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    Finding Your Comfort Zone on the Health Advocate-Activist Continuum

    A close friend of mine has been making a lot of Instagram reels lately, all on the point of raising awareness for medically complex children and their parents, and for inspiring positive change in the medical community. I fondly realized she’s become an activist. Which made me think…. What am I? Can I call myself an activist? Should I be making reels? For a living, I speak about invisible disabilities, to raise awareness, and to help people (and to keep paying the bills despite my own disability). I also do things not necessarily for income, like writing this article. But am I shouting my message from a mountaintop? Should I be doing anything at all more? My answer at this point in my life is that no, I don’t need to do more. I certainly am doing a good deal, and I must do my deal within the restrictions of my disability and considerations for self-care and a measure of mindless leisure. So with peace that I’m doing enough, I return my contemplation to identity, whether I can or do identify as an activist. According to Merriam-Webster, an activist is: a person who uses or supports strong actions (such as public protests) in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue “Strong actions” is not entirely clear, but I can say I don’t show up to public protests. I don’t even make “strong” statements on social media. I’m not one for inciting debates or for ruffling anybody’s feathers; it’s just not my style. So perhaps I’m not an activist. Now let’s go back to Merriam-Webster and look at advocate : one who defends or maintains a cause or proposal; one who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or group Well, that I certainly identify with! What I’ve learned, however, in my work as an … advocate … is that there is no black or white, right or wrong. As there is no requirement to be an extreme version of an identity or a diagnosis, a most severe case, a textbook box-checker, to claim a diagnosis and/or to identify as disabled, there likewise is no mandate that one must hold up a sign on the Capitol steps in order to bolster a belief. We live with finite terms to express identity with infinite visages of expression. So if you, like I, wonder if you’re an advocate or an activist, perhaps you can instead agree with me that we are not either/or, but that we simply are. We act within a continuum of advocate-activist and participate in a way that is comfortable, meaningful, fulfilling, and impactful for each of us. What matters much more than what we are called is what we are doing, and yes, every little bit helps. For those who may not have the opportunity, means, or comfort level to act on the “strong” end of the advocate-activist continuum, here are some things you can do: Educate yourself so that you can be a resource for people with questions or during casual conversations. Share your personal story to what extent is comfortable for you. Join an online group and encourage others who care about the same thing. Learn what actions/words/thoughts are harmful and stop yourself. Lead a college club or employee resource group. Create a virtual or in-person safe space for people to meet and share. Volunteer within an impacted community or related charity. Donate money within your means or appropriate/requested items to an impacted community or individual or to a related charity. Check in on your family and friends. Show a symbol of support and awareness, such as bumper sticker or a flag. Speak up (or write up) when you notice someone or yourself being wronged. Expand your own comfort zone by trying new things, initiating conversations with strangers, etc., and transfer that new boldness to expressions for your cause. Remember, so much more of the world and your own powers open up when you abandon the focus on “doing it right,” and you just do what you can. ——Christina Irene is a professional speaker who has presented on invisible disabilities to educational institutions, not-for-profit organizations, government entities, community groups, and corporations around the world. Inspired by her own chronic conditions, she created the Splat system for talking about and managing disability and published two books on it — “TalkingSplat: Communicating About Our Hidden Disabilities” and “Splatvocate: Supporting People With Hidden Disabilities.” Besides writing nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, her passion is adventure; she’s traveled to all 50 states, dozens of national parks, and 20 countries. She lives in central Pennsylvania where she serves elected and appointed roles on local community boards. Check out her resources and tools at www.TalkingSplat.com.

    Heather B
    Heather B @hburgo01
    contributor

    How Non-Disabled Allies Can Help Make Society Inclusive

    I do my best to adopt a “know better and do better” motto for life and I hope most others do also. The following is a list of things I want people to know, do or ask to help make society more inclusive. I hope others will add to the list in the comments! 1. Ask questions and really listen to people with disabilities and their caregivers. The only way to really know what our needs are is to hear us out. Please give us a voice. 2. Please don’t say “no” due to lack of funding. If that really is the reason, let us know who we can talk to to get the funding or meet with us to find creative ways to save money while still offering the service! 3. Don’t place limits on us. Yes, people with disabilities often need accommodations, but only the person themselves should decide what their limits are. 4. Do not assume that everyone with a specific diagnosis is the same. We are all different — celebrate our individuality. 5. Over-communicate. The more you share about your venue, program, or product, the easier it is for us to make an informed decision. 6. Disability accommodations are not special treatment. They are essential practices to keep people with disabilities from sitting on the sidelines. 7. The needs people with disabilities have are not “special” — they are basic human needs. Some additional effort and funding may be needed to accommodate these basic needs and the lack thereof should not be an excuse. 8. Do not upcharge products and services, even if they cost more. People with disabilities and their families often have significant expenses and therefore cannot afford to pay more and should not have to pay more than others for similar products and services. 9. See us. See the disability also, but not just that. See our personalities, see who we are. Celebrate us as a whole person. 10. Society benefits from inclusion. People with disabilities have a lot to offer, just like everyone else. Let’s be a whole community! Let’s work together to create a more inclusive world!

    Community Voices

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    Want to Make Dining Out While Disabled Less Aggravating? Here’s Where to Start.

    As our editorial team was preparing our list of the 50 best wheelchair accessible restaurants alongside Yelp , we noticed a common thread in the articles we had done over the years on restaurant experiences. This is the nice way to put it: Restaurants can be quite the source of frustration for disabled folks. We had an inkling that our Mighty community had a lot to say in this regard so we decided to just ask , “If you are physically disabled, what have been both your positive and negative experiences with dining out?” And well… let’s just say there’s a lot of work to be done to make the experience of dining out while disabled a better one. But while that’s the bad news, the good news is that most of the responses, including the ones below, show that many of the common challenges are quite fixable. Here’s what really bothers our community: Seating matters, too “Wobbly tables! I have muscle weakness in my arms and legs. I have to brace myself on the table to get up.” – Dale Disability is not contagious “My husband is in a wheelchair. Maybe if restaurants were built with the disabled being the patrons it would be better for everyone and you wouldn’t have to do an obstacle course to get to the restroom or a table. Some of the popular restaurants tend to put you in a back corner away from everyone. My husband gets very [upset] about being treated like he has the plague.” – Barbara N. Bathrooms are a huge part of accessibility “The only thing I ever had any problem with was too small of bathrooms.”  – @janicembarber12 “The major issues are with going to the restroom and the location of said restroom.” – Clifford H. “I think the main problem I’ve noticed is stairs going up or down to the bathroom.”  – Suz Food preferences count as accessibility “I have MS and walk with a wheeled walker. A while back I was in my favorite restaurant and ordered a meal. I asked if the meat could be cut up before it was brought to me. The server told me no. The cooks won’t do it. They find it not pleasing to other diners. I got up and left. I wasn’t in the mood to complain to management or to argue.” – @coastalrain07 Better floorplans, please! “I have recently begun using a tall upright rolling walker because of increasing scoliosis. Now I am discovering how narrow the aisles are between booths and tables and how little space there is for my walker. Not long ago, I was taken to lunch at a restaurant where the booth seats were very close to the table and so low that it was uncomfortable to eat. To stand was impossible without assistance from two people. I wasn’t embarrassed, but my helpers were.” – @treknun “My husband just loves buffets, so in my wheelchair I can’t see what they have to offer and the labels are way up top. I usually have to ask for menu items because I get pinned in by chairs from the other guests.” – Auna N. “I once had to climb a super steep and narrow staircase at a fancy restaurant to get to my table and of course I ended up having to go to the bathroom shortly after being seated, so I had to go all the way back down the stairs. These stairs were even difficult for the person I was with — who is able-bodied — to navigate without bumping into someone. This restaurant had no elevator and was super crowded. I can’t imagine how it would’ve been had I brought a mobility aid with me. The sensory overload of such a crowded place wasn’t great at first, either.” – Skye G. Sometimes you just have to laugh “When I request no dairy, I’m given extra sour cream and extra cheese. That about sums it up.” – @silverlining42 “A friend of mine who I was at uni with in 1992 is in a wheelchair. We went to a pizzeria and she asked where the toilets were, only to be told, ‘They’re downstairs, is that OK?’ She said, Do I look like it would be OK? On another occasion she was at the cinema and transferred to a seat. A cinema operative came along and started to take away her chair. She asked what they were doing: ‘It’s a fire risk.’ She said, ‘Don’t be so daft, it’s a wheelchair, it’s not going to spontaneously combust. How will I get out if there’s a fire? Leave it where it is.’” – Jenn See anything missing from this list? We’d love to hear from you! Log in or sign up for a Mighty account to add to the comments.

    11 Small (But Significant) Things Restaurants Can Do To Improve Accessibility

      The Mighty was born in the Los Angeles area, home of the $18 burger that doesn’t even come with fries — come on, how are you going to play us like that? — but it wasn’t born yesterday; we all know how expensive it can be to operate any business, let alone a successful restaurant . From outfitting the space, supplying fresh foods, staffing back of house and front of house… it all adds up fast. So, perhaps by the time that expensive quote for making a building into a more ADA-friendly one comes into play, it feels like a corner that could be cut with a temporary solution or two. (Not going to say we agree with the mindset; just that, on some level, we get where it may originate.) Which is why, in looking for ways to improve the restaurant experience for disabled customers, we went small: asking our Mighty community , “What small things could restaurants do to better accommodate your disability?” Don’t worry, owners of massive dining chains who are definitely reading this and sweating profusely right now: The answer to making a better disability-friendly space isn’t always “invest big bucks.” Now that you’ve had a moment to exhale, perhaps you could help us out by fixing some of these things up? Here’s our community’s accessibility wishlist:   “ I’d love a quiet room. I get so overwhelmed.” – @fathousewife “I really wish the music wouldn’t be so loud! I love music and want to hear it — but in the background. I hate yelling across the table to have a conversation. I have ME/CFS and fibromyalgia and am very sensitive to noise when I’m trying to have an intimate conversation. It’s really difficult to keep up.” – Wendy L. “Bathroom doors that open easily and allow room for a walker or wheelchair to pass through.” – Ria “Have ramps for those who have a hard time with stairs. I get short of breath and I can’t get around that well.”. – Shannon G. “I wish the tables were about 2 inches taller, or they could add extensions to a regular table. My chair elevates so I can easily sit at tall tables. My grandfather was disabled and had these challenges. He said that he had every right as anyone else to dine out. He sat at an angle which is what I often do, or I knock all the drinks off our table.” – Doug C. “I wish they could make the menu more readable.” – Stephanie T. “Chairs with backs, always!” – Theo “Even some outdoor dining could be safer and more comfortable. Usually the entrance to the deck is through the restaurant. Lights along floors would be so much safer —  for visual [disabilities] and unsteady balance.” – Deanna C. “Padded seats covered in something soft, like not leather or vinyl.” – @kittieluv “We need: better lighting, less busy flooring, less slippy flooring, more menus with allergies on them, and more space around chairs.” – Cindyellen R. “I use a rolling walker and sometimes a wheelchair but I prefer booth seating as I have a hard time moving chairs close enough to the table.” – @mojosmom What’s on YOUR accessibility wishlist? We’d love to hear from you! Log in or sign up for a Mighty account to add to the comments.

    Yelp and The Mighty Rate the Top 50 Wheelchair Accessible Restaurants in the U.S.

    Health is hard, but it never has to be lonely. Find support in The Mighty’s safe, 24/7-moderated online community. Connect, share, learn — whatever you need, it’s here. As a leading publisher for the disability community, The Mighty is proud to present this exclusive list of the 50 best wheelchair accessible restaurants in the United States, produced in partnership with Yelp. You can scroll down to skip straight ahead to the list — it boasts a collection of dining gems spanning from Kāneʻohe, HI to Brockton, MA that have placed a commendable priority on accessibility (and that happen to know a little something about delicious cuisine, too). But first, we’d love to have just a moment of your time to provide a little more context than you may be used to finding atop the average online “best of” list. We feel the topics of accessibility and inclusivity, and the millions of Mighty members who seek improvements in both, deserve as much. How does one make a restaurant more accessible to customers with disabilities? Glad you asked. You can find that right here.   Who is behind this list and why was it created?  The restaurant list was generated through collaboration between The Mighty and Yelp. If you’re new to The Mighty, we are the world’s largest online health community and we offer a safe, informative online home for people with health challenges to connect and share their personal experiences, across hundreds of conditions spanning disability, chronic illness, rare disease, and mental illness. (If you’re new to Yelp… well, that’s actually pretty impressive! It’s hard to spend much time online without crossing their path — how have you selected establishments to dine at, services to employ, and businesses to frequent, we wonder?) Much of this world simply wasn’t created with disabilities in mind. There is an unfortunate reality our Mighty team sees, hears, and oftentimes experiences — the majority of our staff lives with chronic health conditions — every day: much of this world simply wasn’t created with disabilities in mind. It’s not always a slight, and it’s often not malicious; it’s just a fact. The way people with disabilities navigate life is naturally different, and accessibility looks drastically distinct for each person. But that reality only deepens and worsens with inaction. And inaction is often best solved with awareness: What does the world look like for those with limited mobility? Those who live with vision and hearing loss? Those individuals with invisible illnesses? What are the challenges disabled people face in a world built for others? How can people outside of this community help improve that world? This list exists primarily to further open up those conversations. The following articles give voice to our community’s experiences navigating restaurants: Want to Make Dining Out While Disabled Less Aggravating? Here’s Where to Start. 11 Small (But Significant) Things Restaurants Can Do To Improve Accessibility   How was this list determined?  Of course, as is the case for every list ever published on the internet, particularly one ranking restaurants, it will also open up a less productive kind of conversation, about the selections that “suck” and other spots that are “better” and so on. Debate away, but please consider doing so with the methodology in mind, as it provides critical context. To clarify, this is more a list of great restaurants that are set up to serve customers in a wheelchair, not a list of establishments that specifically excel at or specialize in serving the disability community. We’re beyond honored that Yelp was willing to spare their time, expertise, and millions of business reviews to collaborate with us on this project. And this was the approach their stellar data scientists took as they combed the wealth of data that makes Yelp the standard in public opinion: We identified businesses in the restaurant and food categories, then ranked those spots using a number of factors including the total volume and ratings of reviews mentioning those keywords. Businesses must have the wheelchair accessible attribute selected to be considered. To ensure geographic diversity, we limited the list to 3 businesses per metro area. When available, all businesses on this list have a passing health score as of July 8, 2022. So, to clarify, this is more a list of great restaurants that are set up to serve customers in a wheelchair, not a list of establishments that specifically excel at or specialize in serving the disability community. Want to learn more about accessibility? Our community has you covered: Why Disability Accessibility Matters The World I Dream of Living in as a Woman With a Disability Listen to Disabled People When We Talk About Accessibility   Something important to consider while consuming this list  Please do us a favor and take it easy on the restaurants named on this list. None of these restaurants asked for inclusion on our list. In fact, they’re likely only learning of their inclusion right here, right now. (Hello! Congratulations! We hope we can visit sometime!) It is our hope that each restaurant on this list, same as all establishments that are not, will join all who care about disability rights in continually striving for better. To our knowledge, none of these small businesses claim to be perfect locations for patrons using wheelchairs by any means. All they did was make every effort to meet the requirements for accessibility, informed Yelp that they were prepared for diners using a wheelchair, and proceeded to provide food, ambiance, and customer service that made Yelp users go wild for their offerings. We do not imagine their employees or their physical footprints are fully prepared for an immediate influx of customers or able to serve a high volume of people seeking accommodations at one time. It is our hope that each restaurant on this list, same as all establishments that are not, will join all who care about disability rights in continually striving for better. Hey, restaurateur! Looking for lessons from a fellow business owner? We have you covered: 4 Things I’ve Learned About Accessibility as a Small Business Owner   What does it mean to be “wheelchair accessible” as a business in the U.S.?  The original publication date of this list coincides with the 32nd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Among its many branches, the ADA lays down a base layer of standards for businesses to follow. As is typical with federal regulations, there is a tedious document that outlines the rules, spanning everything from parking spaces to ramp requirements, restroom access to drinking fountain height. (Also typical with a federal baseline, further state and local regulations can add another component for business owners to be aware of.) Over the decades, it has become the legal standard and provides a measuring stick for accessibility we can judge by, but today, the ADA conjures complicated feelings in the disability community. Mighty contributor Alyssa Brown beautifully summed up the duality of being thankful while also noting “times change and our standards of accessibility should change too.” For example, in regards to accessibility in public spaces, the ADA has been called outdated — critically important automatic door openers, though more affordable and ubiquitous than ever, are still not required, as Mighty contributor Kevin Cook noted last year. It is fully acknowledged by The Mighty’s editorial team that this list’s celebration of attaining a basic level of compliance… well, it doesn’t necessarily feel great. But as we dream of, and advocate for, changes for the next generation of disabled Americans, it’ll take a lot of collective heart to get there and education is a necessary piece of that equation. And, as the old adage goes, the way to someone’s heart is often through their stomach. Psst! Before you reach out to your representatives, consider starting here: The Next ADA: The Rights Americans With Disabilities Still Need to Thrive   OK, please just share the list already   Gladly! Without further ado, we are glad to highlight the finest restaurants across the nation who have made efforts to make their spaces accessible for wheelchair users… 50 Best Wheelchair Accessible Restaurants in the United States   Tropicali – Big Bear Lake, CA Yardie Spice – Homestead, FL Bangers & Brews – Westside – Bend, OR Waffle and Berry – Honolulu, HI Garlic Yuzu – Las Vegas, NV Thanh Tinh Chay – San Diego, CA 888 Japanese BBQ – Las Vegas, NV Cafe Sapientia – Oak Park, CA Bistro 6050 – Chicago, IL Vinoma – Rohnert Park, CA MQ Healthy Fast Food – Millbrae, CA Fratellino – Coral Gables, FL Big H Deli – Fairfield, CA Pangolin Café – Reno, NV Sea Of Sweet – Rancho Cucamonga, CA The Mediterranean Chickpea – Tampa, FL Scotty’s Cafe – Columbus, OH Franky’s Deli Warehouse – Hialeah, FL ShouFi MahFi Mediterranean Grill – Orlando, FL Tony’s Italian Delicatessen – Montgomery, TX El Mofongo Restaurant – Hempstead, NY Casa De Falafel – Glendale, AZ Taste of Heaven – Brooklyn, NY Gelati & Peccati – San Diego, CA Dad’s Favorites – Lexington, KY Roundhouse Deli – Roseville, CA Teatopia – Saint Louis, MO De Cabeza – Chula Vista, CA Cahill Bistro – Edina, MN Robin’s Snowflake Donuts & Cafe – Spring, TX Hugs Cafe – McKinney, TX Skogen Kitchen – Custer, SD Adela’s Country Eatery – Kāneʻohe, HI Red Canyon Cafe – Scottsdale, AZ Haywood Smokehouse – Dillsboro, NC Momo’s Kitchen – Sedona, AZ Selam Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine – Orlando, FL The Clinkscale – Jerome, AZ That’s A Wrap Maui – Kihei, HI Nick’s Grill – Pulaski, TN Tommy Tamale Market & Cafe – Grapevine, TX The Rabbit Hole – Pompano Beach, FL Blues City Deli – Saint Louis, MO The Local Press Sandwich Bar – Wickenburg, AZ Poke Jay – Boca Raton, FL JJ’s Caffe – Brockton, MA Spice Station – Kingsville, TX Harley’s A Hot Dog Revolution – Littleton, CO Rosmarino Osteria Italiana – Newberg, OR Surfin’ Spoon – Nags Head, NC Is your favorite spot missing? Anything more you want to learn about accessibility? We’d love to hear from you. Log in or sign up for a Mighty account to add to the comments.

    Becoming an Employment Law Paralegal Because of ADA Rights

    I’ve never known life without the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). I was born with cerebral palsy five years after the ADA was passed, and to say I took the Act for granted is a massive understatement. It wasn’t until I started searching for jobs post-college that I realized just how many rights the ADA affords me — and the extent to which the Act can be violated. I had long heard stories of people with cerebral palsy applying to job after job without so much as an interview, but I confidently pushed those doubts to the back of my mind as I began my own job search. I landed some work through a temp agency, but at my first temp assignment, the work quickly dried up when my supervisors realized I couldn’t properly use a letter opener — and I was sent home in tears. I was soon able to find more temp work, but it was clear that my physical abilities and my mental health didn’t always allow me to reach the goals my supervisors had set out. I successfully completed several weeks at a university bookstore but was told I wasn’t applying barcode stickers quickly enough. At another temp job placement, I had a panic attack at work and was promptly dismissed on account of “being on my phone too much” — despite never having touched my phone outside of lunch breaks. I felt absolutely defeated — as if the ADA couldn’t protect me from the challenges of being disabled and mentally ill in the workplace. That same year, I opened up about my life with cerebral palsy for the first time and became acquainted with many others who live with CP. As I joined online support groups for people with cerebral palsy, fellow members’ workplace woes constantly seemed to rise to the forefront. I observed as others answered questions about whether or not to disclose disability on a job application (absolutely not — unless it’s required), when to share that you need workplace accommodations (definitely after you fill out your employment contract), and when it was “worth it” to pursue legal action against an employer (almost never). The responses left me feeling disheartened about the struggles I continued to face as I searched for meaningful employment. If the ADA couldn’t protect us in the workplace, who would? At long last, I landed a job. In my first couple of years in the workforce, I worried about accidentally revealing that I have a disability and that I also struggle with anxiety and depression. Thankfully, that never explicitly happened, but my worsening mental health and my insistence on never asking for accommodations led me to feel stressed and overwhelmed enough that I was eventually fired from a position I’d really hoped I’d keep — two full weeks after my 90-day probationary period ended. I was never given a reason for my termination, but I suspected it was at least vaguely related to my mental health. Last year, after years of working jobs that never seemed to suit me, I decided to shift my focus and work towards a paralegal certificate. I had no clear idea of what type of law office I might want to work in after I received my certificate, but I felt like employment law might be the right direction. I was fairly certain that I had witnessed some ADA violations in the few years before I had become self-employed, and I didn’t want any other workers with disabilities to go through everything I had. I wanted every worker to have a fair chance at securing gainful employment — regardless of ability status — and I was positive that conducting legal research on employment law cases as a paralegal could help people with disabilities successfully remediate ADA rights violations at work. As the anniversary of the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act approaches and I finish my final quarter of paralegal school, I’m certain that employment law is the right field for me. I’ve taken an employment law class and connected deeply with the rights the ADA affords workers. I’ve completed my paralegal capstone project — in which I expressed how strongly I feel about helping employers and employees alike work in environments that feel safe and accepting. But my capstone project can never fully reflect the truth behind why I feel so vehemently about employment law: I’ve been one of the many employees with disabilities who have faced ableist workplace practices. I’ve been turned away from jobs for the tasks I struggle to complete instead of being welcomed for the skills I bring to the table. I’ve felt terrified to be disabled at work — even in a post-ADA world — because employers still ignore the Americans With Disabilities Act. I’d be the ideal employment law paralegal not just because of my coursework and legal writing skills, but also because I’ve experienced potential employment law violations firsthand as a person with a disability. Thirty-two years after the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed, I no longer take my rights for granted — and I want my future career to help others gain back ADA rights in the workplace. The ADA may still be sparsely enforced in workplace settings, but it’s given the disability community agency to showcase their full potential as employees — and it’s guided me towards my future career.

    Monika Sudakov

    4 Things I've Learned About Disability Accessibility as a Small Business Owner

    When my husband and I purchased our bed and breakfast in 2005, we deliberately sought out a property that was already in business with the knowledge that an existing inn would already have gotten any licenses and permits necessary to comply with all necessary laws and regulations, including those regarding accessibility. While this was true to an extent, as the years have gone on, some laws have changed and the simple act of encountering guests of varying needs has forced us to adapt our accessibility accommodations. The following are some of the things we have learned that have informed how we do business and have made us better hosts to all of our guests regardless of their disabilities or unique needs. These are factors that any restaurant or inn might consider so that they can accommodate the greatest number of clientele possible. 1. Layout. I understand that the bottom line for any business is profitability, but sometimes, maximizing profitability isn’t what’s best for customer service. Cramming as many guests in as possible seems like the best way to turn a profit in a business where margins are already slim. But having tables crowded too close together poses a number of issues regarding accessibility. First, the obvious issue of not leaving enough space between tables is the ability of someone in a wheelchair to navigate between tables, particularly when every chair is full. Second, having tables too close together can be a noise issue. For those with noise sensitivities or hearing loss, the ability to socialize with others at their table without the disruption of ambient noise and overhearing everyone else’s conversations is a huge issue. And finally, in today’s world where COVID is becoming endemic, it makes good epidemiological sense to spread tables out, enabling good airflow and the social distancing needed to make dining out less of a dangerous activity. I can see you counting dollar signs and wondering how you are supposed to offset lost revenue by limiting the number of tables. Fewer tables mean less staff, and each staff member can handle a slightly larger station. And I’d argue that people are willing to pay a little more for a more comfortable ambiance. Creating better flow is good business because it’s responsible business practice. 2. Good communication regarding dietary restrictions. I’ve written extensively about accommodating dietary restrictions being good business and have contributed several articles including recipes focused on different types of dietary restrictions and accessibility needs. But I haven’t discussed the challenges of getting the correct information that I need to be able to insure that not only are you safe, but your meals are delicious. Part of this is on me, or any employee working in the hospitality arena. I ask about dietary restrictions both online during the reservation process and over the phone when taking reservations, but I don’t always make clear that dietary restrictions aren’t just allergies or intolerances. There is a myriad of considerations that I personally want to know, including likes/dislikes. The last thing I want is to feed you poached eggs when you hate runny eggs. That’s something that I could have easily adjusted with the correct information. But there’s a more nuanced aspect of dietary restrictions that for some reason has been harder to get clear instruction on, and that is food sensitivities having to do with neurodivergence including autism and sensory processing disorder. I have in the past had teenagers and young adults who require very specific types of foods, textures, and temperatures, and need individual ingredients separated so that they don’t touch. I am more than happy to accommodate this type of request as it’s important to me that everyone be able to dine with us. However, I find that would-be guests are less likely to bring this kind of request up specifically and instead dance around the issue. I suspect that too often they are met with suspicion or judgment of some kind, which makes me sad. My earnest request for these individuals is to be upfront. There’s absolutely no shame in asking for these needs to be met, but I’m not a mind reader, and if you aren’t specific, I may not realize the context of what you are requesting. The bottom line: regardless of what the request is, please be upfront, clear, and ask. In almost every case, if I am able to, I will go out of my way to accommodate you and your loved ones, but it takes two to tango, so I’ll need you to be my partner in getting your needs met. 3. Education. I admit that as the years have progressed and I’ve encountered more and more guests with varying accessibility needs, I have had to do the necessary research to educate myself on each particular situation and condition. Part of my ongoing awareness has been connecting with those in the Mighty community. I’ll be the first to say I’ve made my fair share of mistakes based on my lack of knowledge and understanding. I am humble enough to say I was wrong or acting out of some kind of implicit ableism thanks to my own privilege. While it’s nobody’s job to teach me, my true desire to give people the greatest possible hospitality experience has offered me the opportunity to listen and adapt. For example, the types of different diets and food protocols that individuals are utilizing to manage chronic illness have expanded exponentially. Where it used to be a single ingredient or a handful of ingredients, like gluten-free or dairy-free, the list now includes things like Low Fodmap, Paleo, Keto, and Autoimmune Protocol. I know many people think these types of diets are fads and view them with some skepticism, but I personally have witnessed the beneficial impact these diets have had on others, so I have made it my mission to become an expert in each one and to refresh my knowledge every time these guests come to dine or stay with us, adjusting as new information is added. Again, everyone deserves to experience fine dining, regardless of their needs. 4. Evolution. I’m not talking about Darwin here, although I do believe that in business, today more than ever, it’s survival of the fittest, and those who can evolve and adapt can continue to succeed. COVID certainly proved this point where hospitality has been concerned. As I’ve mentioned, we’ve been in business for 17 years. When we first got here, a basic website and a handful of listings on online directories were all we had to deal with where online presence was concerned. Over the course of the past several years, we’ve had to expand our marketing to include all kinds of social media and digital content, and have had to rebuild our website numerous times, most recently to accommodate changes in requirements for websites to be accessible for the visually impaired. This is the type of evolution I’m talking about…something that I hadn’t considered but that absolutely makes sense and is the right thing to do. Other considerations have been how we could accommodate wheelchairs in our dining room, even though all of our guest suites are on the second floor and due to the historical nature of our property (it was built in 1854) we were not required to make any additional changes based on ADA requirements. While certainly not ideal, we have utilized temporary ramps that enable our guests in wheelchairs to dine with us. Additionally, we have added support railings to our front entrance, have two showers that are walk-in showers rather than shower/tub combos, and have put refrigerators in all guest suites to accommodate guests needing to refrigerate medication. They are small things, but as situations arise and we figure out how to implement changes that are not cost-prohibitive, we make them. We are always a work in progress, but the goal is to make progress and consistently expand our ability to serve as many individuals from as diverse a cross-section of the population as we can. Part of this includes safety and comfort for those with disabilities of all kinds. We listen, we pay attention, we learn, and we adapt. That’s the best any business owner can do, but it takes a conscious effort and a desire to commit to viewing running a business as more of a holistic practice.

    How to Make a Restaurant Accessible to Customers With Disabilities

    Yelp and The Mighty recently released a list of the most wheelchair accessible restaurants in the United States. But what exactly makes a restaurant disability-friendly? If you’re a restaurant owner, manager, or staff member, you may be wondering what you can do to make your business welcoming and inclusive. Here are 10 tips to make your restaurant more accessible for customers who have disabilities. Please note that I am not an architect or a lawyer, and this guide is not a substitute for complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act regulations for businesses. 1. Leave plenty of space between tables so walker, scooter, and wheelchair users can get through. Restaurant tables should be spaced as far apart as possible, with at least 36-inch-wide aisles so mobility device users can pass through without other diners having to get up or pull their chairs in. If some sections of the restaurant cannot be readily made accessible, create an accessible section in a desirable part of the restaurant, with window tables if there’s a view, so that diners with disabilities don’t get an inferior experience. If you use a reservation system, make sure it allows customers to voluntarily note that they need accessible seating. 2. Choose tables and chairs that are accessible to diners with physical disabilities. The ADA requires that tables range from 28-34″ in height with at least 27″ of vertical clearance to allow most standard wheelchairs to fit underneath. When choosing tables, make sure there is at least 19″ of horizontal space underneath for a wheelchair user’s legs and that there are no sharp edges under the tables or on the legs. If you are installing booths, ensure that the booth leg is in the middle of the table, not the end, so that wheelchair users can sit at the end. Don’t forget the bar! Make sure your bar has a lowered portion and/or that there are accessible-height tables in the bar area. With that said, don’t assume that people with disabilities would always want or need the accessible tables. For example, many power wheelchairs can raise up, allowing the user to sit at a bar. Choose comfortable chairs that come in versions with and without armrests. Some people with mobility disabilities may need the support of armrests to sit and stand, while some larger people may not be able to fit in a chair with armrests. For barstools, try to provide at least some that have backs. 3. Offer outdoor dining when weather permits. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, dining outdoors has become more popular, and for many people with disabilities, it’s essential. Many people with both visible disabilities and invisible chronic illnesses are at high risk of severe COVID-19 despite being vaccinated, and therefore still cannot safely dine indoors. Offering outdoor seating makes your restaurant accessible to people who otherwise could not dine out at all. When choosing outdoor tables, refer to the indoor table guidelines above. Note that picnic tables are usually inaccessible as wheelchair users can only sit at the end, and the end often doesn’t stick out far enough to accommodate someone’s legs under the table. Wheelchair-accessible picnic tables do exist, but other options will be safer and more comfortable for people who do not use wheelchairs but need a chair with a back and/or armrests. 4. Make your menu accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. There are several easy, low-cost ways to make restaurant menus accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. One of the simplest is to post the menu on your website using HTML/text. This allows people with a screen reader on their phone to listen to the menu, or to make the print larger so they can read it. You can also make an audio recording of someone reading the menu and post it on the website. Many restaurants are now using QR codes to access their menus, which can be a great solution for blind people. However, the menu must be in HTML/text format, as a PDF or image will not be accessible to screen readers. If you are a server at a restaurant that uses QR codes and have a blind customer, be sure to let them know that there is a QR code and offer to assist them in locating and using it. Since not all people with low vision have or know how to use assistive technology on their phones, it’s important to offer additional options. Large print menus are easy to make and helpful to elderly people who may not be smartphone savvy. You can also have Braille menus printed. 5. Be ready to assist deaf and hard-of-hearing customers. People who are deaf or hard of hearing have a variety of ways of communicating. Some use American Sign Language, and may utilize an interpreter when placing their order. If a deaf person is talking to you using sign language, look at them rather than their interpreter. When assisting a hard-of-hearing customer, speak clearly while looking at them. Be aware that restaurants are extremely difficult environments for people who are hard of hearing because of all the background noise. Don’t get frustrated if the person asks you to repeat yourself multiple times. Offer to use pen and paper, have them type their order on their phone screen, or encourage them to point to the items they want on the menu. Another easy accommodation for deaf and hard of hearing customers is to laminate menus and provide a dry-erase marker. Then the customer can circle what they want and write any substitutions on the menu, so there’s no miscommunication. After they’ve ordered, simply wipe off the menu and it’s ready for the next customer. 6. Be aware of common food allergies and offer allergy-safe entrees. Not all disabilities are visible, and food allergies and intolerances are common conditions that make dining out difficult. Sadly, diners with food allergies sometimes get stereotyped as picky or difficult by people who do not understand the potentially life-threatening impact of exposure to an allergen. Some allergies can cause anaphylaxis that requires an Epi-Pen and immediate medical attention. For people with celiac disease, even cross-contamination from cooking pots or a crumb of bread on a piece of food can cause severe illness. Developing cross-contamination prevention protocols and offering an allergy-friendly menu can give your restaurant the opportunity to serve a group of customers that will greatly need and appreciate your food. Even if your restaurant is not specifically allergy-friendly, you can make dining out safer for people with allergies and intolerances by making an ingredient list available. You don’t have to give up recipe secrets or disclose the exact amount of ingredients to keep diners with allergies safe, only whether an ingredient is present or could be present due to cross-contamination. 7. Provide easy-to-use utensils, straws, and food cutting service. People with limited hand coordination can have a wide variety of needs when it comes to utensils. Often, they will carry some kind of device to adapt utensils or bring their own utensils. When buying utensils for your restaurant, choose standard handles and avoid utensils that are heavy. If your restaurant uses chopsticks, be sure to have forks available for people who are unable to use chopsticks. Sometimes people with disabilities may not order certain foods because they can’t cut them without assistance and are afraid of inconveniencing kitchen staff. Let customers know they can have kitchen staff cut food into bite-size pieces. If you serve foods that are more difficult or complex to eat, such as crab legs or lobster, proactively inform customers that they can be peeled or shelled at no extra charge. Straws have become a contentious issue due to their perceived environmental hazards, although plastic bags and commercial waste cause far more damage to the environment. Many people with disabilities need straws to drink, so you should always have some available. If you do not provide straws automatically, be sure that servers are instructed to not question any request for a straw, even if the person does not appear to have a disability, since many health conditions are invisible. Paper straws tend to fall apart and may be unsafe, and metal straws are very hazardous as they can injure a person’s mouth, or poke them in the eye or cheek if they have limited coordination. If you are providing reusable straws, silicone straws are the safest choice, but you should still have some disposable plastic bendy straws on hand. 8. Make your restrooms accessible and inclusive. If there’s one thing that frustrates me the most as a wheelchair user, it’s enjoying a meal only to find out that the restroom is not accessible. What goes in must come out, and restaurants and bars need restrooms that anyone can use. Discussing the exact specifications of accessible restrooms goes beyond the scope of this article, but you can read a guide here. Most importantly, wheelchair users must be able to park next to the toilet in the stall, and have grab rails so they can transfer from wheelchair to toilet and back. If you are building or remodeling a restaurant, gender-neutral/family bathrooms are an ideal, inclusive way to create accessibility for all. Many people with disabilities may need assistance in the restroom from someone of a different gender, or they may be gender non-conforming and need a neutral restroom. These restrooms also provide more space and privacy for individuals who may need to use a catheter or change a diaper or colostomy bag. 9. Be welcoming to service dogs. The Americans With Disabilities Act protects the right of service dog handlers to take them in all public places, including restaurants. Service dogs cannot be restricted to outdoor dining or banned from the buffet area. Many people do not want strangers to pet or interact with their service dog, so servers should offer compliments about the dog to the handler, not directly to the dog. If the handler is OK with people petting their dog, they will say so. It is appropriate for servers to offer to get a bowl of water for the dog. Many business owners worry about fake service dogs disrupting their place of business. Service dogs assist people with both visible and invisible disabilities, so do not assume that a dog is fake because the handler doesn’t look like what you think of when you hear the word “disabled.” Service dogs do not have to be “certified” or have “papers” of any kind, as some handlers train their own dogs, so you are not allowed to ask for any such documentation. The Department of Justice has provided guidance about appropriate questions that can be asked regarding a service dog. Businesses do not have to allow dogs that are dangerous or disruptive, whether they are service dogs or not. If a service dog is barking inappropriately, growling at people, or has an accident on the floor, it is perfectly legal to require the handler to remove the dog. 10. Train servers and cooks on how to interact with customers who have disabilities. Last but not least, servers and kitchen staff should be trained on how to create a welcoming and supportive environment for customers with disabilities. Discuss the most accessible seating areas and how to help those with mobility devices navigate to their seat. Make sure servers are aware of all the accessibility provisions available; Braille menus are useless if nobody knows you have them to offer to customers. Discuss common food allergies and intolerances and questions they are likely to be asked about ingredients. Talk to servers about avoiding common disability slurs. Make sure they know to treat people with disabilities like other customers. Don’t speak to people with intellectual disabilities like children, and don’t call people with disabilities (or someone who is helping them) inspirational for doing everyday tasks. Don’t pet or talk to service dogs without permission. These tips can help you make your restaurant a place that is welcoming and inclusive of all people. Who knows, maybe you’ll make Yelp’s list next year!

    Bree O'Boyle

    Include Disabled People When Designing Accessible Architecture

    Every day, people with disabilities face the “disabled” spaces built especially for them but built without input from anyone who actually has to use that space. Whether it be stalls in bathrooms or the wheelchair spaces at movie theaters, many facilities that claim to be “accessible” aren’t. Recently, I had to go to a flag football game for my niece at the local high school football stadium. I was extremely lucky that there were spaces made specifically for wheelchairs where the seats had been removed. However, there are large disability signs right on the fence that anyone in a wheelchair would see at face level, blocking their view of the field completely. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me. I find architecture everywhere that was supposedly built for people with disabilities, but obviously without the input of anyone who actually has to use these spaces. I am lucky enough to have a pediatric-sized wheelchair as a little person and often find the specifically designed “disabled” stall in bathrooms will barely fit or more often not even fit my size wheelchair, even though in the world of wheelchairs, mine is relatively small. I’ve been in numerous elevators in my lifetime where the buttons are far above my head, and I need to rely on others who are taller than I am to push the buttons, despite the fact that elevators are the main way people in wheelchairs and other mobility devices can get between spaces that have stairs. I’m not the only one who has noticed this. I have friends who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices who run into problems like this all the time. Even the sinks and soap dispensers in bathrooms are built too high for anyone who uses a wheelchair to reach. We are expected to use the bathroom but not wash our hands after? Ew. I have another friend who uses a wheelchair full time and always must have the person she is with check the bathroom “situation” to even see if the bathroom is made “accessible” in smaller spaces like cafés. If there is no accessible bathroom situation it is now time for the hunt for an accessible bathroom, which sometimes does not exist in the area. I think the larger problem at hand here is not only that people with disabilities are not included when building and renovating spaces new and old, but that all spaces should be disability accessible, no matter how old or new. People with disabilities are not some new minority. People with disabilities have been around since the beginning of mankind and are the biggest minority in the world. It is also the only minority that you can become even if you are not born that way. Think about it, any able-bodied person can wake up one day and go through almost their entire day still being able-bodied, only to get hit by a bus right before dinner. There is no way to tell when or if your body will give out on you. So wouldn’t you rather have a space already made for you if you or a loved one is suddenly disabled, or would you prefer to fight tooth and nail like most people with disabilities do every day for the littlest accommodation or space?