By: The Southeastern Ohio Center for Independent Living
Ask people without disabilities if they are prejudiced against people with disabilities and the answer will likely be "no." Ask someone with a disability if they have experienced prejudice or discrimination and the answer may be "yes." A business owner may not believe that he or she discriminates against people with disabilities, but if the business is not accessible, that is, indeed, what they are doing.
When we think about physical accessibility, we think about things like parking, entrances, ramps, room maneuverability and bathroom stalls. Businesses may balk at the idea of changing everything around for the purpose of accessibility. This represents a misunderstanding of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA does not require existing facilities to change everything to become completely accessible, but it does require barrier removal that is "readily achievable," meaning "easily accomplished" without "much difficulty or expense." This barrier removal is an ongoing requirement. However, for new facilities constructed since the ADA, there really is no excuse for not being accessible.
In the last few years, lawmakers at the state and national levels have tried to pass laws that would require a person to give prior notice before filing an accessibility lawsuit and then give the facility even more time to fix the issue before a lawsuit could be filed. This would amount to giving a place of public accommodation almost a year to make something accessible when the requirements for accessibility have been around for 30 years!
A business owner may say, "No one with a disability ever comes here, so why should I bother to be accessible?" Perhaps the reason no one with a disability ever goes there is because it's not accessible. According to the American Community Survey, there are 56 million people with disabilities in the United States. Now consider the amount of potential customers a business loses by not being accessible.
Architecture that is not accessible is like posting a sign that says, "People with disabilities are not welcome here." Would such a sign be placed in the window of a business for any other minority group?
The purpose of accessibility is to enable people with disabilities to participate in all aspects of society, but accessibility and inclusion go beyond architectural structure. It's a matter of attitude. The lack of accessibility is a symbol of the lack of inclusivity of people with disabilities in mainstream society. Inclusion isn't just about accessibility. It's about attitude. When an attitude of inclusion permeates society, architectural accessibility should come naturally.
Do you have an attitude of inclusion?
Hamilton Lombard, Demographics Researcher UVA