Monday, May 1, 2017

Stop Lying To Me About Accessibility

Guess who's back, back again, Cara's back, tell a friend!  I skipped BADD last year due to overwhelming stress from internships, but I'm back!  Welcome to my Blogging Against Disablism Day post for 2017.  Hold on to your hats, friends.  It's a doozy.

Last weekend, my friend Danielle and I celebrated her 25th birthday.  Her mother had offered to pay for a hotel room in Manhattan for the two of us for Friday and Saturday nights, with a larger dinner and karaoke celebration with some of our other friends on Saturday evening.

My first reaction, after accepting Danielle's invitation, was "You made sure the hotel is accessible, right?" Danielle and I are both mobility impaired, and I use a motorized scooter.  She replied: "Yup, my mom and I both asked.  Feel free to ask a third time." Trusting Danielle, I didn't ask the hotel myself.

We got to the Roosevelt Hotel late on Friday night, around midnight.  We discovered that the main entrance was not accessible and we had to go around the corner to the accessible entrance.  The "accessible" entrance was a revolving door flanked by two regular pull doors.  To our dismay, the pull doors were locked.  Faced with no other option, I attempted to go through the revolving door and got my scooter wedged in the doors.  I was only able to free myself with the help of Danielle and some Good Samaritans who recognized the predicament I was in.

"Did we get an accessible room?" I asked Danielle on the way up to our room.  "Well, they didn't have exactly accessible rooms, so I just told them to put a shower chair in the tub." She said.  That's fine with me, as I just need room to park my scooter and then I get up, but a wheelchair user who can't walk like I do would have been in trouble.

The next morning, wanting to shower, we found no trace of the shower chair we'd asked for in our tub.  Not only that, the bathroom did not have grab bars, making it nearly impossible and definitely dangerous for me to shower standing up (or even sitting down).  We called the front desk (twice) and had to wait for them to bring up the shower chair they had promised us.

The shower chair was a transfer bench type of shower chair that went over the ledge of the bathtub.  However, the legs were too short to reach the floor, forcing us to adjust the chair ourselves as best we could.  Even then, the chair was dangerously wobbly, especially for Danielle, who showers facing the spray, as opposed to my method of showering facing away from the spray.  Luckily, both of us made it through our showers unscathed.

By the time we dealt with the shower chair and other predicaments that aren't relevant to this post, it was almost time to head to the restaurant, Cara Mia, for dinner.  That's when things got really interesting.  Danielle had called ahead to make sure they were accessible, yet when we arrived we were confronted with....a step.

Puzzled, I asked someone (half yelling from my perch on the sidewalk at the foot of the step) if they had an accessible entrance.  "We do." they answered vaguely.  "But it's downstairs and people are sitting there." They said "We can carry you up the step." I hemmed and hawed.   "That's fine for me." I told them (if it was more than one step I would have never allowed it).  "But there's two other wheelchair users coming and their chairs are much heavier than mine, you can't lift them."

(On a side note, I'm always amazed at people who exclaim "We can carry your chair up the steps!" when faced with a 200+ pound powerchair plus its occupant.  Do they think they'll suddenly turn into the Incredible Hulk when they try to lift the chair?)

Meanwhile, Danielle was on the phone to another one of our friends, explaining the situation.  "If we can't get in, we'll go somewhere else." She said.  I think that's when the restaurant staff realized they were in imminent danger of losing a 10 person reservation.  All of a sudden, a server discovered a portable ramp somewhere and I made it into the restaurant without incident.

Now, let me pause and backtrack to a year ago, when almost this exact situation had played out.  We had made reservations at a restaurant called Mozzarella e Vino.  We had called ahead and they had assured us they were accessible.  Yet when we got there, there was a flight of steps down into the restaurant.  They told us that they usually carry wheelchair users down the steps, and that my scooter didn't count as a wheelchair because it was electric.  In that case, we left and went to the restaurant next door, who were more than happy to accommodate us.

So back to Cara Mia.  I texted my other friend who was coming to let her know to ask the staff for the portable ramp when she got there.  Apparently, when she asked, the staff gave her a dirty look and only relented when her mother threatened to film the whole incident.  And I learned later that when another friend arrived and said he was with Danielle's reservation, the staff flat out lied and said "They're not here, they must have left already." (We were ten people, three of us wheelchair users.  There was no way they could have missed us or mixed us up with another party.)

The restaurant was cramped and waiters kept having to squeeze past my scooter.  They very clearly did not want us there.  They rushed us through our meal, forgot some of our food, and a man who I can only assume was the manager kept hanging around our table anxiously.  We finished up and paid the (over $200) bill.

And then...nothing happened.  I mean that literally.  Nothing happened as we sat at our table, ready to go, for over half an hour.  We could not leave.  In order to make room to put the portable ramp down, the staff had to move some tables, and did not want to make the people sitting there get up for even a few seconds so we could get out.  They didn't tell us this, of course, until we asked for the ramp.  So we had to sit and wait for strangers to finish their meal so we could leave the restaurant.  By the time we finally got out, I was on the verge of a panic attack.  We were paying customers who racked up a very nice bill, and we were treated like dog poop on the bottom of someone's shoe, just because we had disabled people in our group.

(Luckily, the accessible doors were unlocked when we got back to the hotel that night.)

This was not my first rodeo with restaurant inaccessibility.  Longtime readers will remember the Jekyll and Hyde incident a few years ago.  But at least we didn't go into that situation having been promised accessibility.  All of the incidents above took place in supposedly "accessible" venues.  We were lied to multiple times in multiple venues.

Maybe this makes me a bad activist, but I don't even care anymore if you're not accessible.  I'm burned out.  It's been 27 years since the ADA and I've been alive and crippled for almost 25 of them. You don't want to make your business accessible?  Whatever.  I'll take my money elsewhere, and you'll lose the business of the 20,940,600 Americans that are mobility impaired.  Just don't fucking lie to me when I ask if your business is accessible.  Be honest, please.

Let me make something very, very clear.  If you have accessible doors that you lock after a certain time, it's not accessibility.  If it's "only one step", it's not accessibility.  If your solution is to carry wheelchair users down the steps, it's not accessibility.  If wheelchair users are literally trapped in your restaurant until other diners finish their meal, it's not accessibility.  If your accessibility is conditional, it's not accessibility.

I am begging you, if you can't be bothered to make your business accessible, just don't lie to me.  If you're honest about your inaccessibility, I will thank you politely for the information and go somewhere else.  But if you lie to me, you better believe you'll end up on my blog.