Today I want to share a couple of experiences I have had recently in my community that reflect different aspects of the ADA. Title II of the ADA covers State and Local Governments in all programs, services, and activities which are provided to the public. This is so important because people with disabilities have historically been omitted by poor community planning. Title III of the ADA ensures there is a responsibility to serve people with disabilities at places of public accommodation, which also have a history of excluding the disabled population. Since the ADA was first implemented just over 30 years ago, we have come a long way. With all the progress that has been made, there is still a long way to go.
I recently got vaccinated for Covid-19. I attended a mass-vaccination clinic organized by El Paso County. I overheard the front door temperature attendant say that this particular clinic has the capacity to vaccinate 1000 people each day. The clinic was very well organized, and everything functioned smoothly, even quicker for my 2nd dose. What I was most impressed with was the consideration the county had made in hiring on-site interpreters. Not only for Spanish speakers, but also for ASL. I was so impressed! The ADA requires that effective communication be provided at the request of people with disabilities. Having interpreters on hand was just awesome to witness, that the county is aware of their obligations and decided to go beyond. This clinic did a spectacular job of ensuring that everyone would be able to understand what was happening as almost all directions and instructions were verbal.
As you may know by now, I am a cyclist training to compete at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo this summer. Even though my cycling discipline is very sprint specific, I still do a fair amount of outdoor endurance training on my road bike. My endurance training is certainly less in terms of time and miles than what I used to do, so I have found myself being creative about looping routes near home to achieve the time I need to pedal. While out on one of these rides not too long ago, I noticed a section of sidewalk under construction. When I say “under construction” what I mean is that I can tell something is currently happening to the sidewalk, not that there was anything actively going on. There was no crew, just a section of sidewalk that had been taken out and not yet replaced. Just a few cones around the hole in the ground. Nothing about this was so out of the ordinary that it stood out right away from the countless other times I’ve seen something similar. What I did notice was this section of sidewalk was about 25 feet from a curb ramp on one side, and about a quarter mile of continuous sidewalk on the other side. As I rode along the road which follows the long side of the construction site, I saw no warning to pedestrians about what was ahead. This quarter mile stretch of sidewalk had no intersections, was lined by brush and large gravel. There was nothing done to warn a wheelchair user who might travel down this sidewalk about the impassability at the almost near end. An ambulatory person could step into the ditch created by the construction site, or walk along the side, but that option did not exist for a wheelchair user. The sidewalk was also too narrow to do a proper turn around in a wheelchair, meaning that someone could have potentially had to travel backwards for this quarter mile. A simple sign thoughtfully placed doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for at the entry to this stretch of ultimately inaccessible walk.
This last experience is one from a TA I took, after a business association took it upon themselves to contact our center. I want to be clear before I start that nothing about this experience struck me as malicious, by the caller. This caller taught me a lot about why the ADA is structured the way it is. The association is planning on installing raised outdoor seating areas for local restaurants due to local indoor dining/COVID restrictions. The first question of if “it needs to be accessible” is understandable. The second question of if “square footage affected the need to be accessible,” was slightly less. The question of if “a 6-inch step is wheelchair accessible” had me scratching my head. This caller thought these raised dining areas wouldn’t need to be accessible because they are temporary. This caller also reasoned that if the businesses they serve aren’t physically accessible in the first place, that these new dining areas wouldn’t need to be accessible either. I had to politely inform him that temporary new construction should adhere to the requirements of the ADA Standards. Again, I could tell this wasn’t malicious. I was pretty sure he had never actively thought about how to do things from a wheelchair.
I think that certain aspects of the ADA that are spelled out are obvious, but I can say now that there is a reason for that. Sometimes people lack empathy. Sometimes people let their own best-interests guide their thinking. People may just fail to understand they have responsibilities in the first place. We need to be doing better than we are as a community to ensure no one has to experience easily avoided frustration. When I do see people doing better, like El Paso County, it gives me hope that it can happen more often.