Answering the question “Are you accessible?”

Hint: Surprise ! The correct answer to “are you accessible” is never, ever supposed to be simply “yes”

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I despise the Museum of Ice Cream. Don’t get me wrong, I *love* ice cream. Anything with chocolate in it, for the win. The more dark chocolate (especially chocolate fudge and chunks WITH my chocolate ice cream) the better. White chocolate is an abomination, IMHO.

But when the Museum of Ice Cream first opened in SF, it was the fashionable place for companies to take its Patagonia-wearing employees to. My co-workers decided an informal gathering there would be fun. The Museum “sprinkle pool” was completely inaccessible to people who use wheelchairs. Which seriously pissed me off because it was the “hard to get ticket” event and I really wanted to go. So the rest of my co-workers went without me, because me and my wheelchair weren’t welcome.

Eighteen months later, I’ve heard the Museum of Ice Cream finally fixed its famous sprinkle pool to have a hanging transfer chair so wheelchair users can finally experience it. And the Museum’s website proudly proclaims under “Accessibility” in its FAQ that yes, it is wheelchair accessible.

Inaccessible Museum of Ice Cream FAQ page proudly proclaiming its *wheelchair* accessibility
Inaccessible Museum of Ice Cream FAQ page proudly proclaiming its *wheelchair* accessibility
Even people without disabilities can’t even see the pink on pink “Tickets + Admissions” above the white floating nav bar, because floating nav bars are REALLY hard to make accessible.

18 % of the US is disabled, and less than half of one percent of people in the US use wheelchairs. If I am being generous, about one-third of the 18% (so 6 % total) have some type of mobility issue.

Sorry @Maryellis Bunn, not opening the champagne for the Museum of Ice Cream’s “accessibility win” just yet. As a wheelchair user, I am the one screaming at the top of my lungs “wheelchair users are NOT the only people with disabilities !!!!!”

Yes is NEVER a valid answer for “are you accessible?”

“Yes we are accessible” (or its close cousin “yes we are ADA compliant”) is the lazy company’s answer.

The accessibility experience isn’t only about the getting into a building, doing whatever you came to do, and leaving. Like all good CX, it is about the ENTIRE interaction from

  • deciding that you want do to something
  • investigating it
  • buying your tickets
  • communications including email
  • attending the event
  • providing customer feedback in a survey

The most basic of accessibility issues to consider with these interactions include:

  • Is your website accessible? Museum of Ice Cream’s isn’t even close to accessible.
  • Do you partner with inaccessible companies? Museum of Ice Cream has a link to SpotHero whose website is a bigger accessibility dumpster fire than the Museum of Ice Cream’s.
  • If you have a reservation system, is it accessible? Another Museum of Ice Cream #AccessibilityFail. The ticketing system has videos that aren’t close captioned or audio described and the date picker isn’t keyboard accessible.
  • Email? Surveys? Don’t know, because everything else is inaccessible ! But I’m guessing no. (NB: If anyone wants to forward one to me, I would be happy to tell you just leave me a private message or comment on this article).

“Yes” is the accessibility-ignorant and lazy answer to “Are you accessible” because there are so many more types of disabilities than wheelchair use. Some common issues which should be included in the DETAILED answer to “Are you accessible” include:

  • what you do for wheelchair users, in detail.
  • what you do for people with epilepsy (“we guarantee a strobe free experience”, for example)
  • what you do for people who are deaf (written guides to all sound, ASL interpreters, free tickets if you bring YOUR interpreter, loop systems, Google glass, whatever). Or, if this is irrelevant because you don’t have any sound, include the statement “Our experience can be completely and equally enjoyed with limited or no hearing.” Don’t make deaf people wonder what it’s going to be like, because they may just take their business elsewhere.
  • what you do for people who are blind (audio equivalents, tour guides, Braille signage, Be My Eyes or AIRA channels)

A couple of less traditional areas to cover include:

  • What accommodations you make for people with food or allergy considerations (do you allow outside food in? do you use antibiotic free meat? does anything you serve include peanuts or shellfish?)
  • Whether or not you have a sensory friendly room for people who are experiencing sensory overload

“We built this building to be ADA compliant” doesn’t freaking matter.

I hear “We built this building to be ADA compliant.” A lot. Usually from people trying to defend themselves from being backed into a corner about something inaccessible I have personally experienced.

People with mobility issues aren’t using the building you built. They are using your building TODAY.

  • If the wheelchair elevator got converted to an informal storage room and is full of file boxes and a wheelchair can’t fit in, it may have been “built to be ADA compliant” but surprise, it’s not currently ADA compliant.
  • If a wheelchair user is forced to use the parking ramp to get to a store that otherwise only has stairway access because the store can’t find the key to the wheelchair elevator, it may have been “built to be ADA compliant” but surprise, it’s not currently ADA compliant. This dangerous event literally happened to me yesterday, SMH.
  • If someone keeps moving around furniture in conference rooms or overflows a meeting area to cram more people in and a wheelchair doesn’t have free range to move everywhere that people who walk can get to, it may have been “built to be ADA compliant” but surprise, it’s not currently ADA compliant.

Maryellis Bunn — are you listening? You’ve taken the first step, now take the rest of them. Your company has made $200 million in a fairly short period of time. Time to stop making people who want to emulate your success think that discriminating against people with disabilities is OK.

Museum of Ice Cream says “We are not your ordinary museum!” — that’s right. Most museums actually ARE some level of accessible beyond minimal wheelchair access, usually because of strings put on federal money. The Museum of Ice Cream just pretends it is accessible, because they stopped caring after they solved “the wheelchair problem”.

Written by

Accessibility Architect @ VMware. W3C Silver, ITI & IAAP GLC committees. Degrees in CS, law, business. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter.

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