Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Getting a lift?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law 19 years ago. Born out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the primary goals of the ADA were to ensure equality in hiring and housing, but it also included accommodations in public and private and spaces to allow access to wheelchair users and people with other types of disabilities.

If you have ever pushed a stroller or spent time in a retail establishment or public institution with a person in a wheelchair, you should feel gratitude towards all the people who fought for civil rights from the 60s onward.

In the US we take ramps, elevators and flat entrances to stores and restaurants for granted. Australians aren't so lucky. Most stores and restaurants seem to have at least one step at their entrance. Doable for a stroller, usually, but impossible for someone who can't walk.

The other day I saw a man in a wheelchair pull himself agonizingly out of his chair while his friend carried it up a set of about half a dozen stairs. He somehow made it up the stairs and got back in to wheel himself to the next step, about 10 feet away, and his friend again lifted the chair over the step and he got back in. I wondered: Is this some place he has to go on a regular basis? Can he only go if there is a friend available to come with him? What a burden to someone who already has a hard life.

Some places have accessible bathrooms, but not all. Almost no clothing stores have accessible fitting rooms. Some buses have level entrances and ramps that can deploy for wheelchair users, but not all. Today at the zoo, a place where I would guess half the visitors are pushing a stroller, we had to carry our prams down a flight or two of stairs. We were lucky enough to have five adults and only three strollers in our group, but at home I take my kids to the zoo or the aquarium by myself all the time. I pretty much could not do that here. Arthur and Noah and I would be stuck at home except for trips to the park, until they were old enough to walk long distances on their own.

What gives? I guess businesses won't make changes for moral reasons unless they are compelled by law to do so. Why hasn't Australia's government taken action on this?

A photo by Arthur of Anya pushing her stroller at the zoo with Linda and me.

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