alt=A woman in a wheelchair sits lost and sad among stairwells and other inaccessible building features.

Can’t Buy Access

When I was younger and starting out in my career, I had this goal to one day do well enough that I would be able to buy accessibility. As a wheelchair user from childhood-onset rheumatoid arthritis, I had goals to eventually be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I had this idea that in a capitalist society where money matters greatly, I could induce accessibility if I had some.

I worked hard, I saved money, and I still can't buy accessibility

After working 20 years and saving carefully, I am fortunate to have some money that I could spend and am sorely disappointed that it is of very little use for purchasing accessibility. I’ve learned that I can’t buy accessibility if it doesn’t exist and if no one wants to sell it. Additionally, I’ve seen a lot of declines in overall community accessibility in recent years.

It's difficult to find wheelchair cabs

For example, I can now afford to periodically take a wheelchair cab to places I want to go instead of using only public transit. But can I get a wheelchair cab to show up and take my money? It’s 50/50 and I never know if they will show (or not). Even though I have the money, they don’t seem to want to sell me the service that I desire.

Nobody will sell me a ramp

In another instance, my family was renting a vacation home at the beach. It had some steps for entry (there were none available without steps) and I thought a good solution would be to rent a temporary ramp so that I could visit because I cannot climb steps anymore. For about two months before the trip, my mother and I scoured the internet and made phone calls to find someone who could rent a ramp.

Finally, we found someone a couple hours away who had a ramp to rent, but they required payment for double the time I needed it. My father, being a handy retired engineer, said forget it and figured out how to build one himself for a quarter of the cost in just a couple hours. The ramp worked great and looked pretty nice too! (He even offered it to the facility for their use with other rentals as long as we could also use it on return visits, but they declined.)

Finding compliant hotel rooms takes careful planning

When I travel I have to be super careful about booking a hotel. I can’t just book on some of the great deal websites because either they don’t have accessible rooms listed at all or I risk arriving and not being able to use the room. Next Avenue has a great article detailing all the many challenges with finding hotels that are accessible for people with disabilities. One of the nightmares I have is arriving at a hotel and finding I can’t get into the room with my wheelchair or use the shower due to inaccessibility.

The way I manage is that I have a hotel brand which I have visited at enough different properties to be able to trust in a certain level of accessibility. Additionally, I make a lot of confirmation calls when traveling to new places and look for photos online so that I can see how the accessible rooms are laid out.

Even billionaires can't buy access

I was shocked when I read a story a few years ago about a billionaire who was disabled and used a wheelchair and even with his wealth he had great trouble traveling. He talked about how the luxury hotels that he wanted to stay in often didn’t have accessible accommodations and he was trying to get them to change.

It really blew my mind to learn that even a billionaire couldn't buy accessibility when he needed it! If that guy can’t purchase accessibility, then what hope do the rest of us have?

Inaccessibility makes me a stronger RA advocate

I try not to let it get me down and resume my persistent advocacy. It’s just simply the law (in the US, at least) that if a service or product is for sale to non-disabled people, then people with disabilities should also have access as well. My money is just as green even though I use a wheelchair.

At a time when I have seen accessibility eroding all around me, I’ve felt the need to speak up more and louder about the need to make sure whatever anyone else can purchase, so should it be available to people with disabilities.

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