Accessibility: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Dealing with accessibility issues, and trying to improve them, always feels like such a mixed bag. It’s never a straight path forward – for every big step forward I feel like I take, there’s always a setback, or a curve in the path that goes somewhere I just didn’t expect.

Within the past few weeks, I saw a really exciting accessibility change happen, and I had something really disappointing happen, so I thought that I’d share them both in one post. I want to end on a good note, so I’m going to start with the disappointing one.

When I was in DC, my sister and I booked blowout appointments at Drybar – at a location in Penn Quarter that we’d been to before, a few years ago. Since I had actually been there, I figured that I didn’t need to worry about if they had the removable chair at the hair-washing station, because I’d used it! Drybar has also made it really hard to call a specific location to ask these kinds of questions – you have to call the corporate number, corporate will send a message to the location, wait for a reply, and then call me back with the reply. It can take hours, and you have to cross your fingers that the question you asked corporate got translated properly to the store.

But when we arrived and were taken back to the hair washing area, we found out that once again, there was no removable chair. Apparently, the chairs had been replaced a few months ago, and when they replaced them, they made them all permanent. The manager was great about making sure she put in a work order request to get it fixed, but that didn’t help us there, in the moment.

We ended up finding a non-Drybar salon nearby with an accessible hair washing area where I got what might have been the best blowout of my life, so it really ended up working out for me. But I just couldn’t believe that Drybar had actually removed the accessibility – it wasn’t that they didn’t include it from the start, it was that they had it and then took it away. Having a removable chair is something that doesn’t hurt anyone; it only helps. Taking it away feels like a slap in the face – like Drybar is telling me that they don’t care about whether or not I can get a blowout with them.

I’m contacting Drybar on my own, but before I share my happy story, I’d like to make a small request – if you’re willing, please contact Drybar and let them know that this is an issue you care about, and that all of their locations should have removable chairs at the hair-washing station! Having many voices tell them this is more powerful than just one or two voices, and I’d really appreciate you sharing and spreading the word.

Now, to end on a positive note – this week, something happened that I have been wanting for YEARS – “my” Starbucks (Amos Hall on Pitt’s campus) installed automatic doors!

The backstory – this Starbucks opened within the last 5 years or so. It’s super convenient for me, because it’s really near my office, and I visit multiple times a day. The staff have gotten to know me, and they’ve been great once I’m inside, but I could never get into the store myself. I’d have to sit outside and wait for someone to walk by, so that I could ask them to open the door. If it’s 70 degrees out, that’s not a huge deal. If it’s 20 degrees and snowing, it becomes a lot more frustrating. One (or more!) of the baristas had actually tried to ask Starbucks corporate to add the automatic buttons, but it never happened.

Then one day I was at a meeting for Oakland accessibility, and happened to talk to a Pitt employee about my issue (since I was coming to the meeting cappuccino in hand). Since the building is owned by Pitt, and not Starbucks, he seemed to think it was something that he could fix for me. I didn’t hear anything for a few months, so I wasn’t sure if he had forgotten, or if he had run into a roadblock. But then I came back from my DC trip, went to get my coffee, and found out I could get into the store all by myself!

I was – and still am – so excited. It’s such a small thing, I know, but I rely on people for help in so much of my day. Knowing that going to get a coffee is now something that I can truly do independently is super exciting, and takes away some of the uncertainty in my every day: Will there be someone walking by when I get there? Will they have their headphones in and not be able to hear me? How long will I have to wait outside?

So while I may have started this month feeling disappointed about accessibility, I’m definitely ending it on a high note. Change might be slow, but it can happen!

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