The ramp, often erroneously referred to as the “handicapped ramp”, has become as much a symbol of accessibility as the little wheelchair dude on the blue and white signs. It has become that to such a degree that many places assume having a ramp means they are compliant with disability accessibility laws and need go no further. They would be wrong.
Let’s say you own a restaurant that has two steps leading to the entrance. You do not want to change the look of your main entrance, so you add a ramp at the rear or your restaurant. Is this legal? Yes it is. But suppose this ramp is next to the garbage dumpsters and requires its users to enter the restaurant through the kitchen where there is little space. This is still legal in most cases, but it is not a good idea.
Making customers go past the stinky garbage is not welcoming. I might do it once, but I doubt I would do it again. It tells me you do not really value me as a customer.
Here’s another problem: I have a service dog and most Health Departments, while allowing such dogs in the eating areas of a restaurant, do not allow them in the kitchen where food is being prepared. If I have to enter through the kitchen and I have my dog…well, you can see the conundrum.
Let’s look at a different scenario with a different restaurant. This restaurant has a ramped front entrance. Its dining room is filled with booths: fixed tables and fixed banquettes. The aisles between the booths are not very wide. Where would a person who uses a wheelchair sit? Not everyone can transfer from the wheelchair to a banquette.
Scenario number three. Recently my family and I went to a restaurant for lunch. The entrance was completely accessible. We were graciously seated at a comfortable table, service dog and all. Before we left everyone else at the table opted to use the restrooms. I guess I’ve trained them well, because each of them reported that the restrooms were completely inaccessible. Nobody using a wheelchair would ever be able to get through the doors. You can enter the restaurant, you can eat and drink, but don’t drink too much because you cannot pee.
Scenario number four. A few weeks ago I was asked to participate in a focus group. I was given instructions on when to be there, where to go, and what to bring with me. But when I got there I discovered that the ramp provided would not be enough for some people because the focus group meets on the second floor of the building; a building without an elevator.
A ramp is a start and only a start. You must also provide full accessibility to the rest of your restaurant, your store, your office. If you don’t, not only are you breaking the law, you are excluding 20% of your potential business.