The ADA and Shared Open Spaces

The ADA is the government organization that regulates the requirements of the Standards of Design that outline out how Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities need to provide accessibility to open/or semi-open spaces.

Among many of the voluntary or ‘reasonably provided’ accessibility issues is the entrance. Now, there are a lot of articles out there by people who have to navigate how well the ADA has been implemented, and this is not meant to do any thing except as you as you design the world in your works to think about how your environment will look and who else will be accessing those spaces at the same time.

The university I attended had to petition hard to have a step removed from the front entrance so that those who use chairs or have difficulty navigating raised platforms would not have to use an ALTERNATE entrance to access the building. They had to fight tooth and nail to get that single step removed.

There was a lot of discussion on why they needed it. Since I was not on campus during the creation of the center, I only heard the after comments of it. I’m sure that perhaps the ground had to be leveled or perhaps they needed to raise it up a step to keep the high ceilings, or the other multitude of civil reasons why they’d need it. The prevailing physical one relies on the theme of ‘grand buildings’ where the steps you climb raise those above the average everyday people. Think of every old city center or museum you’ve seen, and how you have either a long walk up to the entrance, or there is a strong look to the entrance by adding stairs. But those stairs also limit who has access to that building and how those people get access to the building.

The ADA requires that you have one entrance with a ramp into the building. In most cases those ramps are in the loading areas, where supplies are brought into and out of the building, and tend to reside at the back or sides of the building where those who use the main entrance are meant not to see them.

So what does that do to those individuals who have to use those entrances? It erases them from the view of the public. It puts them to the side of the rest of society who is able bodied enough to enter from the front.

The question remains is who does it erase?

According to the US Census, just under 20% of the population, about 57 million or 1 in 5 (counted in 2010) has a disability. According to the government:

    • People in the oldest age group — 80 and older — were about eight times more likely to have a disability as those in the youngest group — younger than 15 (71 percent compared with 8 percent). The probability of having a severe disability is only one in 20 for those 15 to 24 while it is one in four for those 65 to 69.
    • About 8.1 million people had difficulty seeing, including 2.0 million who were blind or unable to see.
    • About 7.6 million people experienced difficulty hearing, including 1.1 million whose difficulty was severe. About 5.6 million used a hearing aid.
  • Roughly 30.6 million had difficulty walking or climbing stairs, or used a wheelchair, cane, crutches or walker.
  • About 19.9 million people had difficulty lifting and grasping. This includes, for instance, trouble lifting an object like a bag of groceries, or grasping a glass or a pencil.
  • Difficulty with at least one activity of daily living was cited by 9.4 million noninstitutionalized adults. These activities included getting around inside the home, bathing, dressing and eating. Of these people, 5 million needed the assistance of others to perform such an activity.
  • About 15.5 million adults had difficulties with one or more instrumental activities of daily living. These activities included doing housework, using the phone and preparing meals. Of these, nearly 12 million required assistance.
  • Approximately 2.4 million had Alzheimer’s disease, senility or dementia.
  • Being frequently depressed or anxious such that it interfered with ordinary activities was reported by 7.0 million adults.

In the what does that mean when you don’t include accessible entrances (and fight for it in real life) or people with disabilities in your writing? You erase 1 out of every 5 people from your book.

These also include any bathroom scenes, where your characters are interacting with others in the toilet. Or if they’re attending a play or theater and are sitting front row and don’t include anyone in the wheelchair section, or mention it at all. Are they going to the movie theater, or even taking a bus?

It was extremely enlightening to me to print the ADA checklist and walk through a building I frequent to see how much they complied with the ADA, what they ‘reasonably’ met for the ADA, and what they didn’t. If you’re planing on writing a character with a disability, I’d recommend thinking about how they’d interact or be directed in the building.

Examples of issues where the building I was entering was exclusionary:

New Workout Space: newly renovated building, brand new doors, no door assist for those who couldn’t open the two doors need to enter the building on their own

School Buildings: new school building where a step is required to enter the building

New Curbs: few or only one ramp to get down to the street

Train stations: Stairs without the option of an elevator, or an elevator that only fits 3 people

Sadly, I’m sure I’ll add more soon. Or you can share and I’ll add to the list.

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