A legal and moral obligation

Twenty-five-plus years after implementation of ADA, many ignore the landmark law

The author teaches at Butte College and parents two children, one a wheelchair driver.

I was having a wonderful time at a local festival, listening to great music, dancing with my child, enjoying food-truck cuisine—right up until I realized that there was no wheelchair-accessible bathroom. Once again, I found myself reflecting on the short-sightedness of those who overlook people with different abilities than their own. And as I left to take my wheelchair-using child home, I walked past the donation booth without stopping.

It seems that 25-plus years after the passage of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, many folks still don’t grasp the significance of “accessibility.” I have been to sports events where bikes or kayak trailers were parked in handicapped spaces. I’ve also been to numerous playgrounds with no structures that my child can play with, as well as the aforementioned bathroom problem.

The assumption seems to be that “those” people won’t be attending this particular event or using this facility because it involves some kind of physical activity. Well, they certainly won’t if they can’t get to it, or use the bathroom while they’re there, or participate in at least some of the activities—and neither will their families or friends, because who wants to go to something that their loved one can’t enjoy with them?

In contrast, many places are quite welcoming for users with disabilities. They seem to have recognized that they will maximize profits or funding sources by becoming more accessible. They realize that the age group most likely to have financial heft is also the most likely to have physical challenges. In going above and beyond ADA compliance, they’re golden, morally and financially.

If your business or event wants to attract more patrons, check for the basics: Is there a clear path of travel (level thresholds; smooth, hard surfaces; accessible entryways)? A range of products or activities for users with differing abilities? A bathroom stall for wheelchairs, strollers and companions/attendants/parents? No obstructions to existing accessibility features like parking spaces and ramps? Building professionals, accessibility consultants, community members and sometimes even funding are available to help you. Go for the gold standard of accessibility: It pays in many ways.

This guest comment originally printed in July 2015.