As we near the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a question remains; just how inclusive have we truly become as a country towards those with disabilities? The answer is a complex one.
On the one hand, we’ve come remarkably far toward equal rights and acceptance of those with disabilities, from employment to transportation. However, if we are to be candid, we still have a long way to go when it comes to full social inclusion of those with disabilities.
Interestingly, as a country, the major barriers that remain toward full social inclusion are, in large part, physical. The fact is, while the ADA seeks to ensure architectural access for those who use power and manual wheelchairs, as well as scooters, access remains a barrier in both large and small cities alike. From county courthouses to mom-and-pop businesses, as little as a single step still prevents many who use mobility products from accessing businesses and services vital to full inclusion. From entering a county building to obtain a marriage license, to eating at a local restaurant, many public and private businesses still deny those with mobility needs equal access. The question then becomes, if we are to achieve full social inclusion of those who rely on mobility products, how can that occur without ensuring equal architectural access for all?
The answer is, it can’t. Not just in the spirit of the ADA, but more so in the spirit of social equality for all, we as a society must better embrace the needs of all, including those who rely on mobility products. This process isn’t so much about architectural expense, as many “one-step” barriers and virtually all creations of access are remarkably affordable. Many of us know from our own experience how inexpensive it is to provide a ramp.
Rather, to achieve an ultimate level of full social inclusion by removing remaining architectural barriers, we simply need understanding that everyone in our society deserves equal access. Changing architecture is easy; changing mindsets is much more difficult.
However, changing mindsets is exactly what we need to do, one person at a time, one business at a time. It’s amazing how when we as individuals connect with other individuals and point out architectural barriers, changes quickly become reality – both socially and architecturally. Often times, individuals in both the public and private sectors simply aren’t aware of the need for access – and how affordable accommodations are – until a single person makes them aware. New York City businesses have proven a great example where many private, small businesses have invested in such practical forms of access as portable ramps. In this way, again, we see that accessibility isn’t about big dollars, but simply personal awareness.
Therefore, nearing the 26th anniversary of the ADA, while we still have a ways to go toward full social inclusion, the answer isn’t as complex as many might assume. If you are one with a mobility need or know someone who uses a power chair, manual wheelchair, scooter, crutches, or walker, and you encounter a public or private establishment that remains inaccessible, reach out in a kind way and explain to those in charge how much of a difference access would make for those with disabilities. You’ll be amazed not only at how receptive others are, but also how much more progress we make toward full social inclusion of those with disabilities.