Living in an ADA World

by David Sweetman on July 1, 2007 - 12:20pm

QUEST Vol. 14, No. 4

I have IBMPFD (inclusion body myopathy associated with Paget disease and frontotemporal dementia), an adult-onset genetic disease covered by MDA.

My wife and I enjoy traveling and eating out, and have gained a lot of knowledge about what is available in terms of accessibility and what we need to do for ourselves.

Donna and David Sweetman
Donna and David Sweetman

The ADA has significantly helped increase accessibility, but there are limitations. The ADA does not (and probably cannot) apply to the entire population. Two major limiting factors are:

  1. The wide variation in types of impairments. Different people need different aids at different times and locations.

  2. The wide variation in physical size of those who are impaired. For example, I am 6’4”, and finding comfortable facilities is almost impossible, even if I were healthy. The needs of a small person who is completely wheelchair bound are different from those of a large person with some mobility.

Society cannot readily provide the infrastructure (at significant cost) to make things convenient or comfortable for everybody. While the ADA has made getting about a lot easier, we still must take responsibility in order to improve our traveling experiences. Each of us must be prepared to deal with lack of aids by using our own items that fit our specific needs, and by telling others the best ways to help us.

"Clueless" is a strong term to describe people without disabilities, even if accurate. The problem is the difficulty in obtaining clues. For someone who is not impaired, the ability to recognize and deal with mobility problems is quite a task. These are problems that are difficult for the impaired person to learn how to deal with, much less to expect a fully mobile person to know how to deal with.

We need to recognize that the problem is mostly lack of knowledge and experience, not an active desire to limit the impaired. Those of us who deal with the "clueless" need to be patient and tolerant, and do some educating.

I believe that education will be more effective than laws in spreading ADA implementation. For example, we can educate businesses about the large mobility impaired population that will utilize accessible facilities. We can educate hotels about well-designed handicapped-accessible rooms, which have a higher occupancy ratio than either regular rooms or poorly designed handicapped-accessible rooms, meaning a better return on investment.

The following are suggestions we have found both help us and encourage those who want to improve but do not know what to do or how:

  1. Carry a "booster seat" for all those low toilets. Use a “booster” or “up-lift” seat in restaurants, or request a chair with arms.

  2. Carry a walker or multiple-point cane for all those bathrooms without grab bars in useful locations.

  3. Fill out comment cards noting deficiencies in handicapped-accessible rooms, such as the room is far from the elevator or the showerhead is in the wrong position.

  4. Always tell business managers about the inadequacy of bathroom grab bars, accessible parking, or space for driving a scooter or wheelchair.

  5. Do repeat business at places that do a better job.

  6. Do not be shy about requesting assistance; most people are glad to help. Be prepared to suggest how to best accommodate your specific needs.

  7. Always thank people who help you, including a smile.

For more on the ADA, see "Balancing the Scales," for other articles in the July-August 2007 issue of Quest.

David Sweetman, 59, of Dyer, Nev., is a retired vice president of quality and reliability at Silicon Storage Technology (SST). Sweetman administers a Web site about IBMPFD at

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