Twitter tells me it’s International Disability Day, so here’s my happy-mad story from yesterday. You’ll recall that Tuesday before Thanksgiving (11/24) I sent an email, after the close of the business day, letting the facility manager for a local greenspace know about several concerns that had arisen. By the following morning he’d replied to my e-mail and by midday had resolved the most pressing issue.
But, for today’s topic, the comparatively less-pressing (since it didn’t involve multiple users in danger of potentially fatal injuries) issue I also mentioned in my letter was that, oh geez, looks like in the recent construction project you eliminated the previously pretty good wheelchair access? Yikes.
Here is the response I got:
- Oof, we are so sorry, yes that was a completely inadvertent oversight.
- You are correct this is a problem.
- Here is the other safety issue that was going on that we were trying to fix that is how it got that way.
- We’ll make it right. Sorry! Our bad!
And by we will fix it . . . by Thursday 12/3 gates were widened and forms were being placed for new concrete to go in, specifically to make the space wheelchair-accessible. (Haven’t looked today to see if they are pouring yet.) Once you take into account the holiday, other work already on the schedule, and time to design an appropriate solution, I’d say the turnaround time is reasonable.
Readers, this is how normal, healthy, sane people respond when informed of an access issue regarding a public facility.
I know! Things that did not happen:
“Well you know, there aren’t any people with that extremely-common disability using the facility right now, so your concern does not apply.”
“None of the many people in our community with that disability have personally complained to me. So it’s fine.”
“We don’t budget for that.”
“But we created the problem for a good reason! So we have heels to dig in and insist our barrier-creating solution is the only solution.”
“But it’s just so haaaaaarrrd. We definitely could not just go back to some variation of the thing we had before, and which would cost barely anything to re-implement and also solve some of our other safety concerns.”
“Here’s a complicated workaround that requires disabled people to make special arrangements to use the facility, which they will never ever be able to enter freely, even though all other users can do so.”
“You know GRATEFUL disabled people are perfectly happy having to make special arrangements and wait around to be assisted with entry, now that we’ve eliminated our previously perfectly-accessible entrance. THEY still come, obviously for people who CARE our complicated access scheme is just fine.”
And yes, every single one of those are real responses I’ve encountered in the past.
With regards to our local government agency doing things right? Well, they goofed up. There shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place. Wheelchair access is not some obscure one-in-a-million need. It’s a standardized, normal feature of any public space.
So there’s nothing heroic about recognizing you goofed up, apologizing, and taking steps to immediately rectify the problem. Likewise, you aren’t going above-and-beyond when someone with an unanticipated disability needs accommodations, and so you do your best to work together on coming up with a good solution. But not doing so is a serious problem, and alas still far too common.