Friday, June 28, 2013

Using a Shotgun to Kill Flies?

Hilton Garden Inn, Jonesboro, AR
You learn things when you travel. Some things you already know: sea food tastes best near the ocean. Other things you knew but hadn't thought through from a personal perspective.

Here's an example. There was significant protest and then progress regarding one small element of disability access. I followed the story casually earlier this year, no doubt because my ox wasn't being gored, but for some people it held importance. The issue was the placement of lifts in hotel and motel swimming pools to provide access to people with disabilities as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We stayed in three different motels on a recent trip to the ocean, and only one of them had a lift for the swimming pool. That was the Hilton in Jonesboro, Arkansas. I didn't use it. I could have, I know, and that's good.

To me, however, this focus on protest and activism regarding minor, singular elements of public access seems a misdirection of energy. Granted, I care nothing about swimming. Granted, any candle lit to illuminate a dark corner where discrimination or lack of access lurks to shed some light is worthwhile.

But ...

To me the most confining access of mobility disability is the lack of universal design in private housing. It is superb to be able to move freely in the public space. It is liberating. I know. I moved to Cripville long before anyone thought of slapping a ramp on a public building. Nevertheless, the single thing that isolates me now—and has isolated me every since the day I joined the Crip Parade—is my inability to visit friends, to share the small social interactions that take place in houses and homes.

And generally, architects and contractors care nothing about the problem. Most of the McMansions built during the recent housing boom—the ADA will be more than two decades old this year—are as inaccessible as housing built in the decades before. Let's not even talk about inaccessible bathrooms, narrow hallways, and 32-inch door ways. Let's talk about something as simple as one ramped entrance. 

I will never be persuaded that one ramped entrance on new home construction can cost more than a stepped entrance. It's a matter of design. And desire. And overcoming the inertia of ignorance and the We've always done it this way syndrome. 

Let's face it: architects and contractors won't comply until zoning and building regulations demand one ramped entrance on new construction and major remodeling. 

The ADA, despite all the odd-ball claims and lawsuits, has proven that private businesses will not act to allow access until compelled by law. It's time for the compulsion of law to demand universal access to new home construction. 

To me, that would be a far more useful expenditure of time and energy than worrying about access to hotel and motel pools.

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