This morning, I received a text from a friend who invited Ben and me for brunch at a downtown diner. As I had never been to this diner before, I figured I would search around and see if their menu was posted online. I find this helps my independence in several key areas:
- None of my companions would need to read the menu to me. Most people don’t mind, but it seems that if I can do something for myself, I should. Perhaps that’s the perfectionist in me, but it’s always a little awkward when someone reads the menu out loud in a restaurant (Confession: I always feel a little bit like a small child who hasn’t grasped the concepts of reading yet).
- I could think about what I wanted to eat, and if I changed my mind or someone recommended something awesome, I’d at least know what they were talking about and not worry about missing something truly yummy.
- If I go back to this diner (something I will DEFINITELY do) and decide to go alone, i would already know their prices (something important for a cash-only business), their breakfast and lunch options, and not have to ask serving staff to take time out of a busy shift to help me out.
I was thrilled to find their menu online, but was disheartened to discover that it came in the form of pictures embedded onto their web page. As someone who uses screen reading software, I could not access the text that is part of those pictures. Mildly frustrated, I took to twitter, which I now realize is generally an ambiguous thing, because everyone has something to say on the subject.
But what came out of a pretty heated exchange was an ultimately complex discussion about asserting the rights of people with disabilities, when demanding accommodation is unreasonable, and when it is better to catch flies with honey by requesting accessibility or accommodation as a good move for a business’ customer base as a whole.
I will never completely understand what it is like living my life, navigating in a wheelchair, but I have friends who do. Many of them have expressed frustrations about apartment buildings with only one elevator, or workplaces where the accessible washrooms are on a completely different floor, or having to avoid shopping at certain stores because the shelves are too close together to safely navigate a chair. If I ask a restaurant to pretty-pretty-pretty-please re-post their menu online in alternative format, or (a rarity) ask if they have a braille menu on site, this is an infinitely easier accommodation than requesting them to alter their building structure for accessible washrooms or replacing stairs with a ramp. In no way am I saying that doing one means a business can’t or shouldn’t do another, but that one is more a matter of education than architecture, carpentry and physics.
So when do my rights end and a business proprietor’s begin? When is a request for accessibility unreasonable, untenable and rude? I don’t have the answers to these questions. To say that accommodations should never be requested (or even demanded) means that would put disability rights and dignity back into the dark ages. But to say that every possible accommodation can and should be made just for the asking brings us to a no-mans-land we’re in now, where businesses are afraid to address out-of-control fake service dogs and deny a legitimate service dog team service because ten minutes ago they kicked out a faker. Ultimately, the more people who can access a business, the more everybody wins. So the more who stand up and calmly explain that general accessibility – to the physical building structure, to a menu, or to the point-of-sale pin-pad – benefits everyone, the more likely a business is to take the request under advisement. Maybe wholesale change won’t happen overnight, but nothing worth fighting for ever does.
I won’t bully or brow-beat, but maybe I’m not the only one who can’t read the physical menu, and even the digital one. I felt right at home in that diner, and the food was stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. You better believe I’ll be back. So I, for one, am going to contact that diner and request an alternative format for their menu. After all, the food is great, and more people should eat there!