Saturday, August 31, 2013

This is NOT Science Fiction

We decided to stop for a cup of tea. Sadie had stayed the night at our place, wanting a sleep over too, and was getting soaking wet at a splash pad when her mother joined us. After Sadie exhausted herself and was dressed again, we went round the corner to a small restaurant we all like. To get to it I ride up a long concrete ramp and make a sharp turn. At the top of the ramp is a small patio with two tables right by the window of the cafe. Both were empty and, as there were three chairs at the table, one on either side and one by the window, we moved a chair to be on the fourth side.

We were well ensconced and deciding on drinks when the woman who runs the cafe came outside with a bottle of water and some glasses. She set them on the table and then said, "I'm afraid you can't have a fourth chair at the table like this." She paused, as if she'd said this before, often, and not gotten a welcome response. "You see these two tables are at the top of the ramp. With a chair here it narrows the space, and though someone in a wheelchair could get by, it would be cramped. We take accessibility really seriously here at my restaurant."

Now, I was sitting there, in my wheelchair, listening to her. I was in such deep shock that I found myself bereft of anything to say. Then, she brightened and said, "Maybe if we put two chairs behind and move the table over a bit, we could still keep this area free." What she suggested worked.

After we were settled, she apologized for making us all move, I'd found my words again so I spoke up and said, "I am the last person you have to apologize to for keeping a space accessible." She smiled and said, "I thought you might understand."

I have been using a wheelchair for seven years, I have been advocating for disability rights and disability access (of some kind) for most of my working life, and I've never, ever, had the experience of a shop keeper, a restaurateur, or a keeper of any public space, state, by word and action, that they were intentionally accessible. Ever.

Ever.

We'd been to that cafe several times before, and as I thought about it, we went both because of the food and because of the welcoming atmosphere. They have an accessible washroom that is never blocked by chairs, never used as a storage closet, never kept for staff use only. It never occurred to me that this was all intentional - I think because the concept was foreign to me.

Intentional.

Purposeful.

Welcoming.

Access.

Who'd have thought?

Clearly not me.

10 comments:

Jayne Wales said...

Because it should be just part of how it is and although it does take work to make sure somewhere is accessible you don't want it in your face. Signs everywhere with wheelchairs on them etc, just make it quietly the place for everyone. Good on them.

Glee said...

Super excellent Dave :)

clairesmum said...

WOW! Glad your family was with you to witness this event...otherwise you might have thought it was just a dream, instead a bit of a dream come true.

Anonymous said...

kind of like having a dog opening its mouth and meowing?????

liebjabberings said...

It's an attitude problem - with the correct attitude, the details get taken care of.

It's also a vicious circle: if things are not accessible, disabled people don't come very often, and then the store people think 'why bother since no one ever comes,' and they fill the aisles up again, or store things in the bathroom.

But if disabled people keep getting the trouble you always describe, we get tired of trying, and just stay home.

Sometimes it just isn't worth the effort - many a time I haven't bought anything because it was just too much work. And advocacy takes way too much time and energy (I have problems walking, and use a walker PLUS I have CFS, so not much energy).

I really appreciate the people who make the effort, but it's sometimes a huge effort on my part to find out which they are: I can never count on enough space.

I am profoundly grateful to those who fought for accessible parking. I wish there were an army of them to fight for accessibility everywhere. Maybe a special badge for stores, etc., who get inspected by the core of volunteers every year?
ABE

Anonymous said...

I think I know the place you're referring to-- I could give over 500 reasons as to why they rock :) But I will say, I hate that long and some-what cracked concrete ramp ;)

Rickismom said...

GRIN

wheeliecrone said...

Wahoo!!
Wonderful!

Anonymous said...

I admire this woman of courage. Many - if not totally sincere in the accessibility, would have just let you and your party be. After all - they are already "catering" to the handicapped, obviously. Yet she wanted to make sure that the space was accessible to all. Good on her and the restaurant.

kendroid28 said...

Their technique worked beautifully then! You liked going to that cafe because they treated you equally, including equal access to aisles, restrooms, etc. That's real integration: so natural and so convenient that it doesn't feel like they're laying out a red carpet or bending over backwards to help you. It's just universal. Access just like everyone else. (and yes, ultimately far too unusual)