Living in an Upper Midwest city, life is reasonably accessible for citizens of all abilities, even considering the fact that we live with several feet of snow on the ground for nearly 9 months out of the year! I work downtown in a large 5 story office building which was in need of some much needed renovations that were completed just this summer.
The building was renovated top to bottom – new floors, new ceilings, new paint, new fixtures – you name it, everything was new. Walls were knocked down and the employee parking lot was even repaved. All these glamorous renovations actually enticed a bank to move in on the first floor prompting the building managers to install an accessible entrance with automatic push button doors – but only to the front of the building, and only after the bank moved in several weeks after the renovation was completed, leaving no accessible access to the building for employees or customers using the back entrance.
It was not until several weeks after the renovation was completed that a push button to automatically open the door was installed in the back entrance of the building. It was only installed on ONE door, however, and there are double doors to enter the building. So imagine a person needing a hand with the door has access using the push button to get inside the first door but they are essentially denied access to fully enter the building because the second door does not have a button installed. It was not until this week – over 2 months after the renovation of the building was completed - that the company came back to install the automatic button for the 2nd door.
This got me thinking, is accessibility an afterthought? Something that companies only recognize a need for once employees or customers with various abilities are seen struggling to access the building? Is the need for accessibility only recognized when it is mandated by law? Or perhaps when someone actually brings the fact that a building is not accessible to the forefront of the property manager’s attention? Even though building accessibility has been part of ADA guidelines since the 1990s, it is still surprising to see how loosely the “accessibility” is actually practiced.
Imagine what our communities would look like if accessibility wasn’t an afterthought but rather a forethought! Something that designers, architects, property managers and companies build into the first stages of their plans, not something that is installed long after. The foundation of the word “accessibility” is ACCESS. Think about the value that creating greater access could bring. Creating ACCESS to public buildings and places of business means companies are opening their customer base to people of all abilities who have money to spend, ideas to contribute and who want to take advantage of the same opportunities and services as able bodied customers.
What is ACCESS like in your area? Feel free to share your experience in the comments.