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Advocating for physical accessibility at retail establishments

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    Advocating for physical accessibility at retail establishments

    I just moved to my home town again after being gone for 10 years. I moved to a neighborhood that I used to frequent which was well into the gentrification process when I left and is now full of millennials and breweries and overpriced restaurants and tons of (as yet still closed down) bars.

    Walking around I discovered that much of the new construction or modification of old buildings isn’t accessible and for seemingly no good reason. A couple examples:

    1. Old shop turned into a pour your own beer type place has two steps to get to the entrance which is level with a wrap around front porch that is new (no more than 3 years old at the most). There is a wheelchair ramp around the side, but they welded a railing around the porch, covering the wheelchair ramp. WTF?

    2. A brand new building (well built decades after the ADA at least), has two tenants that share a similar raised concrete patio at entry level, but this is accessed by a set of stairs in front of either building. One of the stairs is literally a single six inch step. Off to the side a ramp would be perfectly level with their parking lot entrance and would only be about two feet long (though it would require elimination of the curb down to the parking lot entrance), yet there is no wheelchair accessibility. I thought at least with new construction someone would be paying attention to this???

    These are just two examples I’ve found in my two block walk to go grab some food this afternoon. I’m sure there are many other similar situations in this neighborhood.

    But anyway that’s just me whining. My question is what are my options to try and change this.

    Obviously my first step is going to be to reach out to the business owners and maybe the building owners (if I can figure out who that is?) and see if they’ll remedy the situation just from me asking.

    But what if that doesn’t work? How should I proceed?

    Im in North Carolina so there’s no harsh enforcement laws like the ones that have been thoroughly abused in California.

    Could I go to someone in the city government and complain? Maybe a building inspector or something? (Idk if that’s even a government agency around here).

    I suppose I could try going to the news to shame them, but I’d prefer not to as these are places I genuinely want to patronize and I don’t want them knowing I was the asshole who made them spend $500 on a ramp and curb cut or who made them cut a gate in their brand new patio railing.

    I might be mistaken, but to my knowledge the ADA essentially has no teeth. They’re supposed to follow it but if they don’t no one can make them. Unless this isn’t the case and I just don’t know the process.

    Any other suggestions for how to proceed if I run into resistance?

    First talk to the manager of the establishment. Take notes of your conversation with them. If that gets you no where, then go to the ower. The manager should be able to give you that information, but if resistant, you can get it from the county or city licensing dept. for businesses or property tax office. If that doesn't work, ask to speak to your city or county ADA Compliance officer, usually in the code department. All cities are required to have one under the ADA. You may want to involve your city alderman or councilperson as well.

    If none of this works, suggest you go to the local news paper or TV news station and ask them to do a feature about how out of compliance your city is. If there is a local Independent Living Center (ILC or CIL) also contact them to see if they will help push this into the media.

    Keep notes of all of these conversations. Ideally, followup with e-mails to the people above after speaking to them to confirm what they told you, and to maintain a paper trail.

    Last step is to file a DOJ ADA Title II or III complaint (for businesses or local government facilities) or FTA ADA complaint (for transportation). You don't need an attorney to do this, but it can take quite a while to get a response to your complaint.

    The SCI-Nurses are advanced practice nurses specializing in SCI/D care. They are available to answer questions, provide education, and make suggestions which you should always discuss with your physician/primary health care provider before implementing. Medical diagnosis is not provided, nor do the SCI-Nurses provide nursing or medical care through their responses on the CareCure forums.


      It is so distressing when the city code people, who are supposed to enforce regulations, do not do so in a project's planning phase. It costs so much more to retroactively fix things. If you end up going public make sure whomever investigates includes investigating the code people.

      My small city in general has great accessibility because it is flat and most buildings have no steps at all. Still, builders in residential neighborhoods are allowed to install mailboxes on the edge of the not very wide sidewalks so only one walker can pass, or a narrow chair. When foliage leans over it is a trial, plus garbage cans are supposed to be left on the sidewalks once a week. Clearly the codes should be changed and I do plan to ask about it when I find the energy.


        This kinda saddens me as I lived in North Carolina for two years back in the mid 1970's when Ron Mace, paralyzed architect, and his wife were instrumental in 'writing the book' on accessibility in the state. Pretty pathetic that you found those glaring errors in construction when you returned there. I hope you decide to act on some of the suggestions given here and I also hope you will do so in memory of the Maces.


          I lived on a mountain three miles from Brevard, NC pre and post SCI. The town is small, 7,000 population and most buildings are old. I ran into the same accessibility problems. Many of the building owners would say “this building is historically exempt from ADA standards.” That is a cop out as I challenged an antique store keeper who owned the building. He retreated on the historic building exemption, but told me he was not going to make the building entrance accessible, screw the ADA. City code enforcement would not lift a finger toward making things right.. Their attitude was, “suck it up and don’t bother us.” Now living in Aiken, SC, that has a city employee designated as ADA compliance officer. I am working with her on on street parking which is not bound by ADA law. We shall see what we shall see.
          You C.A.N.
          Conquer Adversity Now


            We're from the same neck of the woods. I was in Greenville for a while. They were actually pretty good. There was an intersection near my apartment that had three curb cuts, but no curb cut on the forth corner, which meant I had to cross the street and then cross back at the next block if I was going that direction (or wheel a block in the street, which wasn't about to happen). I called the city and I think ended up talking to some ADA compliance type person. They told me a curb cut was scheduled to be added in a couple months, but they would send someone by to make a temporary fix.

            A couple days later there was an asphalt ramp from the street up to the sidewalk, it wasn't the prettiest, but worked perfectly fine. A couple months later they came through doing some resurfacing of the street and added the real curb cut with the annoying bumps for blind folks just like the lady said.


            • triumph
              triumph commented
              Editing a comment
              So glad you spoke up!