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November 12, 2008 > Accessibility, Disability Awareness, and Businesses...

Accessibility, Disability Awareness, and Businesses...

Submitted By Tyson

People with disabilities are becoming a larger and more noticeable part of the consumer market. In fact, "people with disabilities constitute our nation's largest minority group (1 in 5 Americans has a disability" (2008, Snow). Let me set the record straight. I am 1 in 5. On occasion, people have said that I am "non-verbal, suffer from Cerebral Palsy (CP) and confined to a wheelchair." In reality, I have CP, use a power wheelchair and speak using a speech-generating device. And I love to shop!

However, being a consumer today can be a challenge - for anyone! Crowds, high prices, lines, etc. But take a minute to put yourself in my shoes (or in my wheelchair). I must manage aisles, booths, doorways, etc. with a 300-pound power wheelchair. It can be tough in small shops and even in big department stores. These places all abide by the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). However, the rules and regulations that businesses must follow are not always adequate for people with disabilities. This is not because businesses wish to keep people like me out; it may just be that owners/businesses do not know how to make things more accessible or they may not have the space or ability to do more. I have even encountered companies, which believe that meeting minimum requirements is enough; more often than not, I disagree with their assessment.

A few things a person using a wheelchair might think about when shopping:

*Is there enough room in the store so that I can actually walk around?
*Is the door wide enough? Will I hit the frame?
*Do I have to get someone's attention or wait for someone to come out so that I can get into/out of the shop?
*Will going up the ramp propel me too fast into the store, thus causing me to lose some control driving my chair?*?Can I get to everything I want to see?
*Will I knock something over if I back up?
*Will I take a few clothes off the rack as I pass by?
*Will the sales person speak to me or ask me if I want help?
*Will the sales person ignore me because I look "disabled?"*?Will they think I am incompetent because I use a wheelchair?

If communities and business owners wish to do good business and treat all individuals fairly, then making their shops accessible to all is important. Accessibility is following ADA guidelines, but 'true' accessibility may mean going beyond the minimum. If a business owner is able and chooses to exceed the minimum, then Kudos to them! I am not claiming that businesses must change everything simply because one person speaks up. The best I can hope for is a better understanding of what accessibility means to someone like me. Like anyone else, I appreciate having access and the mobility to do the things I love.

Think about what it would be like if someone using a wheelchair came into your store. Would a person be able to:

*maneuver easily?
*see inside all of the booths?
*turn around to come back the way they came?
*get around without having things in their way?
*get around without getting caught on items?
*walk safely through the store without you worrying about items being knocked or bumped?

A few thoughts on how businesses can make their shops more accessible:

*Provide wider aisles for easier access.
*Avoid placing items (e.g., furniture, frames, etc.) in aisles that inhibit walking/driving ability.
*Create booths and/or stalls with room for a wheelchair to pull in or back out of safely and carefully.
*Provide turn around areas at the end of main aisles with enough turn around space to avoid bumping items/shelves.
*Check doors to make sure they can open fully (if items behind the door block it from opening, find alternative places for them).
*Keep entrance/exit areas clear and free of fragile items.
*Create entrance/exit ramps so that there is a smooth transition in and out of the store (if a frame or incline is too high/steep, a person in a wheelchair will have more difficulty entering safely).
*Assume that a person in a wheelchair wants to spend money and be a patron of your shop.
*Have price tags clearly visible (a person may not have a way to communicate, "How much?").

If a customer with a disability enters your store:

*Greet and treat them as you would any other customer!
*If you wish to ask a question but you are unsure of the way in which the individual communicates, ask a yes/no question and wait patiently for a response.
*Avoid speaking or directing questions solely to the attendant who may be assisting the individual.
*Take note of the surroundings and offer to move anything that might impede movement.
*Treat a (person with a disability like a person.

I understand that it can sometimes be tough to see beyond a wheelchair or a disability, but if a person is able to, then they are often able to see abilities vs. inabilities. Strike stereotypes from the thought process.

A person with a disability:

*is an individual as unique and extraordinary as any other individual on this planet.
*is a competent, free thinking person.
*has thoughts and feelings.
*communicates and makes choices.
*pursues dreams and desires things.
*works toward living a meaningful life.
*is not handicapped, mentally retarded, brain damaged, learning disabled, retarded, etc. (discard terms like these from your vocabulary!).

For great information on people with disabilities, check out:

Snow, Kathie. "People First Language." Disability is Natural. 2008. <>.

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