Updated: Jul 7, 2019
That familiar sign that we all know - No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service. Makes sense. Probably not appropriate to show people your feet when they're trying to enjoy a nice meal. But if you happen to have a disability of some sort you quickly realize that sign needs a bit more information. In certain situations, and at certain locations, it needs an additional disclaimer, *Also, if You Have a Disability You Are Not Welcome Here.
That asterisk includes language that is appropriate for most retail, restaurant / bar, and entertainment locations. You see, any establishment has to SERVE you - disability or not. It's the law. They cannot refuse to serve a paying customer if that paying customer happens to be blind, or in a wheelchair, for example. But, they can do as little as possible to accommodate that paying person with the disability and they certainly don't have to make that person feel WELCOME.
That's the difference. They will SERVE the person with the disability, but they don't have to make that person feel WELCOME. And they certainly won't go out of their way to accommodate for the person with the disability.
I would have appreciated this sign on the outside window of several places since my wife became mostly wheelchair-bound a few years ago. To all of the owners of restaurants, bars, retail, and entertainment locations - don't be ashamed that you don't care about people with disabilities. Please do us all a favor and just admit it! Let everyone know that you aren't willing to makes the special accommodations necessary for a person with disabilities to have a great experience. Save us the time and embarrassment of dealing with your staff members who haven't been properly trained or who don't have an ounce of empathy. Place your sign on the door and let the truth be known before my wife and I forced to feel like we're a bother at your place of business.
Recently, my wife and I attended a concert with my daughter and one of her friends at a venue that typically draws several hundred people. It's a smaller venue and all of the shows are standing room only. I had inquired about disability seating prior to purchasing the tickets and was assured that there were dedicated seating areas on the sides of the stage. We arrived and a member of the staff personally escorted my wife and I to the dedicated handicapped seating area. My wife decided to stay in her wheelchair instead of transferring out and I grabbed a metal folding chair from a nearby stack of them. We got comfortable a few minutes before the opening act and it didn't take me long to realize that we would be staring at a wall for the duration of the evening. A wall. I literally couldn't see an inch of the stage. See for yourself.
Keep in mind, we paid full ticket price for these seats. The same ticket price that every other member of the audience paid. The only difference of course was that those other people could actually see the stage and the band members. They weren't tossed in a corner of the venue, forgotten. That's what I feel like whenever something like this happens - forgotten. Cast aside with the other individuals with disabilities. Our own little loser's club. Pushed into the corner and out of the way. Out of the way so as not to disturb or inconvenience the able-bodied clientele.
Sitting there seething, I imagined the owner of the venue walking beside a contractor while planning the design of the stage area. "Where will we seat the people with disabilities?", the contractor asks. Then I imagine the manager waving his hand flippantly and saying "Wheelchairs? Throw them in the corner behind that wall." To some degree, no matter how small, that scenario played out. Someone at this venue actually made that decision. That space was DEDICATED to those with disabilities. It wasn't a mistake made last minute. We were behind a wall on purpose.
That's when I got up to locate the manager. I couldn't sit there for another second without voicing my frustration. The manager turned out to be the same nice gentleman who directed us to our seats just a few minutes prior. I asked him what he thought of the handicapped seating area. And without letting him answer, I reminded him that my wife's life really isn't that great and that she's had everything taken from her. Fighting back tears of frustration, I told him that she was looking forward to going out and seeing a show like a "normal" person. I told him that his venue made it perfectly clear that people with disabilities are second-class-citizens. Outcasts. That they are in the way and need to be pushed to the side. I explained to him that in all likelihood every single person in that venue was leading a more fulfilling life than my wife was. And I realize that was a dramatic generalization but I didn't care. In my mind if you can stand for a concert for a few hours, you can probably go to the bathroom on your own and tie your own shoes. My wife can do neither.
I told him that his venue wasn't the only one that got it so terribly wrong when it comes to the priority of those with disabilities. There are countless locations that kick those that are already down. But his was one of the worst. And to his credit, he made it right. We were moved to a different location. Upstairs with a view down to the stage. An ideal location for folks that are wheelchair-bound. Why wasn't the disability seating there to begin with? Because they were all private party suites that are normally sold at a premium. And money will always take priority over everything else.
The only way situations like this are rectified is by speaking up. Owners and managers need to be called out when their facilities make people with disabilities feel like an afterthought. More pushback will lead to more change. Channel your frustration constructively and don't stop until those with the least are thought of first.