PHIL WIELAND: Giving handicapped accessibility the chair

2012-11-09T00:00:00Z PHIL WIELAND: Giving handicapped accessibility the chairBy Phil Wieland phil.wieland@nwi.com, (219) 548-4352 nwitimes.com
November 09, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Sometimes you have to wonder which people are really the handicapped ones.

Valpo hired a consultant to check every city-owned facility for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The study was so comprehensive it took about two years to complete and generated a report thick enough, with pictures, to deforest several states.

Governments are under greater pressure to meet the ADA requirements than businesses, but you'd think businesses would want to make every effort to comply. Most large businesses have automatic doors, but most smaller ones don't, including some that really should. Like businesses providing services to the handicapped, for instance.

Let me describe a recent, unhappy experience with one such business.

I'm not handicapped, despite many readers' comments to the contrary, but my wife recently had a mild stroke and often has to rely on a wheelchair to get around when she's not using a walker. After she was released from the hospital, we had to go to Merrillville so she could be fitted for a leg brace.

The leg bracery is near Methodist Hospital and is in the midst of a host of offices catering to a variety of medical disciplines and services. Although many of the clients are handicapped, automatic doors are rarer than the number of positions Mitt Romney didn't reverse during the campaign.

Maneuvering a wheelchair through these doors without injuring the handicapped person is difficult at best, and the leg bracery had a second door to the waiting room that was a special challenge. The door swung out in the direction of our approach inside a narrow vestibule used as an overflow seating area. A row of chairs along each wall left little room for the door or her wheelchair.

Once around the door, entry into the main waiting area was partially blocked by heavy chairs on either side. After struggling for a couple of minutes to squeeze the wheelchair between two chairs and trying to avoid having my wife's foot slammed by the closing door, I finally picked up one of the chairs and, literally, threw it out of the way.

The chair landed with a loud thud, but I finally got the wheelchair in so we could sign in for our appointment. Fortunately, no one else was in the waiting room, but I angrily told the receptionist, "For a business that caters to handicapped people, you sure aren't very handicapped accessible."

The receptionist offered a rather sheepish "Sorry," and we were told the bracery only rented the space and couldn't make changes for the handicapped.  I just wanted to throw another chair.

The opinions are those of the writer. He can be reached at phil.wieland@nwi.com or (219) 548-4352.

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