Sidney wanted to have a quiet, intimate dinner with his family the night before his daughter’s wedding. Since the wedding was not in their hometown, Sidney was unfamiliar with the area. He called several restaurants to see if they had wheelchair access. He selected a place that sounded nice and they assured him that the wheelchair would not have a problem in the restaurant.
The family arrived, parked the car and proceeded toward the restaurant. The restaurant was located in a small strip mall, and while the restaurant itself was accessible, the strip mall was not. The entire sidewalk around the stores was elevated and there was no way for the wheelchair to get up on the sidewalk from the street.
Sidney’s wife entered the restaurant and asked where the wheelchair access was. The manager appeared confused. He showed her that there was no step blocking the entrance to the restaurant, and all the tables were on level ground. When she pointed out the fact that the entire restaurant and all the other stores in the strip mall could not be accessed from the street, the manager seemed surprised. He assumed that people in wheelchairs could get out to take the one step needed to get on level access with his restaurant.
A new supermarket that was part of a large chain of stores opened in Molly’s neighborhood. They were known for their discounted prices and large selection of merchandise. Molly went the first week the store opened. She searched everywhere near the main doors of the store for the handicap parking stalls but couldn’t find any. Parking quite far away (at the end of the row to make sure she could get back into her car without being blocked) Molly slowly made her way into the store.
She approached customer service to complain about the parking. The representative told her that the store did have handicap parking and pointed to the row of parking stalls farthest from the store entrance, which indeed had been dedicated to the handicapped.
A few years later, the store moved several blocks away to a larger location. Perhaps they had had several complaints about their handicap parking, or maybe the law had changed, but this time the handicap parking was in front of the main entrance doors to the store. The only problem was that there was a small sidewalk area at the end of each row next to the handicap parking. Anyone coming in a van that parked in the designated spot would have to unload the wheelchair on to this island that was one step above ground level. Getting down from the island could not be done independently and wasn’t the easiest or safest thing to do even with help. Any handicapped person coming to the mall alone had the same problem, as there was not enough room to maneuver a wheelchair except on the island. For a wheelchair bound person trying to shop at this store, the only alternative was to avoid the handicap stalls and park at the end of the row farthest from the doors.
Sally went to complain when she noticed that cars without handicap parking permits in their windows occupied all the handicap parking spots at her favorite store. Though Sally wasn’t handicapped, her best friend was and taking these spots unnecessarily really angered her. She complained to the manager but was told that they could do nothing. To ticket these cars would be bad for business.
Handicapped people all encounter bathrooms that are accessible but with main doors that don’t open wide enough for a wheelchair, entranceways that are too narrow and convoluted to allow a wheelchair to maneuver, indents in the sidewalks that aren’t smooth or are furthest from the entry doors or non existent. These all, in effect, bar handicapped people from joining the rest of society at various places in our community. Whether it is deliberate or an oversight doesn’t make it right. It is up to all of us to insist that everyone in our community has access to as many community institutions as possible. Otherwise – are we really a community?
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