Living With Polio

The Point of the ADA

From the series, Polio Survivors Ask, by Nancy Baldwin Carter, B.A, M.Ed.Psych, from Omaha, Nebraska, is a polio survivor, a writer, and is founder and former director of Nebraska Polio Survivors Association.

Q: I just remodeled my kitchen and found non-slip tile that is called “ADA tile.” The label helped me narrow the possibilities, but I wasn’t sure if that was a good use of “ADA.” What do you think?

A: That’s the point of having the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), isn’t it? Now there’s a standard. We’re no longer forced to go whistling in the dark. Want non-slip tile on the floor? Check the ADA criteria: Coefficient of friction of 0.6 or greater on flat surfaces, 0.8 on ramps or inclines. Voila! How easy could it be! And how helpful!

We’re smart to question how we use “ADA.” We don’t want people thinking of these letters as silly government gibberish. The ADA is not simply a meaningless pile of rules and measurements. Those guidelines translate into our freedom.

In fact, the ADA is the most comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation ever devised for those of us with disabilities. This civil rights law, our shot at equality, is our passport to accessing life in a way never possible before. We count.

For years our participation often came riddled with impossible barriers, physical and otherwise. We, society’s outcasts, stood in the shadows, waiting our turn.

When President George H. W. Bush signed the ADA into law in 1990, he said “Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” The ADA lets us IN—figuratively as well as literally over the curb, up the steps, through the door, into the room, down the aisle, whatever. We get our chance. The ADA offers us the fresh breath of spring—it brings precious ACCESS.

So when we say that something is “ADA accessible,” (whether that be jobs, public accommodations, commercial facilities, government services) we know that pains have been taken to follow ADA regulations. The question isn’t “Can I reach the credit card processing machine on the counter?” The question is “Can everyone reach the credit card processing machine on the counter?” The ADA shows us how to answer that question equitably.

We do not judge accessibility by what we, alone, need. The ADA has taught us to look around us and consider usefulness, workability for the entire disability community before we brand anything as accessible.

For instance, I don’t require grab bars in order to transfer from my chair to a toilet seat. However, some folks with disabilities do. Therefore, all it takes is the absence of grab bars to make a public toilet stall inaccessible.

It’s not OK to lift wheelchair users up the steps to a business establishment. Hoisting is no more a substitute for ramps than flip-flops are for winter boots. No ramp? The building is inaccessible.

It’s not OK to corral wheelchair users in an isolated section of a theater or stadium, away from their companions and other spectators. Seating plan isn’t integrated? It’s inaccessible, not to mention unacceptable.

Let there be no excuses. Remember: We no longer have to accept the unacceptable.

Yes, yes, I know—numbers of exemptions let these groups or those buildings off the ADA hook. I’ve read the regs. I hope you have, too.

We must continue to focus on compliance. I’d thank that establishment for carrying “ADA tile.” I’d tell others about it and encourage their doing business with that company. For those who still refuse to comply with the ADA, I’d start with a gentle reminder.

People fought a tough battle for US to be the ones to define accessibility. We do that through the ADA. I want to keep things that way; I’m going to insist on it.

How about you?

Source: Post-Polio Health International (

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