The organizer of an event I was looking forward to attending is discussing the venue with me. Most of the activities will be on the ground floor. However, some portions will be held at the top level where there is no access. I hear that phrase I dread: "Is that okay with you?"
My initial reaction is to deadpan, "No, I want you to build me a ramp, RIGHT NOW." The look I received was accompanied with cautious laughter. In the moment's pause, I was thinking, "What answer will best suit you?" I know what is being requested: an absolution of sorts, so that no one has to "feel bad" about a location that is not remotely ADA compliant. In reality, what they wish to be pardoned for, whether they realize it or not, is never putting access in the priorities, or in any part of the thought process, when they selected that event space.
They aren't evil or even discourteous. It simply doesn't occur to them, even when they know I'll be in attendance, until I ask, as I routinely do when planning an outing in unknown territory. Only when the question is before them, I think, do they realize it matters.
Let's rephrase the question: "Only people who can pass as STRAIGHT can be on the second floor of the venue; is THAT okay with you?" How about "Everyone is allowed on the main floor, but Hispanics cannot go upstairs; is THAT okay?" Given those parameters, even those inclined to quietly acquiesce would, perhaps politely, decline to attend. Others might act out more demonstrative forms of "social disobedience." Friends would rally around those being discriminated against with the full force of public outrage.
Yes, discriminated! Just because one doesn't "mean" for something to be seen in that light, does not negate the fact that is exactly what it is. Even for those who proudly state, "Why, some of my BEST friends are..., followed by "But here's why THIS situation is excused from the definition of discrimination". Think about this: When is the exclusion of a group as a whole ever not a form of discrimination? When it is cloaked in politically correct grammar and good intentions? When it is done from ignorance and oversight? I’m not saying that one must have a dramatic response to every instance, but perhaps look and act upon such events as an opportunity to end the cycle.
It is time to STOP asking those already disabled by public environments if it is okay with them to be further excluded. It's time for everyone to stop casually accepting the lack of access for all. If you would leave an establishment that refused entry to any group of people based solely on physical attributes, then it is time to realize that those of us "otherwise capable" are being just as segregated from society. Parking spaces and special "seating" are sometimes only token gestures to appease. What we need, along with our own voices, are allies. Be aware and wake up to see what "socially accepted" exclusion says about us, as human beings. Fight the good fight in your own backyard, and make "Are you ADA accessible?" a question that business owners hear over and over again. If they ask, "Are you a wheel chair user?” reply with, "That was not my question.” Make it matter! If they say anything other than "Yes", tell them it is not acceptable. Loudly!
Vote with your bi-pedal feet for those who are "otherwise mobile”!
*Photo credit to Andrew Fresh