Bad Attitudes: An Uninspiring Podcast About Disability

Episode 46: All Ramps Are Not Created Equal

July 18, 2022 Laura Stinson Season 2 Episode 23
Bad Attitudes: An Uninspiring Podcast About Disability
Episode 46: All Ramps Are Not Created Equal
Show Notes Transcript

Ramps do not equal accessibility, and it's time to stop assuming that they do. Let's also have a brief chat about universal design, and how it can benefit us all.


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MALE VO [00:03]
This is Bad Attitudes.

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LAURA [00:20]
Hello friends and strangers! Welcome to another episode of Bad Attitudes: An Uninspiring Podcast about Disability. I’m your host, Laura.

Look, a ramp does not accessibility make.

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As always, I want to remind you that disability is not a monolith. My experience as a disabled person is going to be different from the experiences of other disabled people. I am one voice for the disabled community but I am not the only voice.

A while back, I was scrolling through my local Facebook groups, as one does, and came across a post for an AirBNB. The first comment asked, “Is this h-word accessible?” You know the h-word. I don’t say it. The response was, “Yes, there’s a ramp!”

Um. Yeah. That means basically nothing. A ramp means I can get to the door. But can I get IN the door?

It is a common misconception among non-disabled people that a ramp means accessibility. But there is so much more to accessibility than just adding ramps. In the first place, not all ramps are easily navigable. For example, the minimum required slope of a ramp according to the ADA is 1:12, meaning that for every 12 inches a ramp extends, it has a one-inch vertical rise. I can tell you from personal experience that is actually pretty steep. If someone doesn’t have enough grip strength or arm strength, they may not be able to navigate this ramp independently. That’s not what accessibility means.

Circling back to the AirBNB post, pictures of the location showed pretty definitively that this ramp did not equal accessibility. Several of the bedrooms had doors that opened directly into the bed. No one with any kind of mobility device would be able to navigate that area. If you use a wheelchair, you’d likely be unable to transfer to the bed without leaving the bedroom door wide open. You’d have to sacrifice your privacy to even attempt to get in the bed. I don’t know about you, but I like being able to close my bedroom door.

Other photos showed the outdoor area covered in large gravel. That’s just begging for something bad to happen. I know plenty of non-disabled people who can’t walk steady on gravel. Now imagine trying to roll a wheelchair over it, or use a walker or crutches on it. Bad things will happen to good people.

There was no mention of doorway or passageway widths. The ADA minimum width for doors is 36 inches. This allows for plenty of clearance for wheelchairs, including clearing the user’s hands and arms. We also don’t know if the doors are on standard hinges or flat-lay hinges. There isn’t necessarily an ADA requirement for flat-lay hinges, but they can make a big difference on doorway clearance. Flat-lay hinges (by the way, I don’t think that’s the actual name for them, but it’s what I call them) make it so doors open flat against the wall, instead of sticking out an inch or so into the doorway the way traditional hinges do. That extra couple of inches of clearance can mean so much.

There was also no information about the bathroom situation and no photos. Let’s be really clear. The layout of a bathroom in a home not specifically designed to be accessible is TINY. Unless you’re uber rich, of course. Someone with a mobility aid could not close the door in a traditional bathroom, could not turn in a full circle in a traditional bathroom, and generally could not use the bathroom for most of its intended purposes. The house I live in was built specifically with my wheelchair use in mind, and yet, in the bathroom I use primarily, I can’t make a full circle turn without running into the wall, the toilet, or the door. Keep in mind, however, I’ve lived in this house since I was six.

I don’t think any of us anticipated still living in this same house 30-plus years later, but even with my disability in mind, there is still a lot to be desired in terms of accessibility. The bathroom, as I mentioned. Our kitchen would be all but completely inaccessible for anyone with less ability than I have.

Both sets of my grandparents bought new houses in the early 2000s. One set bought a house with an eye towards having an accessible home that I could easily visit. The other set wasn’t concerned about accessibility. Neither house was built specifically with accessibility in mind.

In the first house, the one with consideration towards accessibility, I could barely fit through the doorways, even with flat-lay hinges. A few years after they moved in, I replaced the handrims on my chair which increased the width of my chair by less than ¼ of an inch but made it impossible for me to get through the door to the one accessible bathroom. In the other house, I can only access the kitchen and great room. I can’t even make the turn to access the hallways to the other rooms.

So, even when consideration is given to ensuring a home is more accessible, there is no guarantee of accessibility unless we actually BUILD to be accessible. That’s why universal design is so important. 

The term “universal design” was coined by architect Ronald Mace to describe the concept of designing products and environments to be aesthetic AND usable to the greatest extent possible by the greatest number of people, regardless of age, ability level, or status.

The easiest-to-understand example of universal design is the curb cut. Ostensibly, curb cuts are meant for wheelchair users, but they aren’t limited to wheelchair users. They are used by parents maneuvering strollers. They make it easier for the average person to transition on or off a curb. Delivery drivers with handcarts use them to move heavy loads. The usefulness and usability isn’t limited to people with specific disabilities.

The beauty of universal design is that, even though it’s technically targeted toward the disabled, you don’t have to be disabled to benefit from universal design. When you design a home universally, you are not limiting who can use it, but opening up the possibilities of who can use it.

Consider this example of universal design: surfaces that are stable, firm, and slip resistant. Who can’t benefit from that? Don’t tell me that you, a non-disabled person, have never face-planted because you’re walking on an uneven surface. Like this, most principles of universal design aren’t extreme; they’re common sensical.

If our society could somehow get its act together and recognize the benefit of building for ALL people, instead of just for some, nobody would have to struggle to find a livable home. I mean, sure capitalism would still be a problem with finding a place to live, but I can only solve so many problems in one episode.

If someone asks if your home or business is accessible, for the love of God, don’t say, “Yes, we have a ramp,” and assume that solves every problem. That barely solves one problem. If you know what accessible features your environment offers, list them off. If you don’t, ask what that person needs and determine if you can or already do accommodate that need. It is not rocket surgery.

Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you in the next one.

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