The Importance of Accessibility for People with Disabilities
Can you imagine going to your favorite museum, only to discover that the stairs to get into the building have suddenly vanished? Or imagine you get in, but your guide through the exhibit is speaking an entirely new language, one that’s impossible to understand. Or maybe the sound breaks on a video in the exhibit, also making it impossible to understand.
Hypothetical situations like these give non-disabled people a taste of what everyday life is like for Americans with disabilities. But these examples don’t even come close to fully showcasing the frustration, anger, and discomfort that a lack of accessibility creates.
What is Accessibility?
Accessibility is a right for all Americans, according to the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), which was passed in 1990. According to Title III of the ADA, “no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation.”
Public accommodations include places of:
- Lodging, like hotels and apartment complexes
- Recreation, including parks, swimming pools, and beaches
- Transportation, like city buses and trains
- Education, including all public schools and colleges
Stores, care providers, like hospitals, and places of public display, like museums, must also adhere to ADA accessibility laws.
Types of Accessibility
For a place to be accessible, it has to be easy to access. It also needs to have modifications that allow people to fully use and enjoy its services. Some examples of proper accessibility include:
- Braille on buttons in an elevator
- Enlarged doorways and redesigned seating to accommodate wheelchairs, including in bathrooms
- Visual fire alarms
- Wheelchair ramps
- Accommodations for service animals
- Handicapped parking spaces
Accessibility also includes removing any obstacles, like narrow hallways. If barrier cannot be removed, buildings must provide an alternative way to easily and safely get around any barriers.
The Consequences of Inadequate Accessibility
When a place has inadequate accessibility, it prevents people with disabilities from fully using or enjoying its services. But it can also cause dangerous situations for people with disabilities. For example, if a building does not have visual fire alarms, a deaf person might not know to exit a burning building. Additionally, without a way to get onto a city bus, a person in a wheelchair might be forced to stay on the side of the road, increasing their chances of being hit by a car.
A recent example from Tampa shows the importance of adequate accessibility. At a press conference about the Seminole Heights serial killer, a sign language interpreter failed to provide understandable translation. Her incoherent translation made it impossible for deaf people, including the mother of one of the victims, to understand. In this case, the message was good news about the killer’s capture. But if the message had been something else, like about a new murder, the deaf audience would not have received the message! This example shows how inadequate disability accessibility can be inconvenient, insulting, and in some cases, dangerous.
Accessibility for Everyone
Accessibility, whether it serves to provide safety and comfort or to make an experience more enjoyable, is a right for all Americans. Riding the bus, going to school, or simply enjoying a day at an art museum should be something that everyone can do, regardless of disabilities or limitations. Adequate accessibility measures help to make this a reality for everyone.
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