Disability Pride Month: Everyday Accessibility

July is Disability Pride Month, chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Every week this month, I’ll have a different post on something disability-related. You can read last week’s here.

One of my favorite things about sharing my disability experiences here and on Instagram is when people comment and let me know that I’ve made them think about or notice something new. Sometimes advocating can be exhausting – it takes a lot of work for a little bit of progress – so the reminder that people are recognizing the inaccessibility of the world gives me hope for change. So I thought that today, I’d share some of the most common accessibility things I look for and notice when I’m out! And maybe you’ll start looking for and noticing them, too, and little by little, ramp by ramp, change will happen.

Accessible Parking

Accessible parking is always one of the first things I look for. The minivan I use has a ramp that comes out on the side, so accessible parking is really important – in a normal spot, I can’t get out of the car, because the ramp would hit right into the car next to me. This is why it’s so important not to park in accessible parking unless you need it! (But a gentle reminder to never question anyone as to whether or not they need accessible parking, because you can’t always tell just by looking at someone.) The more accessible spots, the better, too – it’s so frustrating to drive by and see only one or two accessible spots, because they’re almost always already taken.

Ramps

Ramps are something else I notice all the time – the presence of them, but also commonly the lack of them, too. I think once you start to look, you’ll be surprised at how many places still have one or two steps, making them inaccessible to someone like me who uses a power wheelchair. So whenever I’m out, I always look for ramps. I also look to see where they are – are they out front, easy to find? Or are they somewhere hidden and hard to get to? Obviously, I get it – older buildings sometimes have a hard time retrofitting accessibility, and an out-of-the-way ramp is better than no ramp. But in newer buildings, I’m much less forgiving!

Automatic Door Buttons

Automatic door buttons are also something that is extremely rare! Of course, you’ll see them in major places like hospitals, university campuses, airports… but in my day-to-day life, I almost never see them. It might not sound like a huge deal – I can just ask someone to open the door for me! – but when it’s cold, or snowing, or raining, and I have to wait for someone to pass by the door of a coffee shop just so I can get it, it’s actually pretty annoying. It’s a small thing, but an accessible door button is a huge improvement in independence and accessibility for me.

Smooth and Clear Sidewalks

Unless you push a stroller a lot, the smoothness of the sidewalk isn’t something that you pay a ton of attention to. But for me, cracks on sidewalks are the equivalent of potholes on the road! My chair does actually have some shock absorption built into it, but not enough – I feel each and every bump that I drive over. I’ll actually drive around major cracks or holes, but that makes it difficult for anyone walking nearby me, and sidewalks are only so wide, and there’s only so far I can go to avoid them.

This also extends to other barriers in the sidewalk, of which there are often many! Abandoned scooters, parked bikes, and roadwork signs are the first few that come to mind, but there are definitely more. I can usually handle a crack if I drive over it extremely slowly, but if there’s a scooter in my path, all I can do is wait for someone to come by and ask them to move it for me. If you start looking closely, you’ll realize how many hazards are on the sidewalk every single day.

Low Tables

Every time I go out to eat, out for a drink, or to a reception, I look at what kind of tables they have. So many place have mostly or only bar-height tables, which are really difficult for me. My wheelchair actually can raise up and get taller, but even at it’s very highest height, I can just about rest my chin on the table. That’s not exactly convenient for eating and drinking, or for having a conversation with your tablemates! So I really appreciate when places have a mix of low and high tables. I went out to eat at a small restaurant here (E.T.A) a few months ago, and while they didn’t have any low tables inside, they did bring one in as soon as we arrived, before we even had to ask for one! That really stood out to me, in the best way.

Plastic Straws

I know, I know, banning straws is popular right now for environmental reasons. But research-wise, straws actually have a miniscule impact on the pollution in the ocean, and they have a huge impact on my life! Without a straw, I literally cannot drink – I can’t pick up the glass and tip it to the right angle that I need. I do actually carry around a few straws in case of “emergency,” but in a bag on the back of a wheelchair, so if I’m out alone, I can’t reach them. So if I want to grab a coffee but there are no straws, I’m sadly stuck being in desperate need of caffeine but with no way to fix it. Paper straws get mushy in seconds, compostable straws tend to melt in hot drinks, and non-disposable straws need to be washed and put away when you’re done, neither of which I can easily do on my own. Having plastic straws available for people who need them is hugely helpful, but they’re sadly becoming less prevalent.

Accessible (Single Stall) Bathroom

The older I get, the more difficult it gets for me to use a public bathroom, so at this point, I mostly don’t. But when I was younger and it was less physically challenging, I’d always have to check if wherever I was going had an accessible bathroom. For me, accessible meant that it was actually reachable, and not up or down a flight of stairs, that the stall was large enough to fit my wheelchair and my mom / caregiver comfortably, and that the toilet wasn’t so low to the ground that it was impossible to lift me on and off. I really, really hoped for a single stall bathroom, because it’s always a little bit awkward to use the accessible stall and talk to the person helping you – everyone can hear, and sometimes the things you need to say are pretty private! So my preference, by far, is always a single stall bathroom, but having one that’s accessible to wheelchair users (and can actually fit a wheelchair and have enough room to still close the door!) is the bare minimum… yet isn’t always met.

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