Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

Opinions: When it comes to ensuring access for people with disabilities, it's often difficult to determine exactly where the process breaks down.

By: Candy B. Harrington

In this day and age, many people mistakenly assume that “everything is accessible” for people with disabilities because, after all, “it’s the law.”

Those of us who travel know differently. There are many more accessible choices today than there were 10 years ago, but that doesn’t add up to “everything.”

Take the big-name national hotels. Even the most accessible consistently fall short on little things, like drapery cords that are out of reach or lamps that require a pinch grip. And then there are the small properties mom-and-pop hotels, inns and owner-occupied B&Bs. Some are great, some try hard and some haven’t a clue about access.

Why does this happen, I wondered. And I naively assumed that, if I determined the cause, I could solve the problem. But it wasn’t so easy.

On one hand we have the vendors. Even some of the most reputable sell fixtures billed as “ADA compliant” when, in reality, they fall far short of the law.

When you talk to contractors, they blame the architects’ specifications and fixture choices. And building inspectors don’t inspect for access, so mistakes are never caught.

And then there are the unofficial access consultants, usually friends or family members. Most have a disability, but they don’t possess a broad knowledge of the law or understanding of access needs other than their own.

For example, one consultant told an innkeeper that the five-inch step at the front door was fine because “most people in wheelchairs will be able to hop up over it.”

But the one who really takes the cake is the access consultant who recommended a clawfoot bathtub because “it’s the most accessible bathing choice.”

So, whose fault is it, anyway? I honestly don’t know. All I can say is “buyer beware.”

Reprinted from Emerging Horizons, Autumn 2003. www.emerginghorizons.com