Accessible: easy to approach, reach, enter, speak with, or use.
The above definition is from dictionary.com. I looked it up before I began writing this blog just to make sure I understood the term properly. How often have you seen signs for something that is accessible or even called a theater, restaurant, store, fill in the blank, and are told, ” yes we are accessible,” only to arrive at your destination to discover that they are not accessible at all or only accessible under the most ludicrous circumstances possible? More than once, I have had to navigate through garbage or storage under humiliating conditions to gain entrance to a restaurant. I have gone up or down ramps that made me feel as though my life was in danger, at angles that surely would've impressed extreme sports enthusiasts. I am a pretty easy-going guy and it can take a lot to get my blood boiling, but all I can say is, living with multiple sclerosis has the potential to really raise one's temperature.
Last week, we were sitting on the bench outside of Mud, one of our favorite java joints, enjoying iced coffees in the warm spring sunshine when I felt the urge to use a restroom. As much as I love the coffee, Mud is unfortunately not accessible (an immense step at the entrance). I needed to act quickly. MS and bladders, man oh man. There was a Starbucks on the next block and, since New York lacks public restrooms, I headed straight there. The only problem was, since everyone else uses Starbucks as a public toilet, there was a line six people long when I got there. I remembered that our favorite Ukrainian restaurant, Veselka, was across the street; they have a "disabled" bathroom, so I headed straight over there. Except, my scooter was too big for the space. After a minute or so of trying to force my scooter to fit, I accepted the reality of having to go back to Starbucks and get back on line. Fortunately, a woman who had been right behind me on the line before very kindly let me go ahead of her. Disaster averted!
Last year, I read about a new restaurant in my neighborhood, Redhead's. The review said it was exceptional and, to me, the food sounded altogether appealing: Southern food updated for New York sensibilities. They told me over the phone they were accessible. When Alida and I arrived, there was a step about a foot high I guess I was supposed to navigate over on my scooter (maybe I could fly?). Who in their right mind could think getting over a step like that made the restaurant accessible? I cruise around my neighborhood often and find myself dumbstruck by the amount of restaurants and stores with only a three or four inch lip that could easily be adjusted for a smooth, straight entry. The powers that be, however, never think about a simple adjustment that would make my life and many others like mine so much easier.
They won't get my business, but that's not the point. In a modern city like New York, these issues should not exist. Heck, they shouldn't have to exist anywhere. It boggles the mind when a rinky-dink little deli or drugstore has gone to great lengths to adjust their entrances but a chichi restaurant will leave its entrance untouched and therefore inaccessible. My mom says I should write to the newspapers to let them know about this discrimination and the issues with insurance companies, too (don't get me started on that one). So many indignities, so little time.
One of the greatest shocks I received occurred a few years ago when a classic Hitchcock film was playing at the Ziegfeld, one of the last remaining movie palaces in New York City. Excited about seeing the film, and since I had never been there with my scooter, I called the theater in advance to make sure I could get in. To my dismay, they did not have a disabled entrance nor did they adjust any of their many doors in order for someone like me, or perhaps you, could get in and go to the movies. The ultimate fuck you! Needless to say, it can feel disheartening when simple pleasures in life are eliminated as a result of the clumsiness, thoughtlessness, disrespect, and/or bone-headedness of able-bodied individuals.
We become especially sensitive to these exclusive situations. I go down beautiful tree-laden streets in historic neighborhoods and become acutely aware of the fact that, even if I wanted to, getting into any of those houses/buildings is an out and out impossibility. It sure makes me feel grateful for the ramp they built into my building a few years back. And I shudder to think about what things must have been like in the years before I required a scooter. Fortunately, these days inaccessible buildings are the exception rather than the rule.
And while New York is one of the better cities when it comes to corners that have been adjusted for scooters and wheelchairs, there are still those moments when one is scooting along at a good clip and you suddenly come upon one of those old foot-high corners that has not been adjusted. It feels like a slap in the face. You don't have to think too hard about "what if" I accidentally went flying off such a corner. One thus becomes used to memorizing the problem corners and adjusting routes accordingly. Except when you forget and get stuck, forced to go back a block and off the curb of the previous corner.
So what is the moral of the story? We need to be resilient; we need to be strong in the face of adversity and inaccessibility. Because we never ever know when it's going to look us straight in the eye. I don't know about you, but getting out there and facing and overcoming these everyday challenges, however miniscule, frustrating, or annoying, is still a darn good reason to get up and out the door in the morning. It sure beats staying inside all day wondering about "what if?"
Have a great couple of weeks. I hope you can enjoy the spring wherever you are.
Bonus information for New Yorkers:
FYI, this is what I came across at ehow.com regarding rules for restaurants that make the issue even murkier:
“Where problems arise for disabled, and specifically wheelchair-using patrons is in buildings constructed before 1990. The ADA requires what has come to be described as ‘reasonable accommodation.’ What may seem reasonable may or may not be realistic, and, try as they may, some building owners are unable to provide full accessibility.”
'Wheelchair Accessible' New York City Restaurant Guide | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/about_4691739_new-york-city-restaurant-guide.html#ixzz1t0vfwJ8G
Also in Metropolis Magazine regarding restaurant accessibility, from two year’s ago:
“This is all to say that it’s a somewhat complicated process, designed to accommodate a variety of interests. And while the vast majority of existing city housing does not have to meet accessibility standards, anything built in the last twenty years or so, and any future construction, does.”