Many people don’t realize in the midst of all the party planning and celebrations, there are many limitations for wheelchair users to overcome on holiday’s such as New Year’s Eve. Sadly there are few venues, bars, clubs, and hot spots that are wheelchair accessible, leaving options for wheelchair users confined to a handful of places. While the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has done a lot to promote awareness of and accessibility for people with disabilities, there are still considerable frustrations for those traveling by wheelchair during the holidays.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 addressed the issue of accessibility to workplaces, transportation, government and public buildings, stores, theaters, hotels and restaurants, requiring that buildings be modified as much as possible to accommodate people with disabilities. Requirements for new buildings are explicit and extensive. If a new building is open to the public, it must be open to the entire public, providing accessible entry and use of all facilities and services. Where most problems arise for wheelchair-using patrons, is in buildings constructed before 1990. The ADA requires what has come to be described as “reasonable accommodation.” What may seem reasonable may or may not be realistic, and, try as they may; some building owners are unable to provide full accessibility.
Many accessibility problems are a function of geography and economics. Accommodating any large number of people can mean stairs both outside and in. To this day, buildings reflect early construction problems. Given the issue of “reasonable accommodation,” asking very direct questions will ensure a pleasant experience in independent restaurants. Staff may be ignorant of how “reasonable” translates for someone using a wheelchair, and “uh, sure” is not an adequate answer to questions about accommodations.
- Do you have steps outside, inside?
- Is there a path of travel accessible by wheelchair from the street to the event location which will enable people in wheelchairs to reach the building in which the event is located?
- Are sidewalks even and in good repair and are they clear of ice, snow, or other debris?
- Is there a ramp?
- Are the bar and the dining area on the same level
- Is there room between tables for a wheelchair?
- How often do people in wheelchairs dine in your restaurant?
- Are there steps to get in the building or elsewhere that must be used? (fire exits)
- Do you have wide doorways?
- Are there accessible bathrooms?
- If parking is provided as part of your event, are “handicapped parking” spaces provided as well?
- If food is served at the event, is the food service accessible to a person in a wheelchair or with another type if mobility impairment?
- If the serving is buffet, can a wheelchair user negotiate the spaces around and between the tables?
If you are staying at a hotel, be sure they are accessible too.
- Is the bed the correct height for me to transfer?
- Does it have a roll-in shower?
- When I make a reservation, will I be guaranteed an accessible room is reserved for me?
- Confirm your reservation a few days before leaving for the event.
A direct question is the best way to determine whether a restaurant stays on your list. Where is the bathroom? Is there room to get to it in a wheelchair? Direct questions will prevent it from becoming an exercise in futility or humiliation.