Friday, July 20, 2012

Small town accessibility: The dilemma

Accessibility is a big deal to me. Not only because it affects me personally everywhere I go as I’m in a wheelchair, not only because it’s the right thing  to include people rather than exclude them, but it is also the law.  Florida regulations are often stricter than federal standards, but what  good does that do? Is it fair that many businesses take those requirements more seriously than others, often at a great cost? And that  doesn’t always mean money. I’ve known bar owners that eliminated certain amenities, because they couldn’t make them wheelchair accessible and they wanted to play fair and do the right thing, while others just wouldn’t be bothered You hear stories about lawyers  that ride about town stopping at every small town shop and venue, nit picking at every little thing they’ve done wrong, every way they’re non- ADA compliant, threatening them they’ll get sued unless they pay up. I don’t know  if people like that really exist or if it’s a myth. I do know that there are places that are not up to the code and the owners don’t seem to care much about it. Often, when you try to talk about it, in the friendliest fashion, say “You know, you really need to have a ramp to that new stage you’ve built” you get an attitude. And it’s completely unnecessary. But at that stage I have a choice- either I will stop hanging at that place all together or I’ll do something about it. And I really don’t ride around town looking for a fight. I don’t go into places searching for things wrong with them. But those regulations are there for a reason, and it’s  not to make someone’s life difficult. It is so people like me and not me alone can use the establishment like any other patron. I don’t look for those things, they find me. I’m there like everybody else, just out  to grab a drink, have dinner, sing a song. And I really don’t want to be ‘that guy’. You know, the person that shuts establishments down, gets them fined or otherwise in trouble. I’ve known someone who would go into bars with a clicker counting everyone inside to see if they were over capacity. He wasn’t really doing it it to be a pain. It’s a genuine fire hazard and safety concern and quite frankly, venue operators should have known better. It did get him banned from most places. That’s not really what I’m  afraid of, but I’m not out there to spoil everyone’s time. Gainesville is a small town and I’m not looking for that kind of reputation. But mostly I have great interest in seeing local venues succeed. Because I’m part of this community and I believe we all should watch out for each other, especially in this economy. A lot of bar owners are my friends. Some level with me, saying yes we really shouldn’t have public on that stage and we were not planning on it [but we do]. It happened more than once.  On the other hand it feels I’m more concerned with them than they are with me. What I want to do is establish a type of practice based on fairness and honesty and not gimmicks. And that’s why I’m conflicted. Because if nobody does anything, how will they ever learn? Yes, it’s the law, but I feel that until they realize that it’s simply the right thing to do rather than a hassle they need to deal with, they will always find ways to get around it. No one seems to question the fire or health code and why they’re there, yet for many people accessibility issues pose a problem.  There is very little understanding of why certain things are standard and very little awareness of how the social benefits outweigh the costs. And that truly is the issue.


  1. That was a very interesting read, thanks Ralph.

  2. In the case of stages, many establishments do have ramps up to the stage that were put there for ease of equipment/sound/lighting placement, but that could ostensibly be used to get a wheelchair user up there. Sadly, I have found more barriers to stage access in local churches, where money shouldn't have been an issue because these multi-million-dollar church buildings were built in the past decade, well after ADA was passed. I have only seen ONE church that had a wheelchair ramp up to the stage (so wheelchair users could be in the choir/praise band or even give teaching) but that was only because their building was being built in 1990 and no one was sure how strict ADA was going to be.

  3. Churches aren't covered under the ADA... unfortunately.

    Ralph, email on its way to you... I may have a solution to your dilemma. :)

  4. Dana, Depending on where you live, yes, the ADA applies to Churches. The California Building Code is one example. "PUBLIC ACCOMMODATION [DSA-AC, HCD 1 & HCD 2] includes, but is not limited to, any public use building or facility that may be classified into one or more of the following categories: 13. A church." source:
    Texas also has their own legislation referred to as the "Accessibility Act". I'd encourage you to look into local legislation for your area.