Wheelchair Womp-Womp: The Gap Between the Americans with Disabilities Act and Accessibility

Lady X returns in this guest post to share her experience of the gap between ADA compliance and true accessibility. Due to a host of complex issues Lady X travels through life on board a mobility scooter, accompanied by her PTSD- dog, Saben, and has encountered more than anyone’s fair share of physical barriers preventing her from accomplishing even the simplest of tasks.

Unwilling to admit defeat, Lady x has chosen to share her experience with us today, highlighting some of the quests available for lawmakers and businesses to take up, should they feel inclined to accept her challenge.

First, some history.

The americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990. That means that the majority of its text was written in the mid to late 1980’s. AS hard as it is for me to admit this, because it means contemplating my own age while trying to avoid the spectral condemnation of “wasted hours,” I have to acknowledge that 1990 was, at the time this post was published, 32 years ago!

And if there’s one thing we can all accept about the 21st century, it’s that its first two decades saw a world in which technology seemed to change almost every day.

Imagine, then, how wheelchair and mobility technology has changed since this landmark law was written more than 3 decades ago. Imagine how features like motorization, carry capacity, body size accessibility, and other aspects of wheelchair and mobility aid construction must have changed. And now think about how that might change things like turning radius, the need for accessible outlets, ramp, hallway, and doorway width requirements. What does “wheelchair-accessible’ even mean anymore?

“But, laws get updated. Haven’t the laws been updated to reflect the changing needs of the disabled community?”

Well, yes…ish.

The ADA was updated in 2010, and the design standards went into effect in 2012. That’s a decade ago. Obviously laws can’t be updated every year, but medical technology isn’t waiting for Congress. Neither are business owners or construction companies. Right now there is no formal acknowledgement or establishment that takes into account the evolving nature of accessibility and how that must be reflected in our laws. Because human society is never static, this seems like a significant oversight to me.

The ADA is a big chunk of legislation. For information specifically about accessibility to public spaces (which includes businesses, restaurants, civic buildings, and more), check out Title III Here.

Lady X’s observations about her difficulties navigating life in a mobility scooter fall into two categories: outside the building, and inside the building. Because I’ve already rambled a bit here and I don’t want this post to fall into the TLDR category I’ve split these topics into two posts. Today we’re going to follow Lady X as she travels outside, and next week we’ll try to get in the door and do business.


Lady X wants to meet with a friend at a local restaurant. SHe’s chosen to travel by taxi because her car’s in the shop. She calls one to pick her up, rolls on out of her house, and encounters the first set of problems.

  1. 1. The taxi has no space for her scooter
  2. The driver decides to refuse her service and takes off
  3. When she calls the company to get an accessible taxi sent her way, the driver charges her a loading fee.

Is any of that legal?

No. If you slog through the Title III link I gave you above you’ll find that businesses are not permitted to up-charge for accessibility, are required to regularly maintain accessibility features such as wheelchair-safe taxis, and train their employees in the safe usage of said amenities. Here, the law is adequate, but compliance is sadly lacking. Recently it was ruled that ride-shares like Uber are required to follow these same guidelines, btw. Their track record with compliance is as questionable s their more traditional competitors’.

Large facilities that don’t have clearly marked pathways for persons who need to use ramps . Most places are great about marking where to enter, but then don’t have clear signage after that.

Ramps that are too narrow or have too sharp of a turn to navigate with a mobility scooter. Mobility scooters have a wider turn radius than a wheelchair so the ramps need to account for that.

Lady X has finally arrived at her destination, a newly-opened gastro-pub in the revitalized downtown area of her city. The driver helps her out and back onto her scooter, and she looks around for the entrance. It’s down a shallow flight of steps in a classy little courtyard with decorative trees and a little round band stage.

It’s new, she reasons, so it has to have a ramp to get down into the restaurant somewhere…but she can’t see any signs indicating which way to go. She rolls up and down the street-level sidewalk for a bit, finally turns the corner onto the side street and finds a ramp! But there are yet more problems…

  • 1. The ramp is too narrow for the wide base of her scooter
  • 2. The ramp is pretty steep. She imagines if she had a manual wheelchair, one she had to power with her own arm strength, she’d have a hard time controlling her descent or heaving herself back up to the street
  • 3. She can see she has to make a pretty sharp turn at the bottom to avoid a big cement planter artfully placed against the wall at the bottom of the ramp to shade a nearby table. She’s certain the wide turning radius of her scooter won’t make that corner, even if she could get down there in the first place!

Is this legal?

Yes. This construction does meet the 2010 standards for wheelchair accessibility. But it is clearly not accessible. And it is clearly not an uncommon problem. Many business owners would try to solve this problem by making arrangements with building owners to provide alternate entrances with elevators on different sides of the building, but they rarely think to mark accessible paths with signs.

Lady X is now 20 minutes late because she had to do some fancy googling to figure out that if she kept going around the block there’s an apartment complex on the far side of the block from the restaurant that will let her use an elevator. That elevator lets her into a dim back hallway meant for service personnel, and through another back door she’s now in the restaurant.


To Be Continued…

Today your favorite blindfluencer wants you to know that it’s PTSD Awareness Month. What is your favorite coping skill after extreme stress, and could you do it if you suddenly found yourself in a wheelchair?

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