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I can't disguise myself with a wig and dark glasses — the wheelchair gives me away.

— Stephen Hawking

I used a wheelchair in 2015 to get around after surgery on my right foot. It served its purpose. I was not supposed to put weight on my foot for several months, and using the chair ensured that I didn't tire out as quickly as I might have using a walker or crutches.

For the most part, my wheelchair was not a problem, thanks to the effects the Americans With Disabilities Act has had on the way buildings accommodate people with limited mobility.

The U.S. Dept. of Labor's website (dol.gov) states that "the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs and services."

Knowing a bit about the ADA, I was surprised when I ran into a problem while using my wheelchair at the federal building in downtown Little Rock. My companion had forgotten her driver's license and the guards wouldn't let her go inside the building. Entry from the street wasn't a problem; it was the entryway to the IRS offices that was the problem. I had hoped for an electric opening door, but no. Thankfully, a woman held the door for me on the way in. The seating area was large enough to accommodate the chair, as were the cubicles. But on the way out the going got rough.

The door was glass and rather heavy. As I was leaving, no one seemed to notice me as I struggled to get the door open, hold it and manage to roll through. That left a bad taste in my mouth.

I filed this memory away for a couple of years until a dear reader emailed that she has noticed many businesses and offices should take a look at their facilities. Along with entrances and exits, thoughtful consideration should also be used when choosing furnishings and arranging the layout in a way that works for everyone.

We also commiserated over chairs that were not sturdy or one-size-fits-all. It brought back memories of my "heavier" days and how I would fret when I had to sit in the ramshackle plastic chairs that many venues provide. Nothing can put a damper on the evening like a wobbly chair that might collapse.

First and foremost, public places that are subject to the ADA, as well as other federal disability discrimination laws, must comply with those laws and their regulations. Ignorance of those laws is not an excuse.

Of the utmost importance are "water closet" clearances for single-user toilet rooms, which can be found in a wide variety of public and private facilities, including restaurants, fast food establishments, schools, retail stores, parks and stadiums. The website ADA.gov has a comprehensive section of rules for restrooms. They are very specific.

Sometimes the problem is not the door but things inside a room. A public accommodation should remove architectural barriers where removal is readily achievable. Using a public room should not be like navigating an obstacle course.

Solutions might include:

■ Rearranging tables, chairs, displays, vending machines and other furniture.

■ Installing grab bars in the toilet stall and rearranging partitions.

■ Installing a raised toilet seat or taller toilet.

■ Re-positioning the paper-towel and toilet-paper dispensers.

■ Removing high pile, low-density carpeting.

■ Installing ramps and widening doors.

You get the picture. For those who need to upgrade facilities, there will be a cost involved, along with time and effort. The end results can make a lot of difference.

Whether in a wheelchair or using a cane or walker, people will remember if they felt welcome and comfortable. And they'll also remember if they felt unwelcome and uncomfortable.

Email me at:

rboggs@arkansasonline.com

Style on 08/12/2019

Print Headline: Easy access a must for wheelchair bound

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