Ramp crawl draws attention to Pittsburgh businesses without barriers
Businesses rewarded for ADA efforts
May 3, 2016 12:32 AM
Social in East Liberty now offers braille menus for blind customers. The restaurant printed the menus after members of the group Access Mob Pittsburgh began meeting there.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
To celebrate Cinco de Mayo on Thursday, a friendly mob of disabled people and disability activists will spend money at six Oakland businesses that have made it possible for everyone to enter.
The second annual Ramp Crawl is a campaign of Oakland For All, a group that rewards businesses for complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act and encourages them to go beyond it.
The Oakland event is part of an effort to encourage compliance instead of protesting non-compliance. Another group, the advocacy campaign Access Mob, monitors ADA compliance and rewards places that get it right with patronage and good reviews on social media.
The Ramp Crawl, a production of the Oakland For All: Beyond Accessible campaign, starts at 4 p.m. Thursday at The Porch, 221 Schenley Drive, across from Hillman Library. The businesses on the tour are Fuel and Fuddle, the Garage Door Saloon, the Garden Grille and Bar at the Hilton Garden Inn, Primanti Brothers and Stack’d Burgers and Beer.
A $20 participation fee helps the organization offer technical help for business owners to become accessible.
Georgia Petropoulos, executive director of the Oakland Business Improvement District, said places that are unwelcoming of disabled people lose revenue to places that are. That’s the business case, she said, “but there’s also a right-thing-to-do case. And then there’s the law.”
The ADA is a federal law, for which the city is not responsible, so a building permit from the city is not a license to ignore the federal law, she said.
Many people believe only new businesses must comply, but every business that serves the public is supposed to make what the law calls “readily achievable” alterations. If business owners can prove their buildings can’t be altered feasibly, or that the cost of alterations would put them out of business, they can get a pass.
Alisa Grishman, a leader of Access Mob, said promoting accessible places has the impact of good reviews, while complaining “is tiring and makes you a pariah. It doesn’t build community, and you need community support for change.”
Ms. Grishman and her group began meeting at Social, a bistro in Bakery Square, because it was accessible, but after several visits, the blind members of the group were handed menus in Braille.
“How cool is that?” Ms. Grishman said. “They didn’t have to do that.”
Gregg Caliguiri, who owns Social, said blind patrons requested Braille menus and it was a business decision to provide them.
“It made sense to have a menu they could read themselves rather than have our servers do it,” he said. “We all want to be self-sufficient and when you think about it, we all have special needs.”
Access Mob will canvass businesses in Shadyside, East Liberty and Bloomfield on May 28 and direct businesses that are literally one step away from admitting people in wheelchairs to the city’s One Step Program. The city can fast-track the process of modifying the obstacle through its ADA office, with legislative fees waived.
Ms. Grishman describes herself as “the chick on the bus with blue hair and butterflies on my walker.” A Carnegie Mellon University graduate in psychology, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001 at age 19.
She said a 2010 protest of inaccessibility at the Kittanning post office made her think. The protesters blocked the entrance with chains to keep people from climbing the steps to go in.
“It was definitely a statement,” she said, “but it just ticked people off. I thought, ‘What can we do to inspire instead of bully?’ If we reward businesses that change, it could inspire others to change. My hope is that it snowballs.
“I love the idea of normalizing disability because anyone can become disabled at any time.”
The wheelchair has become the symbol of disability, but many disabled people can walk through accessible doors. If you have impaired vision, a menu is worthless if the lights are too dim. And if an accessible door doesn’t have an ADA button, it may be too heavy to open from a wheelchair, Ms. Petropoulos said. That’s why advocates urge businesses to go beyond the law to make thoughtful decisions.
“It’s not the law to have a menu in Braille,” she said, “but isn’t that an amazing thing to do?”
Diana Nelson Jones: email@example.com or 412-263-1626.
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