Why inaccessible buildings are a form of discrimination

As I live in a relatively “old” city with relatively “old” neighbourhoods that come with old architecture (although, to be sure, I have it better than other North American cities, let alone European history-at-my-doorstep cities), I’ve come up against places I’ve wanted to go that, for all intents and purposes, I just can’t get into.

That’s always left me frustrated, I have to admit. And I’ve had to learn to live with that frustration, unfortunately.

Don’t get me wrong: I know there are many, many reasons a building remains inaccessible. I know the costs to make a building – especially an old building – accessible are astronomical, which doesn’t encourage proprietors to take the steps needed to make their building accessible by any means, also unfortunately.

But, let me just put this out there, as derisive an issue as it might be: how is saying I can’t enter a building (or have to enter through a different, “accessible” entrance separate from the “main” entrance) any different than saying that women, people who are gay, or people of different racial or ethnic minorities (or majorities, as the case may be) cannot enter a building?

Because, when I can’t enter a building, oftentimes it feels like that is somehow my fault – that I’ve done something wrong, that my kind aren’t the reason or the audience the building/establishment was made for or meant to provide services to.

And that’s, frankly, upsetting on a number of different levels.

*

I do have more “choices” of mobility than other people might. I can transfer into a manual chair, which can literally open up doors to places I can get into. And people reading this (and people I’ve come across) have said things, when finding out some places aren’t accessible, like, “Well why don’t you just use your manual chair to make sure you can get in?”

This has been a go-to option that I’m fortunate I can exercise when the time arises. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t really solve the problem. Being so used to being in an electric chair, I totally take my mobility for granted (but, then again, who doesn’t take their mobility for granted), but the times I really notice not having my electric wheelchair is when, lo and behold, I’m not using it. And although the portability of a manual chair is great, I literally feel like another person in my manual chair – a person who can’t push themselves around, so one who is literally “stuck” when no one is around to push them. (Also, interestingly but not surprisingly, my confidence level differs from chair to chair, too.)

So, getting “into” somewhere in my manual chair doesn’t actually dictate a “successful” excursion to that establishment – certainly not when I have less confidence in myself as a person and when I am literally dependent on someone else taking me from point A to point B (even when those points are just across a room).

Also, there seems to be this myth that paying to make a place accessible won’t actually make a difference to who will/will not use said establishment. Not only do I find this myth frustrating, but I also sense an untruth lies at the centre of it. For, if an establishment opens up their space to a growing portion of the population who uses non-portable wheelchairs, walkers, and other mobility devices, of course their clientele will change. And all disabled people, despite what the media say, are not below the poverty line. Many of them are, to be sure, but not everyone. A great number of the disabled people I know, in fact, are middle-class persons like me who are just as susceptible to going out and blowing our money on the next must-have item.

Case in point: there’s an indie used movie/music store in my neighbourhood that used to be perfectly accessible until about a year ago when they changed locations just a block away. I used to go there almost every day in the summer (even when I didn’t live in the neighbourhood) to rent DVDs (this was pre-Netflix, but even still they have an amazing selection of independent/lesser known movies) and browse their blow-out DVD selection. I most likely spent a couple hundred dollars there every year, easily, until they moved locations. Now, they have a ramp up to their store but it isn’t out every day.

I’ve only gone in there once since they moved, and that one time was with a friend, and I didn’t purchase anything.

So, please do me a favour and erase that myth that disabled people will not bring business in to an establishment or service provider, because I can guarantee you that if that establishment is popular enough to attract the majority of mainstream society, that will include disabled persons – it shouldn’t exclude us.

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”- Maya Angelou

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