How ADA accessible is Bishop Boulevard?

Washington State University student Zack Malmberg tries to negotiate uneven pavement using a wheelchair while classmates Natalie Swanson, left, and Hayley Sandberg watch Friday in Pullman. The students were helping to map Pullman businesses for accessibility to people with disabilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WSU students find out for themselves what it is like to be disabled in Pullman
By Taylor Nadauld, Daily News staff writer Apr 1, 2017

If you had to navigate the streets, sidewalks and businesses of Pullman with a physical disability, what would you find? Do Pullman businesses conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990?

More than 30 students from a Washington State University health communications course began to answer that question for themselves Friday afternoon as they partnered with BluePath, an organization dedicated to mapping ADA accessible businesses across the Pacific Northwest, to map what

they could of Southeast Bishop Boulevard.

The students split into groups, with one taking a wheelchair along to experience firsthand what it is like to navigate a business on four wheels. All students were armed with bright blue yardsticks to measure doorways, paths and thresholds; BluePath brochures; and quick appraisal checklists to determine how well each business complied with the ADA.

Zack Malmberg, 22, of Pullman, rolled himself up the hill to Village Centre Cinemas, getting stuck on a manhole five minutes in and nearly rolling into a nearby creek had it not been for a wooden fence keeping him safe.

Malmberg said he was not sure how good the wheelchair was in the first place, but he found it difficult to control, especially over bumps and on roads with a side slope.

The seemingly small obstacle was eye-opening for some of his peers, who determined the bump in the road was a huge problem after all.

“Honestly, imagine how hard that would be if you actually didn’t have a lot of mobility in your arms and hands too. That would be pretty much impossible, I feel like. You’d have to go in the road,” Natalie Swanson, 21, of Pullman said.

Malmberg also noticed it was impossible to use his cellphone at the same time.

The group had no such at the theater, which appeared to be closed, though they noticed it had a large parking lot and lacked an automatic door.

With that, they headed to other businesses. Swanson tried the chair herself, calling it quits after the group passed the manhood cover again.

One of the groups biggest obstacles was the boulevard, filled with passing cars. One student noted most people on foot would jaywalk rather than find a designated crosswalk. In a wheelchair, you could barely jay-roll, she said.

Chain businesses like the Holiday Inn Express were more thoroughly prepared as their headquarters require branches to meet ADA guidelines – something the students learned as they visited the hotel. They found the interior of the building had low desks and counters, wide paths, an accessible swimming pool, along with accessible bedrooms, outlets and peepholes.

A Verizon store also impressed the students with its accessible phone displays and counters. The store bore a wheelchair logo on its front door.

At Crimson & Gray, Hayley Sandberg, 21, of Pullman, took to the wheelchair to experience shopping. Though the business had a large elevator and wide enough pathways, Sandberg had trouble reaching textbooks on high shelves. The pathways between books, though wide enough for her chair, gave no room to turnaround, leaving her forced to roll backward down the aisle and take a different turn.

And it was not until the students visited Irwin, Myklebust, Savage & Brown PS Attorneys at Law that they found an automatically opening door, prompting “wows” from the group.

“I never thought how useful that is,” Malmberg said.

The students were one of several groups at WSU to participate in a “mapathon” this month.

Next month, BluePath will head to Vancouver to conduct more mapathons and further develop its website before increasing its marketing to a wider audience. Areas of Idaho and Oregon have also been mapped.

The website will become something similar to Yelp or TripAdvisor – a place where those with disabilities can find businesses that are easily accessible, said Vicki Leeper, marketing specialist for DACNW.

“You have to have enough businesses on it that people with disabilities find it useful,” she said.

Mark Leeper, executive director of the Disability Action Center Northwest, said the experience is important for students to appreciate the ADA, especially when the law has always existed for most of them. The act was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush nearly 27 years ago.

As for businesses, Leeper said they should not be afraid to acknowledge when they are behind on certain ADA requirements.

“If they’re making a good faith effort … it’s a civil rights law and so it’s not black and white criminal code or something,” Leeper said.

Visit www.blue-path.org for more information.

Taylor Nadauld can be reached at (208) 883-4630, by email to tnadauld@dnews.com and on Twitter @tnadauldarg.

 

 

A Word About Accessible Parking

By Dana Gover, ADA Specialist and Coordinator for NWADA Center – Idaho

Correct Parking SignOne of the frequent comments I get from business owners is they want more business. At the Northwest ADA Center-Idaho we are available to provide technical assistance and training on low cost ideas to increase access that meet the ADA regulations. One of the major barriers that I encounter daily is the lack of accessible parking that prevents me from entering a business and spending my money. One of the reoccurring problems with accessible parking is the spaces are designed incorrectly; this barrier can be easily fixed by repainting the parking lot.

If a business or government entity has parking available, the accessible parking spaces must be designed according to the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Adding accessible spaces in most cases is a low cost, easy fix. However, if the parking is not marked correctly it can cause unintentional consequences.

Recently my colleague and I were driving home from a training that we provided at the annual Community Transportation Association of Idaho (CTAI) conference held in Sun Valley. We decided to take a break and have lunch at a local restaurant on the outskirts of Mountain Home before driving home to Boise. However this was not the relaxing stop we had anticipated due to the problems with the parking. As I drove into the parking lot, I noticed that the parking spaces were only marked with a sign. None of the spaces were marked with lines or the required adjacent access aisles located next to the accessible spaces. So I parked on the end of the front row and took up two unmarked spaces. I drive a wheelchair accessible mini-van equipped with a lift that comes out on the passenger door. The lift requires extra space on the ground so I can exit the van in my electric wheelchair.

Before I could put my lift down on the ground, a lady and her husband pulled up in a van with a disabled license plate wanting to park in the space next to my van on the lift side. When I didn’t move the van, she started honking her horn and yelling at us to move over. My friend got out of the van and tried to explain to her that the lift needs extra space but the lady would not listen. At one point the lady yelled, “people like you should be strangled”. To avoid further insults and conflict we left and did not go into the restaurant. If the parking lot WAS designed according to the ADA standards this situation would not have happened. The restaurant would have had four customers spending money that day not just two.

To address the parking problem, I sent the restaurant a letter explaining the encounter with the lady and provided the manager with information on how to correct the parking problem.

If you are a business owner or a person with a disability it is important that we work together as partners to provide common sense ideas and use the new ADA requirements called the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design when designing parking. If parking spaces are not correctly designed this can keep people from entering a business and spending money. Maintaining your parking lot by making sure your parking spaces are clearly marked, free of debris and snow are also important in maintaining accessible parking. Consult Chapter 2 and Chapter 5 of 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

Link to Chapter 2 describing the number of required parking spaces:

Link to Chapter 5 describing accessible parking design requirements:

If you are a business and want ideas to increase access please contact the Northwest ADA Center-Idaho at 208-841-9422 or email dananwadacenteridaho@gmail.com. And be sure to have your business listed on www.blue-path.org and let customers know you have accessible parking!

BluePath Looks Forward to a Busy Year

bluepath
BluePath has grown a lot since it’s launch. From its initial listing of around 160 businesses, it now has 250!

This is in part due to our volunteers. Students at both Washington State University and University of Idaho have been taking part in Mapathons.

These events work in several ways. First there is an education that happens for the students. They learn about barriers to accessibility and the purpose behind the ADA. These students were all born AFTER the ADA was signed into law! So they didn’t know about the struggle for independent living prior to that. Then they go out into the field and “map” accessible businesses. By helping populate the site, it helps create a better tool for people with disabilities to access the information they need in order to do business in their community.

BluePath differs from other accessible sites in a number of ways. It is cross disability, not just looking for wheelchair accessible sites. We look at businesses that remove barriers for people with hearing and vision impairments. It is also not reliant on reviews. There is a strict protocol that a business goes through to see if it meets minimal accessibility requirements. This is not to say they have to be completely ADA compliant! Often times, if a business wants to serve customers with disabilities, they can find alternate ways of doing things to make that customer feel welcome. They are also committed to being open to discussion about removing barriers. A person with a disability can make a recommendation about what may make their experience better and know they will be listened to with respect.

2017 will see growth in the number of businesses listed on the site. Mapathons are scheduled from January to April in Pullman, Moscow, and Vancouver. How can you help? You can become a Pathfinder by signing up on the site. Then when you go into a business that you think is accessible, you can fill out a 10 minute “Quick Look” survey and – boom – the business is loaded! It’s not hard, the questions are all in easy to understand language and it can be done on your smartphone.

So join today and help us build a more accessible world!

HP Driving Employee Disability Awareness in Idaho

HP   We cannot say enough good things about HP and their Disability Employee Resource Group. Members of the Consortium of Idahoans with Disabilities (CID) – partnered with HP’s Disability Employee Resource Group to participate in awareness building, resource sharing, and community development at HP during Disability Employment Awareness Month . HP’s willingness to create a diverse, welcoming, and supportive environment for their employees whose lives are touched by disabilities is to be commended. From Liza Long’s keynote on October 11, to the CID member resource fair on Wednesday October 12, to the Q & A panel on Thursday October 15. Panel Members included Moderator Michael Turner HP Alliances, Document and Industry Solutions HP Americas with speakers Steve Graci, Director Idaho Federation of Families for Children’s Mental , Angela Lindig, Director Idaho Parents Unlimited, Christine Pisani, Director Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities, Mel Leviton, Director State Independent Living Council, and Dana Gover, Northwest ADA Center-Idaho. HP is laying a new foundation that embraces a culture of inclusion. Thank you HP!

To begin the month of November on a positive note we asked members of HP’s Disability Employee Resource team to provide us with their thoughts and impression about disability in the workplace at HP. The rest of the article is from the team at HP including a quote from Lesley Slaton Brown, the company’s chief diversity officer at HP.

Think about some of the greatest inventors of all time and names like Thomas Edison, Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein typically pop to mind. No doubt, each made well-known contributions to our lives.

What’s not as well known is that these historical figures also struggled with disabilities. Edison had a learning disability. Newton had epilepsy. And Einstein had Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of Autism.

History teaches that innovation knows no physical or mental boundaries, which is why HP is pursuing a little-publicized effort to attract, develop and retain top talent from a range of backgrounds in Idaho. Noting that roughly one in three employees in Idaho have some form of disability, according to Cornell University data, HP recently formed a local disability Enterprise Resource Group (ERG) whose main purpose is promoting the benefits of inclusion in the workforce. Wikipedia defines inclusion as the idea that all people should act to freely; openly accommodate people with disability, for example by providing ramps and accessible toilets in meeting facilities.

HP has been focused on diversity and inclusion for a while, having started Employment Resource Groups as far back as the 1970s for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Allies and Black/African American workers. The programs have grown considerably since then with the company sponsoring more than 260 diversity-focused events in 30 countries in 2015.

Now HP is focusing on the Boise area, and it’s been incredibly busy of late. In October, as part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2016, HP held a series of events for its employees, including a keynote event featuring a nationally known speaker and author on bipolar disorder; an awareness fair to discuss resources for empowering workers with disabilities; and a Q&A forum to help people learn more on the subject.

BluePath  Interestingly, HP is also beginning to experiment with a mapping application called BluePath to help employees find local “disabled friendly” businesses.

The company started by charting some of its own properties, such as its lobby and credit union. It is also sponsoring a series of voluntary “mapping parties,” where employees will locate local businesses to add to the BluePath map.

HP says it will continue to expand the efforts of its Employment Resource Group team, which currently has eight members, because it strongly agrees with the recent sentiments of Jennifer Sheehy, deputy assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy, who said:

“By fostering a culture that embraces individual differences, including disabilities, businesses profit by having a wider variety of tools to confront challenges. Our nations most successful companies proudly make inclusion a core value. They know that inclusion works. It works for workers, it works for employers, it works for opportunity, and it works for innovation.”

Indeed, those comments are right in line with HP’s own view that its prospects – and those of any business really – are directly tied to having as diverse a work force as possible.

“Diversity is embedded in everything we do,” says Lesley Slaton Brown, the company’s chief diversity officer. “The more points of view we can draw upon, the better our products, and the company as a whole, will be.” Brown notes that HP’s longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion has been widely recognized by many organizations that track such things. For example, HP received the highest possible score of 100 on the 2016 Disability Equality Index (DEI), a nationwide benchmarking tool that objectively ranks the biggest companies on their disability inclusion policies and practices. HP was also listed as on the DEI’s “Best Places to Work” list.

image2   In addition to industry accolades, the company is also ranking its own progress – and being very transparent about what it discovers. Each year, HP issues a closely watched sustainability report that draws upon a wealth of internal surveys and other data to measure its success against goals for diversity and inclusion as well as its commitment to the environment, society and corporate integrity.

HP says that programs such as the DEI and its own sustainability report help analyze its strengths and identify areas of opportunity across the organization. The company also uses these programs as a benchmark to compare itself to competitors and other businesses.

In the end, HP believes the diversity and inclusion work it’s doing in Idaho and beyond will attract a wider mixture of top-notch talent and lead to more innovation. Quite possibly the next great computing device or mobile gadget or printer. And who’s to say they won’t find the next Edison, Newton or Einstein somewhere in that mix? It could very well happen.

Spokane dedicates new ballfield for kids at Mission Park

Screen Shot 2016-10-27 at 11.16.42 AM

A dream to honor the late father of Major League great Cal Ripken Jr. converged Wednesday with the legacy of Otto Zehm as Spokane officials gathered in the rain to dedicate a new baseball field at Mission Park for kids with disabilities.

Spokane Mayor David Condon and Spokane City Councilwoman Amber Waldref joined park staff members who worked with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, secured state grants and persuaded local donors to raise a total of about $560,000 to fund the Mission Park Ability Field. The field is adjacent to the only playground structure in the city that provides access to kids with mobility issues or other special needs.

“This is the park Otto Zehm played in as a child,” Condon said, referring to a mentally ill man who died after a violent encounter with Spokane police. “This has become somewhat of a local destination for children with disabilities. (The ball field) will have a synthetic surface. With the dugouts and digital scoreboard … it will make the kids feel like they are playing in the majors.”

Spokane Parks and Recreation officials had dedicated the playground equipment years before the city settled a civil suit brought by Zehm’s family. As part of that settlement, the city agreed to a request by Zehm’s mother to place a plaque honoring Zehm in a gazebo at the park. The new ballfield was not a part of that settlement.

Zehm’s “mom wanted (the memorial) here because he came here all the time to play,” Waldref said. “He loved it here. It’s come full circle.”

Waldref said the ballfield only came about because city staff sought grants, contacted the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and worked with neighborhood groups who have successfully completed other projects, like providing exercise equipment for senior citizens at Mission Park.

The ballpark’s second phase, expected to be completed by this next summer, will add restrooms that comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, new paths and additional parking to make it easier for kids in wheelchairs to get to the new ballfield. Combined, the new projects will cost more than $800,000 to build.

The projects will “make it a regional destination for all kinds of families and people with disabilities,” Waldref said.

Bill Tsoukalas, speaking on behalf of the Ripken foundation, explained that Cal Ripken Jr. and his family created the nonprofit in 2007 to honor their father, who died in 1999. The foundation provides seed money for ballfields to serve disadvantaged youths.

The foundation’s initial goal was to build 50 ballfields across the country. The Spokane project becomes field number 66. It’s the 16th field designed specifically for kids with disabilities, Tsoukalas said.

“These are designed to deal with at-risk kids,” he said. “Whether its two working parents … or a kid with disabilities, this is a way the foundation can help you help your kids do the right thing.”

The foundation contributed the first $50,000. The city then won a grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office for about $230,000 and local donations made the up the rest. The Kalispel Tribe of Indians donated the money for the scoreboard.

Larry Gorton, 69, attended the ceremony. He works with the local organization called Access 4 All Spokane, which visits dozens of venues in the city to rate them for how they accommodate people with special needs.

“We are not the ADA police, but we are here to promote accessibility,” said Gorton, who is deaf and spoke through an interpreter. “I grew up here (in Mission Park), too. It’s been a very slow process to change things. That’s why we are here is to encourage people to adapt to people with disabilities.”

He applauded the city staff’s work to reach out to the Ripken foundation, and the three-and-a-half year effort to secure grants and donations needed to make the ballfield happen.

“It’s more than a park,” Gorton said. “It shows the city is trying.”

City of Post Falls Idaho Paving the Way for Better Access

Jessica

September 6, 2016, By Brian Walker, Staff Writer for Coeur d’Alene Press

To see the world through Jessica Workman’s eyes, you’d have to be in a wheelchair navigating broken-up sidewalks, dodging spray from sprinklers and hoping motorists see you on the side road when you’re forced to take a detour.

The 22-year-old has been bound to a wheelchair for the past year and a half, erasing activities such as hiking and basketball that she enjoyed before. Workman has dystonia, a disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that cause repetitive or twisting movements.

Workman also was a volunteer for those with special needs and at nursing homes, but her mission these days is helping to smooth travels for those with disabilities.

“I live independently, so I have to do everything myself,” she said. “I use my power chair to pay bills and grocery shop.”

That means she has had to find the best possible routes for her chair from her apartment near Treaty Rock to Super 1 Foods and other businesses since moving to Post Falls from Coeur d’Alene two months ago.

Workman said progress on access improvements for those with disabilities has already been made. She called the Disability Action Center to explain she needed to maneuver her wheelchair onto the street to get around a broken sidewalk. The detour caused her to have to enter oncoming traffic.

Within two weeks of hearing from Workman and the center, the city had the sidewalk repaired, making it a smooth ride along Idaho Street for Workman and others with disabilities. Workman said she was amazed at the quick response.

“They’ve listened to my everyday struggles,” she said.

Workman said the city not only fixed the sidewalk, but it is working with her on other projects around town to help make Post Falls more accessible.

Rob Palus, Post Falls assistant city engineer, said while all new roads and sidewalks must be built to standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). New signalized intersections also have beeping sounds to help those with disabilities find the cross buttons.

The city has also made an effort over the past decade to make improvements to the older sidewalks and roads, Palus said.

“If someone is having trouble making it from Point A to B, if it’s maintenance-related, we want to do our part to have that taken care of,” he said. “It’s important that when citizens notice something in bad shape to let us know and that can help us make corrective actions. Otherwise, it could be a long time before we notice it.”

Palus said the city sometimes receives concerns about why tax dollars are being spent for bicycle paths and sidewalks when roads for vehicular traffic still need to be improved. But there are also young and elderly residents in similar situations to Workman’s who can’t get where they’re going without having their chairs damaged by sprinkler spray or axles destroyed by uneven sidewalks.

“It’s good to know you can help make someone’s life a little better,” Palus said.

Michelle Porter of the Disability Action Center said congratulations are in order — for the city for the improvements it is making, and for Workman for advocating for herself and others in similar situations.

“Even small repairs and minor adjustments can make a difference in the life of people, like Jessica, whose mobility is dependent on accessibility to accomplish everyday chores,” Porter said. “Accessibility around town is crucial for personal independence when that person doesn’t have their own transportation and solely relies on their wheelchair or walker for mobility.”

Brian Walker can be reached at bwalker@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter @brianCDAPress.

History of ADA: How Far We’ve Come & How Far We Have To Go

By Sharon Fuller

Photo by Carly Winston of Moscow Pullman Daily News

Photo by Carly Winston of Moscow Pullman Daily News

The Americans With Disabilities or ADA has been in effect for over 25 years. We, as people with or without a disability, have come a long way in making life more “accessible” for people with a disability. There have been guidelines put in place and laws created that help to ensure a more accessible America …but, there is far more that needs to be changed and preferably at a faster rate than the last 25 years.

As A Movement: 

Since the mid 1900’s, people with disabilities have pushed for recognition, to be viewed as an individual and not have their disability define who the are as a person.

People with disabilities have battled with stigmatism, irrational fears, and harmful stereotypes that resulted in oppression, pity, ridicule, poverty, inability to contribute to society, and even viewed as entertainment for circus acts.  Our first President with a disability, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was an advocate for the “rehabilitation of people with disabilities” but still had the view that a disability was an abnormal, shameful condition that should be “fixed” or medically cured.

By the 1940’s and 1950’s veterans who were disabled started demanding that the government provide rehabilitation and vocational training, which brought more visibility and concern for the long-term welfare of those who sacrificed for the safety of the United States. Despite these initial efforts towards independence, people with disabilities still didn’t have access to public transportation, telephones, bathrooms, stores, buildings and work due to stairs and other physical barriers. Employer’s attitudes created more barriers for talented and eligible workers when people with disabilities were essentially denied access to meaningful work.

The Civil Rights Movement:

In the 1960’s the civil rights movement began and disability advocates saw an opportunity to join in with other minority groups and the demand for equal access and opportunity began to take shape. People with disabilities struggled to challenge negative attitudes and stereotypes. They rallied for political and institutional change by lobbying for the minority community of people with disabilities.

Disability rights activists started a grassroots movement at the local level, demanding national initiatives to address these physical and social barriers. Parents of children with disabilities started demanding that their children be deinstitutionalized and removed from asylums so they could have the opportunity to attend schools, be included and engage socially with children who were not disabled.

Rehabilitation Act- Section 504:

By the 1970’s disability activists lobbied congress and marched to Washington to include civil rights language for people with disabilities into the 1972 Rehabilitation Act. In 1973 the Rehabilitation Act was passed and a historical change took place. The civil rights of people with disabilities were now protected by law. For the first time in history people with disabilities were viewed as a class, a minority group.

ADA – The Americans With Disabilities Act:

The ADA was signed into law on July 26, 1990 on the South Lawn at the White House. But as you can see the ADA story began many years ago through the struggles and determination of people with disabilities who fought to have their voices heard.

The Independent Living Movement:

The ADA’s birthright is not owed to any one person, or a few people, it took thousands of people working together to put the movement into law. People worked for years organizing protests, lobbying, drafting legislation, testifying, filing lawsuits, being arrested, negotiating, doing whatever they could for a cause they believed in. If not for the commitment, contribution and hard work, even something as small as licking an envelope, the ADA would not exist today.

NCIL – The National Council on Independent Living: 

The single mission of the NCIL – “To advance independent living and the rights of people with disabilities.” It’s vision is “a world in which people with disabilities are valued equally and participate fully”.

“The NCIL is the longest- running national cross-disability, grassroots organization run by and for people with disabilities. It was founded in 1982 and represents thousands of organizations and individuals with disabilities, Centers For Independent Living (CILs), statewide Independent Living Councils (SILCs) and other organizations that advocate for the human and civil rights of people with disabilities throughout the United States.”

The NCIL emphasizes that people with disabilities are the best experts on their own needs, with crucial and valuable perspectives to contribute to society and deserving of equal opportunity to decide how to live, work and take part in their communities. For more information visit NCIL 

WE STILL HAVE MUCH MORE TO ACCOMPLISH:

Although the independent living movement has made great strides, the ADA still has a long road ahead. Barriers to inclusion still exist, language in reference to people with disabilities need to change, stigmas and stereotypes are still present, and accessibility is far from acceptable. With the invention of the internet and technology many more advancements are needed. As an ever- growing group, we have established that people with disabilities will keep fighting for our civil rights. In the meantime, websites like Blue-Path.org will provide people with disabilities access to businesses that are fully accessible. And it will provide businesses with the tools they need to become more accessible.

The ADA LEGACY Project:

With the 26th anniversary of the ADA looming on the horizon, the ADA Legacy Projects works to Preserve, Celebrate, and Educate. A nationwide tour will culminated in a celebration on July 26-28, 2015 in Washington DC. “We envision a world in which all people are accepted and valued for who and how they are: where all are welcomed with respect and given equal opportunities to contribute to the human experience. The mission of The ADA Legacy Project is to honor the contributions of people with disabilities and their allies by:

Preserving the history of the disability rights movement.

Celebrating its milestones; and Educating the public and future advocates” for it is they who will carry the torch for the next 25 years.

(To learn more visit The ADA Legacy Project )

Traveling with a disability

Travelling with a disability is far from easy. But it is exactly what I have been doing for the past 36 years. I have had my disability since 1978 after sustaining a T4 spinal cord injury in a car wreck. At that time I was 20 years old and still believed I had the world at my feet and after rehabilitation, I would continue to live my life as I wanted to: working, shopping, going out to dinner, having adventures with friends and family and travelling.

In 1978, rehabilitation meant learning to dress yourself, transfer to and from your chair, safely cook in a kitchen that was not designed to accommodate functioning in a wheelchair – basically doing everything just a little bit lower than face level.

The first step in continuing a normal life (pre-injury) I purchased a van, equipped with a wheelchair lift and hand controls. Now I would have my independence back!

It didn’t take long to realize that I was now living in a world that was approximately 90% inaccessible to me without assistance, at least one person to help me with curbs, stairs, heavy doors and other barricades that were not taken into consideration when design was done.

Fortunately and thankfully, due to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility an accommodation for all types of disability are being considered in the beginning phases of architectural design, city planning, and other forms of daily living. But inevitably when travelling, some form of in-access will need to be addressed before venturing into unfamiliar territory.

Here are a few things that I do in before going to an area or building that is new to me.

If I know I will be staying in a hotel, I have the luxury of owning a laptop, smartphone and internet access. Technology can go a long way in the process of planning. The first thing to do is go online (hopefully the hotel has a website that is “accessible”) to see if they have details to their accessibility. Guidelines set forth in the ADA make standardized accommodations easy to recognize. I look at the layout of the building, accessible rooms they offer, on-site dining, pool and/or hot tub accessibility (lift) and even flooring. Thick carpet can be very exhausting when using a manual wheelchair.

Some friends with a similar disability utilize Google’s “street view” to actually look for barriers to an entrance of a building, even going so far as to drive by ahead of time to see if it’s accessible.

Next, I call the hotel and ask to speak with the manager. I ask these questions:

  • Is there accessible parking in a well lit area near the hotel entrance?
  • Do they have automatic doors, assistance to help my with my bags?
  • Does the roll-in shower have a lip around it or is it flush with the floor? (I happen to dislike doing wheelies)
  • Is there a shower bench provided and a wall mount, adjustable showerhead (does it slide up and down) and will housekeeping be willing to clean the shower bench with bleach once I arrive?
  • Are there wall mounted hand/grab bars inside the tub area?
  • Does the sink/vanity accommodate a wheelchair to roll under, if so are pipes wrapped with insulation to prevent burns due to hot water, or injury from ramming a knee or leg into the pipe?
  • Is the mirror at counter level or several inches higher? (which makes it impossible to see anything but the top of your head!)
  • Are the electrical outlets at counter level?
  • Is the blow dryer mounted low enough to reach from a sitting position?
  • How wide is the open doorway into the bathroom?
  • Can a wheelchair turn a complete circle once inside?
  • How much space is there between the wall and bed?
  • If there are two beds how much space is between them? Some people can only transfer out of their wheelchair from one side.
  • Can lights be turned off at the bedside, if so how high is the switchplate? I’ve stayed in places where I get into bed, reach to turn the light off and discover it’s too high to reach.
  • Is there an electrical outlet either on the lamp base to plug in my charger for the cell phone? And, I always travel with a small flashlight and extension cord.

I have learned that by asking these questions in advance I can save a lot of difficulties and not end up trying to find another hotel after a long day of travel. Most hotels are more than happy and willing to accommodate me. I have even had the staff take photos and measurements of doorways, and decks/balconies and email them to me in case some aspect of the accessibility looks questionable. A website like BluePath could remove this laborious task and make travelling much easier.

In closing, I’d like to suggest that, if possible, always carry your cell phone. You never know when you might need to call the front desk from your beautiful ocean view balcony and ask if there might be a staff person available to come help you get back into your room because you inadvertently managed to get your wheelchair lodged between two deck chairs and are unable to untangle yourself…yes that would be me!

Are You Getting Your Share of the Disability Market?

Disability Action Center, NW along with Lane Independent Living Alliance wants to create a more inclusive community for all residents. The blue-path.org online directory project is designed to help individuals with disabilities work and live independently in their community. And as more businesses become increasingly accessible to people with disabilities this has the potential for wide reaching and lasting economic impact on the community at large and yield quality, long lasting benefits and outcomes for all its citizens.

There is a huge, growing and virtually untapped market out there.

More than 20% of Americans are living with a disability. Wounded veterans are returning in record numbers and baby boomers are developing similar, age-related limitations by the millions every year. People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the country, crossing all ages, genders, races and economic sectors. Customers with disabilities and their friends and families are found everywhere and that represents an estimated $220 billion in discretionary spending. This is twice the spending power of the teen market.

Thinking beyond the local market, if you were a tourist with a disability, where would you pick as a destination to stop at this spring or summer? Say you had a vision problem like macular degeneration, would you be certain that you could find restaurants there with large print, online or Braille menus? Or if you couldn’t climb steps because of a hip replacement, would you know that there were area attractions or stores with easy access?

Does your business’s marketing include information about your accessibility? Would tourists browsing brochure stands or online see that your coffee shop or bookstore or restaurant is accessible?

The Tourist Industry of America tells us that four out of 10 travelers either have a disability themselves or a companion with a disability.

People with disabilities have extra things to consider when they travel that others don’t. When planning vacations online, can they easily tell that they’ll be able to book an accessible room? When deciding on a restaurant to visit, will they see that you have accessible entrances or that you accommodate specific needs?

September 9th marked the very first “Mapathon” event held in the Moscow area to get business surveyed and listed on the BluePath website. Going out en-masse, armed with yardsticks, empowered us as a group. With the BluePath ‘Quick Look checklist it took only 10 minutes for a team to complete the survey. And once the business owner understood the economic benefit they can achieve by being accessible, they were more than happy to assist our Pathfinders.

Clearly, posting your business on blue-path.org is a win-win for all area residents and businesses. Beyond making your business accessible for consumers with disabilities, these improvements also make your business more accessible as a workplace and creates greater employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Did you know that once you become a BluePath Member your business:

  • Is highlighted as accessible on the BluePath website, as well as marketed through local Chambers of Commerce and Centers For Independent Living?
  • Is provided with a window cling that promotes your accessibility?
  • Can receive information on tax incentives for changes to make your business more accessible?
  • Can receive employee training for helping customers with disabilities?
  • Can receive reviews from actual customers to help you reach that level of accessibility.

Often it only takes simple, inexpensive changes to remove these barriers. And these changes are good for business.

Restaurants for People who are Blind

People with visual impairments or blindness are as diverse in their needs and preferences when dining out as are any other group of the general public. Let’s highlight the differences of a first impression whether its through the eyes, or the ears, nose and tactile/kinesthetic senses. Eating out is more than the mundane act of shoveling calories into one’s mouth. It involves ALL the senses. Decisions about where to eat and whether to return for future meals is based on whether the staff takes the time to make you feel comfortable.

You need to consider:

  • Smells that are inviting and compelling
  • Physical layout
  • Noisiness
  • How the menu is presented (online, large print or Braille)
  • Service and sensitivity of the restaurant staff
  • Does the patron feel his or her business is valued

How gracious the staff is has an impact on the welcoming “feel” of an establishment.

Seeking out a restaurant

There are many options for learning about places to dine for people with visual impairments. The recommendations of friends, advertising and web directories such as BluePath are great places to start. When hearing of a new place, I often go to their website to learn more.

  • Is their site accessible to screen readers and smart phones
  • Is it easy to read and navigate
  • Does it provide a menu along with prices
  • Are there more than pictures to describe menu options. A well-written description of what a dish contains is much appreciated! For example: indicate whether a dish contains penne pasta or linguini. (one is far messier than the other!)
  • Is accurate information given over the phone about location, hours and options?

Good customer service in these areas can set the stage for a positive experience.

Olfactory impact

Imagine walking down the street looking for somewhere to have dinner. As you approach a diner, the scent of freshly baked bread enters your nose. Your mouth begins to water and your stomach growls. Olfactory advertising at its best! Now imagine the same diner with the same delicious bread. Unfortunately, the odor greeting the passerby comes from the dumpster – definitely don’t want to go in there!

Once inside, what scents greet patrons? Is the bathroom clean? Is there sufficient ventilation to remove the smells of previous patrons? Are the rugs and drapes capturing the smells of spilled beer, cigarette smoke and other odors? I have friends that frequent a Mexican restaurant which has great food and a wonderful atmosphere, but unfortunately for me, smells like an old cat. I will eat there, but only under duress for I have never really liked cats!

Physical layout

I’ve checked the restaurant out on-line, been enticed in by the great smells coming from the kitchen and am not turned away by the odor of old cats or the smell of a dirty lavatory. Now it’s time to consider the physical environment of the restaurant.

Is there enough room to get into and out of the table without invading the personal space of other patrons? Recently I went to a small bistro, and on the way back to our seats I accidentally bumped into a nearby table, hard enough to rattle the wine glasses and silverware. That’s extremely embarrassing. Did I do any damage? What if something spilled? Leaving clear paths of travel helps everyone feel more comfortable. No twisting sideways! You might be able to squeeze in a few more tables but why create an atmosphere of overcrowding and a sense of claustrophobia?

Background noise

Dining out is an intensely social experience. People go out to get away from home and enjoy spending time with friends. Those moments between sitting down and eating are very important. Can patrons converse without screaming at one another? I recently attempted a meal at a sports bar and never finished it. The noise was tremendous. The wait staff could barely make themselves heard over the televisions and intoxicated patrons. I ordered, ate a portion of my meal and escaped to the blessed silence of the parking lot, ears ringing and nerves jangled. My general rule is that if I have to shout to make myself heard, it’s not a place worthy of a return visit.

Service and support

The difference between going once and returning frequently to a restaurant most heavily depends on the level of service and support from the staff. Do they take the time to make sure you are comfortable?

Here are 5 basic tips which can help:

  1. Offer to provide information about the restaurant. Important landmarks include the location of  restrooms and table features like napkin dispensers. Some guests may appreciate holding onto an arm when walking to the table. This means allowing the patron to lightly hold an upper arm just above the elbow. It isn’t always necessary, but the offer is always appreciated. Don’t push or pull a person needing assistance – that’s intimidating for everyone involved. When you arrive at the table, position the patron so it is obvious where the chair or booth is located. Inquire if more information is necessary for the diner’s orientation.
  2. Take time to read a menu or explain a dish. If the establishment has a braille or accessible online menu, fantastic! But if not, please take a few minutes to explain the specialties of the house and make a recommendation. The wait staff should be well versed in menu and drink options, and feel comfortable describing what’s in a dish.
  3. Don’t just drop food and drinks on the table and walk away. Statements like: “Beer on your left” or “Caesar salad with garlic bread” are very helpful. It’s off putting to need to tactilely search for, and then guess, which glass contains which beverage on a crowded table. It’s socially awkward to say to a dining companion: “Is this my water?”
  4. Take time to read the bill out loud to the patron. A statement like: “Your check comes to $32.49 and includes the bread, appetizer, pasta primavera and a glass of wine” will help insure the bill is correct and no questions about charges remain. Offer to assist with finding the signature line and to provide a customer receipt.
  5. Relax! Blind patrons are not much different than other diners. We come for good food, good company, and a chance to unwind and relax. We want to be treated with courtesy and sensitivity.

Please remember, those of us with visual impairments are people first. Our needs are as unique and varied as those of any other social group. But our goals are the same – to have a good time. We come to have our senses stimulated, to share conversation with friends, and to feel our business is appreciated.