When Public Events Don't Consider the Need for Accessibility

I was invited by a friend recently to an event called Frankenfest held by Indiana Humanities at the Indiana Medical History Museum located in Indianapolis, Indiana. I contacted the organizer of the event to determine if it was accessible, and I was told the museum itself does not have accessible access to the second floor, but there is a ramp to the main floor. I was also told that the entrance doorway is not up to code with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). I was, however, informed that all of the outside activities would be accessible, and they would be live streaming the event on Facebook.

I decided to go and support my friend who invited me, and enjoy some of the first floor and outdoor activities. Upon arrival I went to the provided parking location which was in an open grassy area on the grounds of the museum. There was no disability accessible parking available. I rolled my wheelchair over the rough terrain for nearly 150 yards before arriving at my second obstacle, a long “Caution” tape that was draped across the entire entrance area. This, I assume, was to keep people from driving and parking close to the location, but it created a barrier to my ability to access the event.

After my husband and friend removed that barrier for me, we traveled to the museum to try to locate the accessible entrance. We were directed to the ramp by a volunteer for the event, and upon arriving at the door we noticed it was locked. Once the volunteer went to the front door and notified the volunteers inside of my inability to access the building, they unlocked the door for me. At that time I had to do some quick calculations in my head to determine if I could enter due to the large object located just inside the threshold, blocking half of the already non-ADA compliant doorway.

Because of my maneuvering skills with my chair I was able to access the room, but anyone with a chair larger than 28 inches wide would have been left out of the experience. Once inside I was able to access two of the rooms because the rooms and doorways were too small, and the number of people inside were over capacity for me to safely maneuver any farther.

After leaving the museum I needed to use the restroom. I was directed to the Port-A-Pots located across the grassy area. Out of the four to five available restrooms, there were no accessible Port-A-Pots available.

Aside from the multiple accessibility issues, I had a good time with my husband and friends. I am fortunate to have a fairly powerful electric wheelchair that can handle rough, grassy terrain. Anyone with a manual wheelchair, walker, cane or crutches would have had increased difficulty navigating the area.

The problem I have found with this event, and many others like it, is that organizers of such events don’t seem to take disabilities into consideration during the planning phase. Of course the individuals from Indiana Humanities cannot do much about the structural accessibility of the historical museum, but there are things they could have done to make their event more enjoyable for people with disabilities.

They could have easily sectioned off an area on the flat surface near the building for accessible parking rather than use that area for other vehicles. They could have placed signs or people to direct visitors to the designated parking area rather than block off the entrance with “Caution” tape. This would have allowed easier access for people with mobility limitations. They could have easily ordered one accessible Port-A-Pot since it was a 12-hour event lasting from noon until midnight. I assume people would need to use the facilities multiple times if they planned to stay for the duration of the event.

Furthermore, when advertising for their event they could have announced their inabilities to accommodate individuals with disabilities to allow people to make an informed decision about attending the event. By simply stating there is a ramp to a smaller than ADA acceptable doorway, they are leaving out the multitude of accessibility concerns inside the structure, including the large barrier just inside the door. By stating that all of the other activities are outside, they are leaving out the facts that there will be no accessible restroom accommodations and the outdoor events will all be held in the grass. This information should be noted in the advertising rather than providing it only when someone inquires about accessibility.

I appreciate the value of preserving historic sites such as the Indiana Medical Museum, and I understand that making these areas 100 percent compliant with with ADA is a daunting and sometimes impossible task. However, there are many things that owners of such buildings can do to increase the accessibility. Public historic buldings are not exempt from the ADA. If you would like to learn more about the accessibility requirements for historic structures you can find them at Whole Building Design Guide and Structure Mag.

Aside from the barrier at the doorway (which appeared to be a movable object) it appears the Indiana Medical Museum was following the requirements for structural accessibility for historic buildings. They are only required to provide access to the main floor. However, I am unaware of their ability to use video or other accessible means to demonstrate the second floor materials to individuals with disabilities during their regular business hours, as I have not visited the facility any other time. I am also unaware of the availability of accessible restroom facilities during regular business hours.

Ultimately, I am glad I attended the event. It was a good time to fellowship with friends and enjoy rare items one does not encounter on a regular basis. I wish more event planners would open their minds to accessibility concerns, and seek to accommodate as many diverse populations as possible. Whenever there are accessibility limitations that cannot be controlled, be honest about those limitations when advertising the event to ensure full understanding by all interested in attending.

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Photo via Indiana Medical History Museum.

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