Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Invisible Inaccessibility

As I've been spending this week trying to find a suitable venue for a party with at least two guests in wheelchairs, and it is (or at least was a few hours ago) Blog Against Disabalism Day, I thought it appropriate to write about the frustrations involved.

The party in question is a wedding shower for my friend A. Since I live out-of-state, I need to find a restaurant or similar place in A's hometown where we can go have her party. The alternative would be to hold it in her apartment. The latter would guarantee accessibility, but would put at least 75% of the shower work on the bride, which doesn't seem like a good option. So I've been talking to various places, trying to find someplace that can accomodate a couple dozen people, of whom two will be in wheelchairs.

Seems simple, doesn't it? Just call a few places up and ask about their accessibility, right?

It doesn't work that way. Those of you who use wheelchairs regularly are undoubtedly familiar with the phenomenon - most places that call themselves "accessible" are at best, barely tolerable. The handicapped bathroom may be accessed by a door in a blocked corner that no wheelchair could get around. The level entrance may be on a block with no curb cuts whatsoever. The restaurant with the wide doors, may have tables placed so closely together that Mario Andretti couldn't drive a wheelchair through the maze. Yet all of these will be called "Handicapped Accessible", and their employees will be cheerfully oblivious to their failings. No place can be truly trusted to be accessible, regardless of what they say, unless someone who knows what they're looking for has been there, on the ground, looking.

I talked to one place about their accessibility. Their events coordinator had no idea what I was getting at. They had the accessible sticker, didn't they? What was I concerned about?

"Can you get from the nearest parking lot to your building easily?" I asked. She wasn't sure. She thought so...yes, the parking lot in the basement had an elevator. When asked about clearence for a tall wheelchair van, she had no idea. Curb cuts on the block? No idea. Accessible meant that their doorways were wide, and they had rails in the bathroom as far as she knew.

Fortunately for my peace of mind, her restaurant is not where I ended up booking us. That honor went to a different place. When I was talking to their manager, I brought up the accessibility question, expecting the same waffling as always. Instead he asked me a question in return "What kind of wheelchairs will there be?" he asked. "The different chairs can have different footprints, and I want to make sure I leave enough turning room."

I think I'm in love. Or possibly in heaven. After weeks of calling and asking, I can actually book the wedding shower someplace where I can have some confidence that the bride can get to her own shower.

Now if only she didn't have to deal with this kind of crap every day of the week, and twice on Sundays, I'd be a happy woman.

No comments: