By Jeremy Einbinder
Being disabled can be debilitating for all kinds of reasons. You may be unable to perform tasks or develop skills in the same way as your peers. You may be prevented from living in certain places because they are not physically accessible. Overall, you may just be prevented from having many experiences that make up core memories for your able-bodied peers. You may be barred from public event spaces. One of the many ways people commonly experience joy in life is to go to a sporting event, a concert, or some other kind of live performance. Unfortunately, the ability of wheelchair users and other disabled people to get the opportunity to do that sometimes gets impeded due to circumstances beyond their control.
What changed most about the lives of the general population who were lucky enough not to get sick at the height of the pandemic? It was an inability to “go out” and “do stuff.” An inability to socialize anywhere other than one’s home, an inability to associate any strong memories one might have had with a particular place, or any kind of experience. Imagine if you are chronically ill or disabled, and that reality is often the case for you even before COVID. The spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act is such that people with disabilities ought to be allowed to enjoy just as many aspects of life as their able-bodied, neurotypical counterparts. Disabled Parking, a website which details the process for disabled people to receive parking permits, summarized it thusly on one of their blogs:
“Access to public spaces is a fundamental right of all people in America. The nation’s public spaces are for everybody to utilize and enjoy. A disability should never prevent a person from being able to access any public space that they desire to visit.”
A nationwide disability access infrastructure is in place to ensure that people with disabilities are able to access any and all public spaces they require. This disability access infrastructure is regulated by federal and state laws.
The government website for the Americans with Disabilities Act details further the requirements needed for public spaces.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires new stadiums to be accessible to
people with disabilities so they, their families, and friends can enjoy equal access to
entertainment, recreation, and leisure.” Clearly there remains a lot to be desired. In addition to the fact that older buildings are not subject to enforcement of these policies, a business can declare that making a building accessible would cause an “undue burden” and there are plenty of times when they can simply ignore the law because people often do not have the means to contest them. Some have been relatively lucky, but it’s important to note that there’s a long way to go.
Reported by various news outlets, “A group of baseball fans who all use wheelchairs for mobility brought the federal lawsuit against the owners and operators of T-Mobile Park [in Seattle], alleging that the stadium failed to comply with multiple requirements of the ADA.”
Included in the suit was the plaintiffs’ claim that the sightlines of spectators using wheelchairs were almost always more obstructed versus those of spectators who were not using wheelchairs.
The report continues,
“Everyone deserves an accessible and inclusive experience and baseball fans with disabilities simply wish to have a comparable view of the game when they go out to enjoy America’s pastime,” Conrad Reynoldson, the plaintiffs’ attorney, told Courthouse News Service. “We are hopeful that this decision will lead to positive changes going forward.”
The fact that this is newsworthy seems to be an exception, not a norm. Given the general invisibility of people with disabilities in media and the public eye, and the fact that the law is now over 30 years-old, it’s clear that more consultation from disabled people of all stripes is needed to periodically and regularly update public policy. In fact, the venture of making places of public accommodation accessible to all must be a massive public project that uses as many resources as it takes without any concern of cutting into profits. There are so many times in which buildings and venues are technically compliant but remain inaccessible for many, and there are also times when compliance with the ADA is simply overlooked. This cannot stand. Access rights remain at stake.