What inaccessibility feels like | #protectADA
Growing up in a wheelchair means learning as a small child that the world is much smaller for you than it is for everybody else. There are places you’ll only ever know about from pictures and stories, sights that feel about as real as the make-believe cities you grew up reading about in books.
I knew that trick or treating wasn’t really an option for me because I couldn’t even get to most people’s front doors. Going to restaurants sometimes meant going in through a back door near the trash. It was awkward and embarrassing, but it was that or not going at all. My wheelchair meant I couldn’t go visit any of my friends or family once I was too big to be carried. It meant I couldn’t go on vacations like all of my friends because I couldn’t get on the airplanes.
Accessibility isn’t something abled people even have to think about. It’s assumed to be a given thanks to the ADA. A concept that honestly makes me laugh because the ADA is barely enforced and accessibility is far from a guarantee.
But I guess I can’t fully blame people for not thinking about it when they have no idea what inaccessibility feels like.
To me, it feels normal.
It’s so common I’m never surprised by it. It’s just a part of life. There’s no such thing as a spontaneous trip – everything needs to be researched ahead of time. I always try and have a back up plan. I brace myself for cramped and uncomfortable settings where wheelchairs feel like an afterthought. I’ve had to struggle in every bathroom in every home I’ve ever lived in. Inaccessibility is everywhere, every day.
It feels lonely.
My friends go places and do fun things while I quietly watch them or wait for Instagram updates because I can’t go. I know that I’ll always be watching from the sidelines because most people don’t need to consider things like doorways, ramps, table heights, or steps when they’re going out. Sometimes all I want is to go to a friends house and then I remember that I haven’t been able to do that in almost 15 years. It sounds so small and insignificant, but it feels wildly isolating in a way I’ve never been able to accurately describe.
It feels hurtful.
It’s almost always cheaper to make a building accessible than to deal with fines or lawsuits that come from ADA violations. When it’s an older building, it’s one thing (still crap). But when a new business opens and they’ve made a conscious decision to not even add a ramp or buttons to open doors? It always feels personal. Every single time. Disabled people are the one demographic everyone seems unanimously okay with denying entrance to. There’s always an excuse, and yeah. It’s hurtful.
It feels like I’m the problem.
On a bad day, inaccessibility feels justified. I see the nice people who run a store and seem to feel bad that I can’t get in. I feel guilty. What a hassle to rearrange their entire store and make so many changes just so I can wander through. Sometimes I have to fight to remember that I deserve basic access just like everyone else, that I’m not an ungrateful burden.
It feels permanent.
I literally can’t imagine the world where accessibility isn’t something I need to worry about because it’s widespread and readily available wherever I wanted to go. I’m 25 years old and I’m still genuinely surprised when I go somewhere new and they have a really nice ramp or tables that actually have enough room for a wheelchair to comfortably pull into.
And keep in mind that I only have experience as a white wheelchair user living in a nice area. I have more access than a lot of people. For most businesses, accessibility starts and ends with ramps. I can usually get by this way, but what about everyone else? Imagine how frustrating it is to never have a braille menu provided or to never have an ASL interpreter.
The ADA is just a few years older than me. While I’m grateful for its existence, it’s far from perfect.
It’s rarely enforced. If you’re not willing to go through the time, money, and hassle of a lawsuit nothing gets changed. When you do file a lawsuit, you’re vilified for hurting small businesses who ‘deserve a second chance’ to become accessible.
Let’s be real here, though. The laws you’re violating have been in place for 27 years. You’ve had your fair share of second chances and then some. When a disabled person feels discriminated against, then they have every single right to seek compensation. If they were denied entrance for their skin color or religion, would anyone question their frustration or lawsuit?
So while inaccessibility is widespread, at least the ADA currently places the responsibility of accessibility on businesses. It also gives the small incentive to comply by allowing citizens to seek compensation and changes through lawsuits and fines. A new bill known as HR 620 (the ADA education and reform act of 2017) seeks to take that away.
With HR 620, disabled citizens will have to report any violations directly to the owner of the establishment in question. The burden shifts from the owner to the individual who has had their civil rights violated. It essentially requires all disabled people to be well versed in the laws just so they can attempt to have basic access to their own community. Even after a violation has been reported, with HR 620 businesses have 6 months before any other actions may be taken. As long as they claim to have made any progress, they can basically escape consequences indefinitely.
If HR 620 passes, the ADA will essentially be useless and discrimination will be legal once again.
Businesses will have no incentive to be accessible and disabled people won’t even be able to fight it. Civil rights will have to be violated before any progress can even attempt to be made. How ridiculous is that? How is anyone okay with this?
I can’t even take a spontaneous trip to a new restaurant without looking them up on google images to see if my wheelchair will fit. If the laws ‘protecting’ me are essentially gone? I guess I’ll be spending a lot more time at home.
Please fight with us to protect the ADA. Contact your representatives. Tell them to defend the civil rights of disabled people, tell them to not let HR 620 pass. I, and every other disabled American, deserve a place in society. We deserve access and we deserve our basic rights.
Even if it doesn’t pass, the fact that it exists speaks volumes of how society views disability. I’m tired of arguing for my right to belong in the world. I’m not asking for a lot when I’m asking for access, and I shouldn’t even have to ask.