Earlier today, I was reading through the comments on a Facebook post in an accessible travel group. The original poster was asking about the security of aisle chairs (used to transfer wheelchair users to an airplane seat), and one commenter suggested that a certain type of lift should be used instead. These Eagle lifts, as they’re called, are really amazing but they’re only available in a few airports. He said he received some feedback from one airport that wheelchair users rarely request them, which is why so many airports don’t have them.
This made me angry.
People with disabilities are constantly caught up in this chicken or the egg debate with regards to access. One side of the argument is that businesses and companies would be more accessible if people with disabilities spoke up and made their needs more clear through requests for ramps, hearing aids, whatever. This side has also defended instances where there is no access by saying that they never see wheelchair users in their area and no one has ever complained. The other side of the argument is that if businesses and companies had accessibility first, then more wheelchair users would be out and about and patronizing their businesses and companies.
So many people don’t understand how much of a burden is placed on people with disabilities to enforce laws like the Americans with disabilities act. Accessible parking is a good example. We complain a lot that there aren’t enough wheelchair accessible parking spaces, and many times they are taken up by people who don’t have a placard or plate. there is a huge problem with the enforcement of these parking spaces because by law, police officers cannot cite the vehicle owner if the parking space is out of compliance with federal and state regulations. In other words, if the spacing of the lines isn’t accurate and the sign isn’t the right one for that state, a police officer would just shrug their shoulders and say that there’s nothing they can do. At that point, it’s up to the wheelchair user to locate the property owner and either convince them to make the change on their own or file an ADA lawsuit.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of common thinking with smaller businesses who are not compliant with the ADA, and don’t have a lot of money to bring their premises into compliance. Wheelchair users tend to avoid businesses without an accessible entrance or bathroom (which is made much easier these days by Google Maps accessibility info) and just go elsewhere, which would logically lead that business owner to believe that wheelchair users never come around. However, if that business owner were to install a ramp or otherwise made his business accessible, he might actually start seeing customers in wheelchairs. What’s sad is that so many businesses and hotels and tourist attractions with amazing accessibility don’t do nearly enough to advertise that on their websites or through social media. It’s like they don’t understand the size of the market we represent or our considerable spending power.
So which should come first? Should we be the ones who need to let businesses know how to meet our needs in order to see positive changes in accessibility? Or should we expect businesses to comply with the ADA in order to attract even more patrons? I’d love to see your answers and thoughts in the comments!