"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On Accessibility

Ever since Miss Crip Chick inspired me to read and blog about the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon, disability issues have been a little more on my radar screen. Today, this one piqued my interest. The New York Times has an article in which food critic Frank Bruni examines the accessibility of restaurants.
My father uses a wheelchair, which means that we have to think ahead about accessibility nearly everywhere we go, but the article made me stop and think about why I don't usually worry too much about restaurants.  And I think it's because I live in the Midwest.  Where I live, nearly every eating establishment we are likely to visit is only one story, with large waiting areas and lots of floor space between the tables and booths.  They all have expansive parking lots with anywhere from two to twelve designated parking spaces.  There are always ramps, and many of them have automatic doors that will open with the press of a button.  While they may not be the most cultured or character-filled places to live, it's been my experience that urban-sprawl midwestern suburbs are at least new and up-to-date enough to comply with the ADA.
Then I compare my surroundings with the environment discussed in the article, and I can see where the problems are.  I love New York.  But when I visit there, I can really notice how much smaller everything is.  I have to completely readjust how I navigate my surroundings so that I can slink around and among crowds and squeeze into and through tiny spaces.  I've eaten some of the most amazing food of my life in New York restaurants, but spent the entire time nervous that if I slid my chair three inches backward, I would slam into someone else.  I take for granted that even though it's a slight inconvenience to wait for a table while flattened against a wall and to  carefully ascend the narrow spiral staircase to the second level and to squeeze into the itty-bittiest restroom I've ever used in my life (we're talking airport tiny), I can still physically manage to eat at my favorite Upper East Side restaurant: Serendipity 3.   

"But older structures aren't subject to the same requirements. Ms. Davis lives on the Upper East Side, and she said most of the established restaurants she visits in her neighborhood have tiny, inaccessible restrooms.

"I dehydrate before I go out to dinner," she said. "I don't drink anything for an hour and a half.' She also carries around a 12-pound fiberglass ramp that she uses if a restaurant has a step or two up to its entrance, as many do. If a restaurant has a whole flight of stairs, she's out of luck."

Bruni's article makes a good point about wait staff having good intentions in trying to be as helpful as possible to their disabled diners, but how these intentions do not necessarily make up for the lack of accessible facilities.  Or, it often happens that the building may have measures in place for accessibility only to be so tightly packed with guests that they cannot be gotten to.  Not without asking everyone in your path to move, that is.  That doesn't quite count as "accessibility", does it? 
Aside from awareness, the article also dishes out a list of some of the top accessible dining spots in NYC.  I may choose to support these places the next time I go there.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Isn't it amazing that people go through their entire lives never considering things that others have to worry about 24/7? But I guess that's what privilege is all about, huh? Thanks for a bit of enlightenment.