Contributed by Michelle Hassler
In the summer, it is inevitable that the calendar will fill up with special events and community activities. Before you know it, weekends can be flooded with graduation parties, weddings, concerts, and family outings. However, using a wheelchair can cause extra stress when attending summer events. Buying a ticket or sending in an RSVP often comes with collection of unknowns. Will there be a ramp? Are there paved pathways? Will I have someone to help me if needed? What about the bathroom? Whether you use a wheelchair or are attending an event with someone who uses a wheelchair, it will make the experience more pleasant if you know how to maneuver best in your given situation. Knowing what to expect before you arrive will help to minimize worrying or trouble-shooting when, let’s face it, you just want to participate and enjoy yourself.
Do Your Research
The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures that “all persons have the right to access public buildings and have reasonable accommodations for any disabilities, whether at work or school or in everyday leisure activities in the community.” The fact that buildings need to be ADA compliant is a great thing for wheelchair users. However, not all facilities are in compliance – especially when it comes to smaller businesses and facilities.
Before attending an event, check out the website of the venue, park, or space. You may be able to find specific information regarding their accommodations for wheelchair users. For example, when ordering through Ticketmaster, you can request tickets for accessible seating. Large attractions such as Disney World have entire sections of their website dedicated to detailing services and accommodations for mobile disabilities.
However, your location may not include that type of information on their website. If this is the case, call and ask if they are ADA compliant and what types of accommodations are available at their facility. You might want to ask if there is special seating, accessible bathrooms and ramps. Also, you may want to inquire about paved pathways from the parking lot to the event and if there is accessible parking. Being able to have an idea of what to expect and knowing if they are compliant will allow you to form a game plan for the day. Plus, if they are not ADA compliant, they may work with you personally to make appropriate accommodations for their summer events.
Individuals who use wheelchairs have the right to request that any public place or business establishment make a reasonable accommodation to enable access to their facility. Once an accommodation such as a ramp is installed, you will not only be able to enjoy their business, but you will be helping others in the long run. Accommodations allow for everyone to be included and participate. Not only is it good for event attendees and customers, but it is good for business!
If you are attending a party at someone’s house, feel free to call them and ask if they have steps or if there are any other structural issues you need to worry about. They might be unaware of how they can help or they may be trying to be accommodating but need some guidance on making their house wheelchair accessible. If you are attending an event alone and would like a companion to help if needed, call and ask the host. In most cases, an extra person would be welcomed and appreciated. If you are hosting an event and are unsure if your guest might feel more comfortable with a companion, a simple, “feel free to bring a friend!” might go a long way.
Arriving early to summer events can be beneficial because you will be able to choose a good location and be able to assess the facilities and chat with the host and/or staff about any concerns before it gets crowded.
Speaking up is something that simply comes with the territory when you use a wheelchair, but being a strong self advocate can be exhausting. Sometimes, it is easy to feel as though you should keep quiet as to not inconvenience anyone. However, speaking up will only help. Speaking up and educating people about ways they can accommodate everyone will create change. Remember, you are entitled to these accommodations.
You should also speak up if you need help in a given situation. Do not be afraid to ask strangers for help. Whether you need help getting food or moving through a crowd, many good hearted people will be happy to provide assistance.
Summer is a great time to get outside and enjoy outdoor activities and hobbies. Access Advocates stresses that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires all recreational facilities to be made accessible for people with disabilities and offers to work with you to help make your local areas compliant whether you are attending special summer events or simply enjoying your favorite outdoor hobby.