Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

Listen to the A11y Rules Podcast.

Words have power

I am staying at a hotel at the moment. I asked about a wheelchair accessible room. They were talking to me about an “ADA compliant” room. This made me think about the difference between “we care” and “we have to”.

The room they gave me was next to a busy highway. Traffic noise began around 5:30am. I asked them if they had wheelchair accessible rooms on the other side of the hotel, away from the highway. They informed me that all the ADA compliant rooms are on the same side.

Lack of choice

I immediately thought of the lack of choice of seating for wheelchair users at movie theatres. Stadium seating has often meant that wheelchair users had to sit either at the back of the theatre, or at the front. There was no choice as to where you’d be located. Lawsuits were lodged on that topic as far back as 1999.

Wheelchair accessible rooms are often located far from the elevators, at the end of long corridors with thick carpets. This is good to avoid the noise from the elevators. This is not good because it’s difficult to push a wheelchair on thick carpets.

But locating all the wheelchair accessible rooms in the same spot, albeit on different floors means that wheelchair users have no choice. This is discrimination. Simple as that.

Language implying lack of care

Using the expression “ADA compliant room” gives the impression that they provide accessible rooms merely to comply with the law. In other words, they do it because they have to. This is quite different from doing it because they have values espousing corporate social responsibility.

Instead, they could have said “accessible room”, which gives a very different impression. The impression would be closer to “we care”.

And a hotel, which is in the service industry, would benefit from showing they care.