The month of July gives me cause to reflect on the freedoms we have as Americans. As Americans, we celebrated Independence Day on July 4th. We are free to live as we want. On July 26th, millions of Americans, myself included, celebrate the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, as it is best known.
This legislation violated federal law to discriminate against people with disabilities, just as similar civil rights laws protect people from discrimination based on race, age, gender, national origin, and religion. The ADA offers equal opportunities for people with disabilities in the areas of work, transport, state and local government, dormitories and telecommunications.
Summer is also the time of year when many of us take the time to relax and enjoy quality time with our families by going on vacation. I had two such opportunities about a month ago. During that time, I’ve wondered if things have really gotten better for Americans with disabilities. I share my experiences and let you, the reader, come to your own conclusion.
In June, my husband and I traveled to Florida to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary and to see our family. We decided on an older hotel with a sea view and wanted to stay a little more comfortable. When we made our reservation, we were told that the hotel, including the room, was wheelchair accessible and that, in accordance with ADA, I use an electric wheelchair and that I need the space in the toilet and in the hotel room to maneuver. We checked into the hotel after arriving from our flight early evening and looked forward to relaxing and enjoying a meal in the rooftop restaurant. We used an elevator to get to the second floor where our room was. When we entered our room, we noticed a small and narrow front door with a threshold that barely allowed my wheelchair to pass. We went to the toilet, which was so small my wheelchair couldn’t fit. When we looked at the bed, it was over a meter high, so even my husband, who is 1.70 meters tall, had to jump to get on it. There was no way to get me to bed safely. We decided we had been assigned this room by mistake as it could not be the designated ADA accessible room. We went back to the registration desk and were informed that this was actually their only ADA accessible room. There was no other room they could give us that was better than this.
We were hungry now and decided to regroup and eat at their rooftop restaurant to decide where to find another hotel room. When we went to the elevator, we found that the elevator did not go to the rooftop restaurant and was inaccessible. We went back to the front desk and were told there was nothing they could do. We asked for a refund and left the hotel. They couldn’t issue a refund until the next day if their manager was there. As a side note, it took us three days to remove the refund from our charge card.
At this point we were upset and hungry with nowhere to stay. When we left the hotel we noticed a new hotel and restaurant next door. Luckily this hotel was available and had a nice accessible room. It was more expensive per night than the original hotel but they accommodated us. In the end we had a great time!
We had a similar experience two weeks later when we traveled to central Illinois for my husband’s 40th high school reunion. We reserved hotel time at a newer facility six months in advance. When we arrived and looked at the room, it was not an accessible room. When we went back to reception, we were told that all barrier-free rooms were already occupied. When we originally called to make the reservation, we were assured it was an accessible room. Again we were forced to go to find another hotel with an accessible room. After calling three different hotels, we found an accessible room in a different location.
How did both cases happen within two weeks and 31 years after the ADA was passed? My experience shows how far our country still has to go in order to give all citizens equal access. While we should celebrate our successes, we still have a lot to do before all citizens are treated equally.
Cathy Contarino, Executive Director of IMPACT CIL., Can be reached at 618-474-5314 or [email protected]