Will this law ever be fully implemented?
Argue it all you like, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the greatest civil rights laws ever passed. But, 23 years since its inception,why are businesses and cities still putting up a fight?
No one can deny how great it feels to independently traverse your city without any roadblocks. This is one of life's greatest pleasures, but it doesn't come naturally. Rome was not built in a day and even though we have much better equipment now, universal accessibility doesn't happen overnight either.
But the ADA's far reach - every public business, facility and government building - has perhaps been its own worst enemy, giving it a reputation reviled by small business owners. From a spa owner in California to restaurants in New York City, lawsuits in the name of the ADA have been filed against businesses that still aren't complying. And the reason most of these small businesses are putting up a fight - they can't afford it.
And that kernel right there is at the heart of the ADA's implementation problems, that and officials ignoring obvious violations happening right before them. There's still a huge portion of the population that doesn't take the law seriously, which is odd because it is a federal law. A lack of respect towards the disabled is a permeating trend among able-bodied humans that needs to stop.
There are however a handful of amazingly wheelchair-friendly cities in the U.S. that do take the law seriously and show how a city can work with the ADA, rather than against it. The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation a few years ago created such a list and a few of the cities may surprise you. Considering such factors as air quality, number of physicians, rehab specialists and rehab centers, accessible fitness and recreation facilities and paratransit systems, the number one pick was Seattle, Washington; plenty of curbuts, hospitals and a great transit system that's 100 percent accessible.
Other cities in the list include #2 Albuquerque, N.M. #3 Reno, Nev. #4 Denver, Colo. and #5 Portland, Ore. Most of these states experience dry weather year-round, making them ideal for wheelers. Many other accessible cities and areas within the US however, were not included, such as Berkeley, California, the birthplace of disability civil rights over 40 years ago.
And the worst violators when it comes to U.S. cities meanwhile include NYC and New Orleans, and probably millions of small towns across the US. NYC is still fighting installing hundreds more accessible cabs, while every cab In London is wheelchair-accessible. And don't get me started on the countless restaurants in NYC that aren't accessible. You would never see anything else like it in the U.S. Watch the president of the Paralyzed Veterans of America throw down an accessible challenge for NYC to Mayor Bloomberg
And in New Orleans, wheelchair-users are forced onto the street since so many sidewalks are completely inaccessible. These cities say accessibility is too spendy and repairs may take years. Does this excuse fly with other law violations? I think not.. Boston, Baltimore and most older cities still aren't up to code.
As for the top city pick, Seattle is definitely a great choice. I must admit however, sue-happy chair-users sit unwell with me. Many have lawyers on speed dial and frequently sue businesses they've never even visited. While I'd love to see every small business become accessible in our country, getting it done the dirty way sits unwell with me. Here's an interesting story of Alfredo Garcia, a paraplegic from California getting a lot of flak for his lawsuits. Garcia has sued over 500 small businesses for ADA violations.
The question of course is who's right and who's wrong, and the answer is easy - the violator of the ADA. It's not like this law is new. The ADA has been around longer than most college students have been alive. Businesses know they must comply, yet many divert funds to other areas of their businesses and end up getting sued. Truly something many of these businesses could avoid.
Most realistic wheelers know kindness kills, and that dealing with these small businesses in a kind manner is always your best bet. Chances are if you look hard enough, you will find a foible here or there that needs to be remedied, but a lawsuit? Many feel it's the only way to finally push the remaining stubborn businesses into accessible territory.
Do you feel ADA lawsuits are necessary? Have you filed one?