Sunday, January 13, 2013

Grrrrrr: Places that Hamper Accessibility or Don't Accommodate for the Disabled

Some establishments are very accommodating to the disabled.  I’ve mentioned a few in my previous blogs. But despite the rules imposed by the Americans with Disabilities Act , many places either do not accommodate those with mobility limitations or do it poorly.


I ran across a few in the past few months. 

The first came when my husband wanted to take me to a concert. My Morning Jacket was playing at the Wiltern, a small theater that is described as an Art Deco architectural landmark in Los Angeles. He went to the ticketing website for Live Nation and checked the box for "wheelchair accessible" when asked if he needed accommodations.

I normally use a walker as my mobility aid, but in a situation where I have to walk a long distance, I need a wheelchair. 

The ticketing agent found two seats in the loge, upstairs, four rows back. In a live chat online during the transaction, the agent mentioned that the seats were not accessible  but said the venue would accommodate me upon arrival. My husband said: “I will be bringing my wife in a wheelchair and assume there is an elevator that will take us to the loge level.” 

The agent did not reply to this.

After the transaction was processed, my husband said this: “Just to confirm that we’d be able to take an elevator to the loge level since my wife will be in a wheelchair”

The ticketing agent replied: “I’m sorry but there aren’t elevators available at the venue.”

He told my husband to call the venue directly because they would accommodate me.

By hiring a helicopter and dropping me through the roof? Maybe they would have put me downstairs, but my husband chose a loge seat so that I could see over the standing/dancing general admission fans. We didn’t find out what the Wiltern would have done with me: a business trip prevented my husband from going. My able-bodied son took a friend to the show.

When I recently called the Wiltern, the woman who helped me said Live Nation was "wrong” to say the venue would have accommodated me.

She said they would have tried, but there was no guarantee I would get in, even though I had  a ticket. It depends, she said, on how many other patrons show up.

In other words, just as I had concluded in my efforts to get accessible tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert, it’s a crapshoot when you are person in a wheelchair looking for access to live music shows.

During the holiday season, I had three more disappointing incidents. One came during a company party held at the historic Athenaeum guest lodge at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. We had reserved a room for the night, one of 24 guest rooms in the 1930s-era building. The company employee who made the reservation had requested an accessible room for me. She says the person who made the reservation assured her I would get one.

But upon checking in, after a long walk around the side of the building to find a ramp, and winding my way through dining tables and chairs to get to the check-in desk, I learned that my room was not accessible. Indeed, the clerk said, they had no accessible rooms at all.

For a lodging establishment named after Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, this did not seem wise to me. 

Fortunately they did have an elevator to take me to my room, which was a substantial distance away. I always bring a toilet-topper with me on out-of-town trips (a device that sits on any toilet to enable me to get on and off) because experience has shown that an accessible room might not be up to my standards. And I make sure I have a collapsible walker that can get me through narrow spaces. If it were not for that, I would not have been able to even get in to the bathroom in our room.

It was so small that the extra roll of toilet paper and the tissue box were in the main part of the room, not the restroom. I could not get into the shower.

And while there are many beautiful rooms and outdoor spots in which the Athenaeum holds functions, there was only one ladies restroom with one handicapped stall, far in the corner by the front desk.

I understand that this is an old building and a private club. But the lodging is open to the public and the establishment often hosts events. And it’s a place once visited by Albert Einstein. Having no accessible rooms and making it extra difficult for the handicapped doesn’t seem too genius to me.


Also in December we were invited to attend a wedding in Phoenix of a good friend of ours. He and the bride-to-be had reserved a block of rooms at the historic Arizona Biltmore at a reduced rate. A shuttle was provided from the Biltmore to the wedding site.

We called the hotel early on to make our reservations. But when my husband told the agent we would need an accessible room, the person said no such rooms were included in the wedding block. They had one discounted regular room left. Or we could book an accessible room for an extra $80-$100 per night. We were planning to stay five nights, so this was a steep difference. We expected better customer service from a hotel that says it is one of the best in the world.

No thanks, we said. We found an accessible room for a lower rate two miles away.

A friend of mine, who advocates for the disabled, was angry when I told her this story. “That’s illegal!” she said.

But we didn’t know that. The ADA provisions are complicated and lengthy. And there is no pocket guide to refer to when I find myself in situations like this. So I just change my plans, grumble and save the story for my next angry blog.

One place I don’t expect to find problems with accessibility is the U.S. Post Office.
After all, it is run by the federal government, which oversees the enforcement of the ADA.

But tell the feds to check out my local post office in Castaic, Calif. That office has one, count ‘em, one, disabled parking space. There is an accessible ramp leading into the office, but it’s right in front of the space. So if you don’t get the solo spot and have to park elsewhere, you must walk quite a distance until you get to the ramp.

Most times, the spot is empty.

But I was particularly galled during the busy Christmas season, when I pulled up to the office with presents to mail. I had brought along a sack to help me carry them as I used my walker. The parking space was taken. I checked: the vehicle had a valid disabled placard. I waited in my car for a spell and then drove slowly around the parking lot.

The driver never emerged from the post office.

So I parked around the corner in the lot, loaded up my bag and pushed my walker the long way around, up the ramp, into the office. I saw no disabled person. After mailing my stuff, I walked the long way back, noticing that the car was still there. 

It was then I noticed the adjacent office in the building houses a credit union. Aha! I thought, the disabled spot holder was probably in there filling out lengthy paperwork.

Who on earth designed a parking lot with a single disabled spot for a post office and a credit union?