Ramps Not Steps: A Study of Accessibility Preferences

Article excerpt

Ever since Stefan Farffler invented the wheelchair sometime in the middle of the 17th century, people using his invention have been fighting barriers interfering with its use. Rough terrain, curbs, and steps have been blocking the way for some 350 years (Pezenik, Itoh, and Lee, 1984; McNair, 1990). Inaccessible housing, public buildings, buses, job sites, motels, polling places and recreation facilities have restricted the freedom and impeded the pursuit of happiness of citizens who use wheelchairs. Because of these barriers, many of these citizens may have been denied the right to travel to work and access to a job. Some may have been denied an education, the right to vote, a trip to the courthouse and post office, a room in an inn, a meal in a restaurant, or a visit to the homes of friends and relatives. Shopping, attendance at sports events, movies, concerts, and plays may be prohibited and use of public recreation facilities denied. Restrooms, telephones, water fountains, and elevator buttons may be out of reach. Architectural barriers have indeed taken their toll on the lives of those who use wheelchairs and those with other mobility impairments (Romano, 1987; Weiss, 1988).

During the past quarter century, however, progress has been noted. Laws have been passed mandating and encouraging accessibility. Public awareness campaigns have been launched and tax incentives offered. The Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 required accessibility in buildings constructed with federal funds. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandated accessible college programs, further enhanced access to public buildings for those who have physical disabilities and called for affirmative action on the part of government contractors. In addition, section 502 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 created the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (1988). Then, in 1975 Public Law 94-142 assured children who are disabled the right to free and appropriate public education; access to school was inherent in that right. Many states had passed similar laws requiring that state funded public buildings meet accessibility standards. Raffa (1985) described the legislative history of federal accessibility laws and Hopf and Raeber (1984) cataloged the barrier free regulations of all of the states. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed and signed into law by President George Bush in 1990. Its passage promoted an even more accessible nation (Leung, 1990).

To facilitate compliance with these laws and to assure that facilities meet requirements, a host of organizations and groups have offered standards and guidelines for making environments accessible. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI-1986) provides the most comprehensive and exacting standards for full accessibility. The General Services Administration (1985) offers the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards; the Architectural and transportation Barriers Compliance Board (1981) has a publication entitled, Guidebook to the Minimum Federal Guidelines and Requirements for Accessible Design; and the National Center for a Barrier Free Environment (Fuller, 1981) has spelled out standards for those who may be designing outdoor areas for parking, passenger loading zones, and bus stops. Sorensen (1979) devoted a book to the subject of design for those with disability and Scott (1985) edited one focusing on accessibility in remodeling and renovations.

Others offer accessibility guides, checklists and "how to do it" procedures for specific purposes and places. Desmond (1982) devised a checklist for employers who might want to make their workplace accessible. The National Rehabilitation Association (Mosley, 1989) concentrated on a checklist to assure that hotels/motels and conference facilities were in compliance with accessibility standards. Sovik (1980) and the United Methodist Church (1981) have developed checklists and accessibility procedural manuals for churches; Bugenske (1979) for trade shops; and Doyle (1983) for multifamily housing. …