Guest blog post by Bob Vogel
It is unfortunate that media reports on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) access (Title III) usually focus on financial costs to businesses or municipalities, when the reports should be pointing out that ADA access is patriotic and profitable.
The crucial link to ADA access and patriotism became clear to me while doing research for an article and I interviewed Anthony Goldsmith, a Civil Rights Attorney, and member of the legislative committee of Californians for Disability Rights Inc., the oldest and largest membership organization of persons with disabilities in California. Goldsmith recalled his father telling him about his time in the Army during World War II. While stationed in Maryland he trained French troops to help liberate their nation. During this period Goldsmith’s father traveled to the nation’s Capitol and saw President Roosevelt getting carried up steps into congress in a way that would avoid people knowing that the President was paralyzed–something most people knew, but avoided talking about.
Goldsmith’s father told him how powerful this image was, and how it made him think, “What will happen to me if I come back from the war badly hurt, maybe without legs? How will I get around? How will I have a family? How will I support myself?”
The passage of the ADA in 1990 is a powerful reminder of how far our country has evolved in areas of freedom and equal rights since that time.
“Support Our Troops!” This popular saying is often seen on ribbon-shaped stickers. It’s a great message and something we can all agree on. Our troops have pledged to defend our country and defend our freedoms including the freedom of equality–something we sometimes take for granted. They’ve pledged their defense even if it results in their permanent disability or untimely death. For this we owe them our eternal gratitude.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 600,000 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have a service-connected disability (injured while in the military). The latest U.S. census puts the total number of veterans living with service-connected disabilities at 3.4 million.
Imagine how cool it would be to start a campaign where businesses and municipalities that are accessible (curb cuts, ramps, accessible parking, etc.) put up signs and/or stickers proudly saying “In support of our troops we are 100% ADA accessible.”!!! I submit, the most important step a business can take to show that they support our troops is to inves time and effort to ensure they meet ADA access standards. A fully accessible business shows respect for the freedom and equality that our troops have fought for. Imagine the respect and sense of “thank you for your service” this would show our troops—taking action, providing access and equality as a sign of thanks and respect.
On the other hand, imagine what it must be like for veterans that became disabled fighting for our freedom when they are excluded from entering a business, or excluded from parts of it because it isn’t accessible, only to hear the same tired old excuses those of us with a disability have heard for years; “I didn’t know we had to be accessible” or “I thought this business was “grandfathered in. (There is no such thing)” Or worse, “Gee, we didn’t think there is a problem. We’ve never seen people in wheelchairs in our business.” Umm, you have steps coming up to your entrance… Think of the message this conveys to our troops.
Unfortunately ADA access and business is often portrayed as an “Us vs. them issue.” It isn’t. ADA access is an US issue—a disability can happen to anybody at any time, and if you live long enough you will acquire some type disability. Unfortunately, most media stories incorrectly focus on cost or difficulties in understanding ADA access law.. It is rare that media stories point to the many of resources available to help businesses become accessible, starting with a $5,000 per year federal tax credit for access improvement. To help businesses understand ADA access laws and codes, the ADA National Network has links to ADA Regional Centers will help businesses understand access requirements. See Resources www.adata.org
In addition to being patriotic, ADA access is profitable, allowing an estimate of probably 40% more consumer dollars into a business! A good example of this profit is the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports clinic, an annual event held in early April in the tiny village of Snowmass, Colorado. During Winter Sports Clinic, going into its 27th year, over 400 veterans with disabilities spend an amazing week getting introduced to a variety of adaptive sports including skiing, sled hockey, scuba diving, cross country skiing and rock climbing. Joining the veterans are their families and friends – the numbers easily add up to 1200 people or more customers for local businesses. The event happens during a slow, financially difficult time of the season; a time when businesses would normally be laying people off. Instead the event fills hotels, ski lifts, and brings in over one million dollars to businesses in the village.
Similar numbers are seen at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games—held in a different U.S. city each summer. The summer games are twice the size of the Winter Sports clinic. Hosting the summer games is a coveted honor for a city, not to mention the millions of dollars it brings to the businesses of the host city.
The Veterans Winter Sports Clinic and Summer Games are a good example of the consumer dollars a business with ADA access brings in—consumer dollars that non-accessible business leaves on the table. According to the most recent census, nearly 20 percent of people in the United States have a disability. This number is quickly growing as the baby boom generation ages. Not having access means one in five consumers cannot spend their dollars at a business; now add in family and friends of a person with a disability–logic and basic math dictates that businesses that are not fully accessible unknowingly lose out on 30 to 40 percent of potential consumer dollars.
The bottom line–ADA access is patriotic and profitable! An accessible business shows support and respect for our troops. Furthermore, ADA access is profitable–the question for businesses isn’t “Can you afford to become accessible?” the question is, “How can you afford NOT to be accessible?”
ADA National Network: www.adata.org.
Click on Regional Center on the lower left part of the page to find ADA Regional Center.
Californians For Disability Rights, Inc.: http://www.disabilityrights-cdr.org
Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal: http://www.ada.gov/checkweb.htm
United States Access Board: www.access-board.gov/
Bob Vogel, 51, is a freelance writer for the ROHO Community blog. He is a dedicated dad, adventure athlete and journalist. Bob is in his 26th year as a T10 complete para. For the past two decades he has written for New Mobility magazine and is now their Senior Correspondent. He often seeks insight and perspective from his 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, and Schatzie, his 9-year-old German Shepherd service dog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of Bob Vogel and do not necessarily reflect the views of The ROHO Group. You can contact Bob Vogel by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.