Like, why does half of the room need to be one step higher than the rest of the room? Disabled people are so often forgotten in architectural design. Make your spaces inclusive, whether you’re building a restaurant or a house or a library or literally anything.

The option to stay in my chair on a plane

The fact that I can’t fly is something that gets me down on a regular basis. Probably more than it should. But it feels particularly cruel to have a travel itch you can’t scratch because you literally can’t even get on an airplane. Letting people stay in their chairs on a plane seems like such an obvious accessibility feature, but bring it up to anyone in the field or who travels a lot and it’s treated like it’s physically impossible.

I’m sorry, I don’t buy that. We send people to space, don’t tell me it’s impossible to safely secure a wheelchair on a plane. It’s not. It’s just not a priority to anyone in a position to make it happen.

Wheelchair accessible travel options

Fun experiment: pick a city, go on any travel website, Airbnb as an example, and add in accessibility features. Pick things like wheelchair accessible, wide doorways, no steps, etc. Watch how fast the results drop from thousands to less than 100. Probably less than 15. And trust me that many of those are listed as accessible, but actually aren’t.

Travel, in general, just isn’t easy when you’re disabled. And sometimes, it’s flat out not an option. Even ‘luxury’ hotels aren’t reliable. Add in old cities or places where the ADA isn’t a thing, lack of transportation, and it becomes nearly impossible for someone like me to even consider a vacation. That is, unless you have a LOT of money. Budget trips aren’t going to work. It kind of breaks my heart because I want to see the world but I have no way of getting anywhere. Of all the things I have on this list, accessible travel is one I want the most.

Accessibility features that aren’t priced as or treated as a luxury

At the end of the day, accessibility has to be affordable (and in most scenarios, free) or it’s useless. A high percentage of disabled people live in poverty, and if a feature can only be used by those who can shell out a ton of cash, it’s just as harmful and problematic as it would be if it wasn’t offered at all. Access is a human right, not a luxury. Not a special perk.

Most of these features exist, they’re just not readily available. Which, obviously, is the problem. It shows that equal access is possible, but not a priority. That exclusion is intentional. I don’t know if the ADA will get better or worse in the next decade. Maybe it’ll just stay the same. But I hope that more people will start making an effort to be accessible and strive to make their homes, neighborhoods, and businesses more inclusive for disabled people. Not because they’re legally obligated to, but because it’s the right thing to do. We belong here, too.



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