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Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Physical Accessibility: Please, No Half-Assed Efforts

This particular rant is about physical accessibility, and inspired by a business building with which I have contact on a regular basis. It has a wheelchair ramp in addition to stairs leading up to its entrance. The problem is that in the winter, the wheelchair ramp is regularly covered with ice and snow. Anyone who's tried to wheel themselves up a snow- or ice-covered ramp in a manual chair, or who has tried to push someone up a snow- or ice-covered ramp in a manual chair knows that it's unsafe at best and impossible and worst.

Major Physical Accessibility Problem

This is a long-standing problem. I've complained to staff at the business twice this winter. My family has complained in past winters. It's not just a safety problem for people using wheelchairs, but for anyone else that might use that ramp out of necessity or convenience: parents pushing a stroller, people using walkers, canes, or crutches, and people who just feel a little unsteady on their feet and would like to avoid stairs.

My question is: If a business doesn't have the resources or the inclination to keep a wheelchair ramp usable for the public, why put it there in the first place?  If the business in question was really serious about easy physical accessibility, and not making customers go through a busy parking lot that's often as icy as the ramp to get to the back entrance to the building, the ramp would be cleared off. Obviously increasing physical accessibility is not the reason the ramp is there.

I realize that people don't think about matters of physical accessibility until they really need to. I certainly didn't. Here's a hint to those who haven't thought about them: You can't half-ass these things. It's not a good use of the time and money it takes to increase physical accessibility in a  building, and it simply doesn't send a good message to the rest of the community. It says that you don't care whether or not people with disabilities or other people that benefit from universal design can access your place of business. It says that you don't really care whether that group spends any money in your store. As a person with disabilities, when I've not been able to get into a business because of my disabilities, I've said to myself (and to others), "They obviously don't want my money...I'll go to the businesses that do."

I don't feel that this is an over-reaction. When it comes to making communities places in which people with disabilities can have full access, they deserve more than half-assed efforts.

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