It’s an able-bodied world, full of able-bodied people who don’t necessarily think about things in an accessible way. The Americans With Disabilities Act changed the face of business for a great many members of the disability community, but microaggressions still persist. Accessibility is not just about parking and ramps – it’s about approaching the public with the mindset that all potential visitors, customers, or clients are welcome and designed to welcome all.
Access to Electricity and Bathrooms Is Required
Individuals with limited mobility who benefit from the use of electric wheelchairs, those who require assistive breathing devices and many others need handy access to electrical outlets. Running extension cables across the floor to a seated customer just causes problems while they wait, stalled or worried about their apparatus, and leads to feelings of discomfort, frustration and even shame if they suddenly find themselves inconveniencing others due to their accommodation requirements. Instead, consider installing drop-down columns with outlets (like those found in many modern offices), so customers can plug in as needed.
Handicapped-ready bathrooms have become more common than not, but readiness is not always accessibility. The minimum ADA mandated space is not enough for many wheelchairs, and stability bars can easily be placed too low to assist users comfortably. While able-bodied customers may see these stalls as luxuries afforded the disability community, they’re often the bare minimum required for a task rarely discussed in public (at least in America). To test bathroom stalls for your company, go pick up a rental wheelchair or use the one you have handy for guests that need it. Try navigating the stall, hanging up a coat and using the toilet with the assistance you have in place. Adjust accordingly.
Assisted Entry is Not Accessibility
Churches and other public, non-commercial buildings are top offenders when it comes to believing that assisted entry is enough for easy accessibility. Installing a wheelchair ramp goes a long way, but when that ramp leads to a door that is kept locked unless it’s needed, it’s not accessible. This is the type of microaggression that leads to similar feelings of discomfort and frustration, as the individual waiting outside must now inconvenience someone else just to get in the doorway and the person assisting with entry must drop whatever they’re doing just to let someone inside the building. Whenever assistance by an able-bodied individual becomes necessary, it eliminates a great many of the benefits accessibility affords. Accessible parishes can quickly become a beacon to the faithful who live with a disability.
Call Ahead Is Not Accessibility
“If you need additional assistance, just give us a call!” It sounds so friendly, yet it’s just one more sign that true accessibility remains just out of reach. Colleges, libraries, and universities are top offenders with the call-ahead mentality. Asking for reasonable accommodation is fine when someone is involved in a job interview. Touring and interviewing schools shouldn’t be a call-ahead situation, as the accessibility should already be in place for the hundreds (if not thousands) of students with limited mobility who have already passed through the hallowed halls of the institution. Prime examples of this mentality are far too often found in theaters, stadiums and concert venues.
In an age where word of mouth moves at the speed of social media, public relations is all about inclusiveness. Even if the almighty dollar drives accommodation instead of ethics or morality, avoiding a public relations disaster through the goodwill created by accessible design policies pays for itself. While few may be willing to discuss the feelings of shame and inequality created by a too-small “handicapped” stall, those who are can be very, very vocal about it.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons - United States Congress Image in the Public Domain