Businesses would benefit from accessibility
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With Misty Fritz
Until a couple weeks ago, I hadn’t realized just how many businesses in this county are inaccessible to wheelchair users.
What tipped me off? I was setting up an interview with Alicia Woodman of Shipman, who is Ms. Wheelchair Illinois USA, and it quickly became apparent that our options for local meeting places were essentially limited to a few restaurants — or, if we wanted to get soaked by the pouring rain, we could meet outdoors.
After setting up our interview, I started noticing that virtually every business on and around the Carlinville square, as well as many in Gillespie and Benld — even Benld City Hall — are inaccessible to wheelchair users, because their main entrances have at least one step. In the example of Benld City Hall, a wheelchair user could theoretically enter through the Benld Civic Center entrance and go through the council meeting room, but that assumes the civic center door is unlocked, which it is unlikely to be unless there’s an event going on. Other businesses may have back entrances wheelchair users can access, but that would be far from ideal at best and dehumanizing at worst, depending on the circumstances.
Talking to Alicia, I learned it’s even worse than I could tell at a quick glance. Some businesses in the area do have a ramp for wheelchair users, but the ramp is too steep to be navigated without difficulty. Others don’t have dedicated handicapped parking spaces, or have their business laid out in a manner that prevents wheelchair users from getting around inside (such as stores with too-small aisles).
Adding a ramp seems like such a simple way for businesses to be more accessible (though, of course, it isn’t the only one) that I have to wonder why more of them haven’t done it. Is it because of the cost? Some communities, as well as the county itself, have funding options available for businesses — facade grants, revolving loan funds, and similar programs — that could potentially help with the cost. There may even be volunteers who would help with the labor, simply in an effort to improve quality of life for wheelchair users in the community.
Is it because of the way a ramp would look? I understand that many of the businesses in this county are housed in old buildings, but wanting to preserve that aesthetic should not be more important than turning away potential customers (and potential revenue). Who knows — some companies may even be missing out on ideal candidates for certain positions simply because their building is not made to accommodate the person’s needs, so they don’t even bother to apply.
Don’t get me wrong; there are some businesses that do make an effort to be accessible. For example, Alicia praised Dairy Queen for being all on one level and Walmart for having more handicapped parking spaces than required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
More should follow their examples. Accommodating more members of the community is a great way for business owners to show they actually care about that community.