by Cathy McCann
My daughter Sadie and I once found ourselves with a few hours to spare between doctor appointments. One great thing about the Children’s Hospital location in downtown Chicago is that any type of food you desire can be found within a 2-block radius. I had been craving Thai, so I was excited when my smart phone informed me of a Thai place just around the corner—yippee!
However, upon our arrival to the front of the restaurant, I realized that it was not going to work. Stairs. And lots of them—stairs up to the door, stairs up to the super cute patio that would have been a great place for us to sit outside on this lovely day. Bummer. No curry for me and no outdoor patio for Sadie.
Resigned that Thai would have to wait for another day, I rounded the corner pushing Sadie’s chair. OK, I guess Chipotle will have to do. A little sloped ramp into the door, and what do we run into immediately once inside? STAIRS! Ugh…handicapped access to enter the restaurant isn’t helpful if you have to navigate stairs once inside.
Fine. Let’s do Potbelly next door. Two nice men open the door for Sadie and me. And, what do we get once inside? Yep. Stairs…again. I’m so frustrated by this point, I am on the verge of tears. The men who opened the door ask if I need help once they notice that I immediately turn to leave. I point out that there is no ramp for us to get to the counter and order food. They seem surprised (and annoyed) by the lack of accessibility as well—although I’m sure it wasn’t apparent to them until I brought it to their attention. And, admittedly, these barriers were not at the forefront of my mind either in my pre-Sadie world.
Once you have a child with a disability, you tend to view the world differently. Curbs, stairs, steps, uneven pavement—once easily navigable, become obstacles. You develop a new disdain for the non-disabled who use disabled parking spots for their convenience. Whose improper use seems to multiply exponentially on cold, rainy days.
I’ve become programmed to scope out restaurants and public places, making note of those businesses that are easily accessible. Accessibility doesn’t just mean a ramp or a handicapped-parking place. It means automatic doors with push button (that work!), wide aisles, clothing racks that aren’t super close together, seating options in addition to booths, low tables (not bar-height), braille elevator pads, TTY phones, etc.
I remember meeting a high school teacher who taught a class on diversity. As one of his assignments, he would require students to be in a wheelchair all weekend. I remember thinking what a valuable lesson this would be for everyone. And that got me thinking…maybe there could be some organization that could give a seal of approval to handicapped-friendly businesses? A sticker on the door perhaps alerting the person in a wheelchair person that they will not encounter stairs once entering said establishment? Something like JJ’s List perhaps?
It’s been 23 years since the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed, and there still exist businesses that—because the age of the structure in which their business resides—don’t have to adhere to the tenets of ADA. It’s just sad that some business owners continue to rest on the loopholes in ADA.
It’s also unfortunate, because I’m still craving my red curry.