15 easy ways to make your event accessible

Event planners live by lists, deadlines and details. I know this firsthand: on the morning of an event, we frantically cross tasks off to-do lists. But there is one very important item many event planners simply forget to include: accessibility.

My role at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indianapolis is to plan our special events and fundraisers. That includes everything from scoping out a potential venue to cleaning up after the event is over. Our mission is to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities, and that means each and every event I plan must meet all accessibility guidelines. But how do you know what an “accessible” event is?

Last month I participated in an Accessible Event Planning webinar conducted by the Northwest ADA Center to learn more about how my events could provide better access for a person with any disability or special need. I learned that accessibility considerations should be made with these categories in mind:

  • mobility
  • cognitive or learning
  • health
  • hearing and/or speech
  • visual
  • environmental
  • psychiatric

And here are just a few questions event planners should be asking:

  • Mobility: Where do people need to move within the event space?
  • Space: Is there adequate space for a wheelchair to pass through?
  • Flooring: Are there uneven spots that might cause a person with limited balance to fall?
  • Cognitive or learning: Are your printed materials and signage written in a clear, concise manner?
  • Communicating Directions: If you plan on verbally directing people at the event, will you be giving communication in a way that people with hearing or other disabilities can understand easily?
  • Health: If your event has food, will you be offering options for dietary restrictions?
  • Food/Allergies: Will you let people know if an item has nuts, milk or other possible allergens in it?
  • Seating: Will there be seating available for those who cannot stand for long periods of time?
  • Hearing or speech: Will an ASL interpreter be available to translate any verbal communication?
  • Video: If you are showing videos, will they be captioned?
  • Presenters: Are all presenters using microphones even if they don’t think they need one?
  • Visual: If there is printed text, will you offer Braille or low-vision copies?
  • Environmental: Are you in an environment with chemical smells that someone may be sensitive to, such as candles or air fresheners?
  • Psychiatric: Will there be a lot of people in a small space?
  • Will you offer a low-sensory, calming area?

Planning for accessibility can depend on the size of the event and its purpose. Every consideration need not be made for each event. Adding an option for guests to indicate accommodation needs (such as bringing service animals or providing interpreters) can be easily added to any event registration form.

Have you planned an event with any of these tips in mind? Leave us a comment and tell us what accommodations you made to host an inclusive, accessible event, and how it went!

 

A special way to experience live theater when you’re blind like me

Last month I got to see Michael Cera of Arrested Development and Juno fame in a live production at Steppenwolf Theatre here in Chicago. Scratch that. I got to hear, smell and touch the production, I guess!

Tickets for This Is Our Youth were pretty much sold out, but I got to go because Steppenwolf set aside a number of tickets for a special audio touch tour of the set for people with visual impairments.That’s my previous Seeing Eye dog Harper and me with our Steppenwolf hosts a few years ago during the on-stage touch tour of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

In the photo to the right, that’s me and my previous Seeing Eye dog Harper with our gracious Steppenwolf hosts on stage a few years ago during the touch tour for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? One of the staff members from Steppenwolf is holding one of the breakable prop bottles and a bouquet of the plastic snapdragons which figure prominently into the play.

Steppenwolf’s audio touch tours are much more than just the tactile experience the name implies — a Touch Tour is a pre-performance program that gives those of us who are blind or have low vision an opportunity to:

  • participate in an artistic conversation about a production
  • experience a detailed description of the set, props and costumes
  • handle key props, set and costume pieces
  • tour the set with a sighted guide
  • meet the actors and learn about the characters they play

Stage manager Cambra Overend explained that the play was being performed in an alley theater (the stage is surrounded by audience members on two sides) so they had to block the scenes to allow both sides to follow the action. She described different scenes and lines from the play that had given the three young actors particular trouble. Pretty cool for a bunch of blind people to get an inside look, ahem, of a production that’s heading to New York City now. (This is Our Youth opens on Broadway the 11th of September, and Cambra will be the stage manager for that production, too).

Next came Jack Miggins, the Audio Describer. In addition to describing the play via headphones during the performance, Jack comes on stage before the play starts, too, so he can “show” us what the set looks like while we’re there in our seats. He talks while he darts around the stage –- that way we can track his voice and get a sense how close (or far) objects are from one another.

“Here’s the door to the hallway,” he’ll call out from stage left, knocking on the door so we’ll know exactly where it is. Closer to the front of the stage, he’ll pat the arm of a couch. “It’s brown,” he says. “The décor in this apartment is just different shades of brown, really.”

The play is set in the 1980s, back when I had just graduated from college and could still see. As Jack continued around the stage describing the small kitchen, the door to the bathroom, the phone, photos hanging on the wall, well, I could picture it all so well that I didn’t bother going on stage for the touch tour.

The final act of the audio/touch tour, when the actors are called up on stage to introduce themselves, is always my favorite. Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson all seemed happy to answer any questions we had, and it was a thrill to have this private audience with them.

The play was about to start then, and we were offered headphones connected to a small device to use for volume control to hear Jack describe scene changes, character entrances/exits and other movements during the play. Everyone had done such a tremendous job introducing us to the play during the pre-production program that I opted to go without the headphones, and I followed the play just fine.

The timing of this particular audio touch tour was perfect: it will be fresh on my mind when I sit on a panel at the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) conference tomorrow. The conference is in Chicago this year, and it’s put together by the Kennedy Center.

Cultural arts administrators from all over the world (most of them responsible for accessibility at their respective cultural arts organizations) are in town to attend seminars and workshops on everything from “Determining Who is Eligible to Purchase Accessible Seats” to “Reaching Out to Museum Visitors with Memory Loss and Dementia.” The panel I’m sitting on is called “Finding and Nurturing an Audience for Audio Description” and encourages conference attendees to hear from experts who use Audio Description services — the audience members of Steppenwolf Theatre Company!

The conference website explains that we’ll “provide an informative journey on the best way to market the arts as well as the challenges and successes in accessing arts programs.” Evan Hatfield from Steppenwolf will moderate the panel along with Deborah Lewis, CEO of California’s Arts Access Now. George Abbott, who was born blind, and Sally Cooper, who has a visual impairment but still has some sight, will be sitting on the panel with me, and it meets on Tuesday, August 5, 2014, from 11:30 am to 12:45 pm at the Sheraton Hotel at 301 North Water Street in Chicago.

LEAD conference attendees will be invited to join us at an audio touch tour of The Qualms at Steppenwolf that same night, too, so if you’re at the LEAD conference and happen to have found this blog post, I hope you’ll join us.

 

An artificial leg that is in high demand…by nerds like me

I am a huge fan of the animation and comic series Ghost in the Shell (GITS), so when I found out GITS is receiving a third season, I scoured the forums for more details. When was it coming out? Are my favorite characters going to be there? My search went from delight to amazement when I discovered what’s planned for this third season.

Let me explain. Ghost in the Shell is set in the distant future in Japan where everything is online and technologically advanced. Everyone is connected to the vast web through their brains by a series of augmentations and enhancements. Select people, including the heroine, have cybernetic bodies. This means that their bodies are completely artificial. Their brain or “ghost” (loosely meaning soul or essence, according to the series) is the only organic thing in their body. The series explores a lot of questions about humanity. What does it mean to be human when 98% of what makes you is plastic? How would society function if everyone was constantly connected to the internet and didn’t need a computer or phone to log in?

So what did I see related to this amazing show on the forums? A person linking to a woman showing off her artificial leg and captioning it: “This is amazing and I can’t wait until we have them too!”

Maybe it’s just me, and how long I’ve worked here at Easter Seals, but I was speechless. At my job here, I read endless articles about people trying to make artificial limbs work better and “not look so bad,” and here was a community that didn’t see it as a disability – they saw it as an enhancement. They didn’t pity the woman and her new leg. They envied her and thought she was the coolest girl ever. Nerds like me who commented about this chimed in with agreement and fandom, too. Some examples:

  • “I can’t wait either!”
  • “Is it too late to get it now?”
  • “I can’t wait to be like GITS!”

I may occasionally hide my inner nerd (I mean, honestly, not that many people want to hear a dissertation on the progression of magical girl anime and feminism since the 90’s to today), but today I embrace my humble little beginnings and cheer for a community of people that can be a little socially awkward, but rather progressive when it relates to the things they love. And to be honest, that leg was really cool.

 

Rehab matchmaker and Utilize Health founder lights a fire in Ben

Utilize Health founder, Jessica

My hometown of Evansville, Indiana, is one of those little big cities. We are big enough to have very successful business men and women, but also small enough for your local farmer to prosper. It is a town where I can tell a story to a friend over lunch, and count on half of the city knowing that exact story the next week (well, maybe not the exact same story, but close).

The spinal cord injury (SCI) community in Evansville is the same way. Although there may not be more than 20 people with SCI’s in our little big city, we are all there to support each other. When someone is injured nearby, the families of the injured can count on a hospital visit from one of us.

I’d like to think the families are appreciative of these visits, especially when they are in a situation when they don’t know what in the world to do, and where to turn next. After my accident in 2006, my family and I were in this same lost and confused situation, but we were lucky enough to have the guidance from a kind and sincere family from Evansville: the Greenfields.

At age 17, Jessica Greenfield Harthcock was injured while practicing gymnastics, and became paralyzed from the chest down. Doctors told her that she would never walk again, but that devastating news did not deter her spirits. Since her injury, Jessica has graduated with a Master’s degree from Vanderbilt University and married her athletic and personal trainer Adam Harthcock, who is now one of the business partners helping her launch her own company, Utilize Health.

Utilize Health is an online-based company dedicated to making the perfect match of people with disabilities to a perspective rehab hospital. The idea of the company was derived from her own experiences after her spinal cord injury. Jessica and her family vigorously searched for the appropriate rehab hospitals to help treat her injury, and there was no clear-cut way to try to figure out what might be the best thing to do. I can tell you from my own experience that it took a tremendous amount of time for my family to find the right rehab hospital that had the most beneficial therapy for me. This is why Jessica created Utilize Health — to help people who are in need find insightful and knowledgeable information, and lead them in the right direction.

Jessica is one of the most enthusiastic and outgoing people that I have ever met. She is definitely someone I looked up to after my injury, and she showed me that the future was bright, even though tough times laid ahead. I have tremendous respect for Jessica – she continues to set the bar high, especially now that she has set her entrepreneurial sites on starting this new company.

Utilize Health is currently in a crowdfunding stage, and I encourage you to visit their IndieGoGo page and see what they are doing to help guide people and their families!

With guidance provided by people and companies like Utilize Health, folks who sustain injuries like the ones Jessica and I have can be properly matched to find the right therapies.

In fact – here is your success story – after years of hard work at multiple rehab institutes, Jessica is now walking. She has gone from using the assistance of canes and walkers to walking without any assistance whatsoever — take that, doctors!

It is amazing to know that there are people out there like Jessica, who go through crazy life changing experiences, take them on with a head full of steam, and come out better than before. Not only is she conquering her disability, but she is dedicating her life to fixing a problem that she encountered herself.

People like Jessica inspire me to continue working hard, fixing the wrongs, improving the status quo, and making a difference in people’s lives. Helping people should never go unnoticed, and should never be underrated. I hope my sharing Jessica’s story inspires you to do something special, and make a difference. She sure got me!

 

#DeafInTheAir aims to improve airport accessibility

I can list so many things that make my air travel difficult.

Let’s begin with a few: Imagine sitting at the airport, waiting for your flight to be called…but the flight never comes. It has been delayed, and you didn’t know. The flight delay was announced through the speakers, but you can’t hear. Or what about when your flight gets cancelled?

I shy away from telling flight attendants that I’m deaf, because with the “deaf card” attendants will shuttle me to the front of the line at boarding and hand-hold me down the terminal to make sure I arrive at my correct destination. I don’t ask for help, because I don’t need the “shuttling” and “hand holding” through the airport or the airplane itself. I always feel guilty and embarrassed when I bypass the line, even sometimes bypassing older people who use wheelchairs.

And oh, what about the amazing in-flight entertainment? There are times I’ve thought, “I haven’t seen this movie before”, and I settle in my seat and “oh…it’s not captioned.” Others can turn on other language subtitles, but there are no English subtitles. So I turn to my book.

Why is this still happening in this modern technology era, 2014?

I’ve been through multiple embarrassing and annoying plane rides, but there’s one plane trip I remember most vividly. It could’ve gone poorly, but turned out amazing, and here’s why: The flight staff didn’t know I was deaf, so I wasn’t “shuttled” or “hand-held” down the terminal. I was seated at the emergency exit, though, so I was required to tell a flight attendant that I had a disability (people with disabilities are not encouraged to sit in an exit row, as they’d need to be “able-bodied” to help others off the plane in case of an emergency). Airline policy would not allow them to downgrade my seat to the back of the plane, so I got upgraded…to FIRST class!

letter from stewardess

The letter that the stewardess wrote to me.

Even better, I got a fabulous note from the stewardess asking me if I knew where the nearest emergency exit was, what was the best way to communicate with me and what was the best way I could be assisted in case of an emergency. We had a back and forth dialogue about the questions she asked, just by writing notes to each other. This was a first.

This stewardess didn’t take over and help me without me asking, but she made it clear that she would be there if I needed anything. This was an amazing flight!

But, most flights aren’t so amazing for the deaf community, and there is someone doing something to help. I first heard of Elena Mayer’s National Association of the Deaf Youth Ambassador Program presentation through a couple of tweets from National Association for the Deaf (NAD), plus from my friends who attended Elena’s presentation.

I was thrilled to have an interview with her last week — she’s 20, from St. Louis and is a current student at California State University at Northridge. She has been increasingly frustrated with the lack of accessibility at airports for people who are deaf. She knows the younger generation is very social-media savvy (a benefit to the deaf community), so she decided to do something about the lack of accessibility using #DeafInTheAir.

In Elena’s presentation, she mentioned that of 20,000 disability related complaints at airports, only 214 were from people who were deaf. Elena hopes that #DeafInTheAir will encourage more people who are deaf to speak out about their complaints and make them public.

By having #DeafInTheAir available, people who are deaf will be able to share their stories about the lack of accessibility in airports or on airplanes via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. For example, if I were to write a tweet to an airline complaining of the lack of captioning in their in-flight entertainment, I would type out the complaint and add #DeafInTheAir. This way, other people that are tracking the hashtag will be able to re-tweet me and spread the message.

Elena is hoping to work with NAD and various airlines to get English movie/TV captioning on flights and have a special sign posted next to the gate that will allow for communication between a deaf passenger and the flight attendant/gate attendant when needed — a back-forth typing screen or, if you want to go low-tech, a whiteboard with markers.

Elena’s dream for more accessibility in airports can come true with your help! If you see something that could disrupt a person’s travel because of lack of accessibility with captioning, or if you notice educational about people who are deaf that others should know about, use Facebook/Twitter/Instagram with the hashtag #DeafInTheAir!

With this hashtag campaign, maybe things at airports will change. People who are deaf, like me, have been fighting the airlines about movie captions for so long, and we’ve made very little progress. A united front with repeated messages through #DeafInTheAir might make our captioning dreams come true.

No one should ever feel embarrassed to board a plane, or feel lost when it comes to communicating delays/cancellations. If you have a story to tell, please use #DeafInTheAir and spread awareness about changing the airports/airlines’ policy on modes of communication or captions.

If you want to contact Elena Mayer, please contact her via Twitter – @DeafInTheAir. Connect on the official Instagram for #DeafInTheAir here.

Learn about accessible transportation options from Easter Seals too, with Easter Seals ProjectACTION.

 

A unique way to celebrate the 24th anniversary of the ADA

I started losing my eyesight in 1984, when I was 25 years old. At first I didn’t use a white cane or a guide dog. I quit driving or riding my bike, but I could still see well enough to walk to work. I had a job at University of Illinois in Champaign, and most of my day was spent counseling college students on study abroad options — I could have done that with my eyes closed.

As my eyesight got worse, though, I started making mistakes in the office. I still remember spilling grounds all over the floor on my way to make the morning coffee. I had to sit close to my computer screen to see the words. I ran into tabletops. At one point my boss took me aside and told me I wouldn’t be going to the annual convention with my colleagues. “You’ll embarrass the office,” she said. Months later, my contract was terminated. I had nowhere to turn. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) wasn’t passed until five years later.

Kyle, a 2010 Easter Seals Child representative, all grown up and working

We’ve come a long way since George H. W. Bush signed the ADA into law in 1990. This weekend we celebrate the 24th anniversary of the ADA, and I’m happy to know that so many more people are on board now with the idea that those of us with disabilities can — and should — be employed. Still, the unemployment rate among adults with disabilities is double than what it is for those without disabilities. Only two in 10 people with disabilities are in the labor force compared to seven in 10 individuals without disabilities. So many people with disabilities want to work and can contribute but find it difficult to overcome attitudinal barriers and other challenges.

We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. That’s where Easter Seals workforce development services come in. We provide an individualized approach to assisting persons with disabilities and other needs to make smart choices and find employment. Contact Easter Seals to learn more about Easter Seals Workforce Development services in your area, and if you run a business or are interviewing candidates for a position at your job, hey, here’s an idea of how to celebrate the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act: consider hiring someone who has a disability. We’re a resourceful bunch.

 

Should athletes with disabilities have to pay more to participate?

My friend Eliza Cooper is blind, and she was planning to race in last Sunday’s NYC Swim’s Brooklyn Bridge Swim across the East River. Eliza is a strong swimmer – she’s completed six, count them, six, triathlons already.That's Eliza on the right with her guide Megan Leigh. (That’s Eliza on the right with her guide Megan Leigh.) The distance from Manhattan to Brooklyn is less than a mile, but last week NYC Swim director Morty Berger decided that athletes with disabilities would have to pay an extra fee to swim in the race, so Eliza didn’t participate.

Eliza is 28 years old, and I got to know her in Morristown, N.J., when I was training with my third Seeing Eye dog, Harper. We liked each other the minute we met, and when she got matched with Harper’s brother Harris, we knew it was fate, and that we’d stay in touch. She trains with Achilles International (they help athletes with disabilities prepare for races) and NY Info published an article last week after she and five other Achilles athletes were told they’d have to pay extra to participate in Sunday’s swim.

NYC Swim director Morty Berger said he added extra requirements for athletes with disabilities because of construction around the South Street Seaport and Brooklyn Bridge Park. Due to the construction, all athletes had to jump off a water taxi docked on the Manhattan side to start the race. They had to climb onto what Berger calls an “uneven” exit at the Brooklyn Bridge Park to end the race, too. And so, Berger decided that Achilles would have to ensure that its swimmers were covered under Achilles’ policy if they wanted to participate, and Achilles would have had to pay $700 for boats to trail swimmers with disabilities in case they needed help. “I am the lifeguard and I have to make the calls as it relates to safety,” Berger said. “It’s like someone saying, ‘I want to go swimming when there’s lightning out,’”

Achilles rejected the additional demands. “I told them if it was unsafe for my athletes, it was unsafe for everyone else,” Achilles coach Kathleen Bateman said in the article. Eliza was quoted in the article, too, questioning whether any other minority group would feel okay about paying extra to participate in an event like this: “We do not need extra boats or extra help,” she told the reporter.

I believe her: a few years ago Eliza was featured in a piece Eleanor Goldberg wrote after competing in the New York City triathlon with Eliza and 11 other Achilles athletes. They swam 1 mile, biked 26 miles up and down hill terrain, and ran 6.2 miles in Central Park. Eliza managed to fix three flat tires during the event and never once considered giving up. She told the reporter last week that being asked to pay extra fees to participate in Sunday’s swim was especially unfair when the race organizers don’t realize how hard she and her fellow Achilles athletes trained or how much of their heart and soul goes into the training they do. “We always find a way to do things, that’s how our team works,” she said. “For someone to say ‘no,’ it’s really disheartening.”

Eliza is busy training for her first half Ironman now. Based on her previous times, she stood a pretty good chance of winning an award if she’d been able to swim in Sunday’s race, but when I contacted her Monday, she seemed pretty resigned to it all. “Even though we didn’t get to swim yesterday, getting the word out there made me feel a lot better about what happened,” she said. She was glad the stories in the media drew attention to the injustice of it all, and pleased they generated conversation and support. “And you know what? There are always bigger and better races to be raced!”

So what do you think? I understand the organizer’s concern, but I’ve learned a lot from Eliza. If the NYC Swims director thought swimming across the East River was too dangerous this year, maybe they should have cancelled the race entirely. The other swimmers were given the option to decide for themselves whether or not to swim under those conditions, so it seems to me that the Achilles athletes should have been given that choice, too, without any extra — and expensive — requirements.

We want to hear what you think! Share your comments below or on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

 

A millennial’s take on caring for, and about, veterans

Last week I wrote a post about Amy Adams, an award winning actress who gave up her first class seat to a military serviceman. Adams is no stranger to attention through her acting, and her kindness did not go unnoticed, but, unfortunately, the good things our soldiers do for us overseas — and in our communities — often do.

Let’s face it. We live in a society where a lot of people think “reality” means a bunch of housewives living in Orange County. And okay, okay, I admit I indulge in this trash television myself, but I think of it as a getaway from the realities that are harder to face, like the tragedies in the Middle East and within our nation’s borders.

In a blog post I wrote last fall I talked about what it felt like to see the movie The Hornet’s Nest for the first time – I still remember the impact that first showing had on my life. To put it modestly, The Hornet’s Nest is as real as it gets. The film follows Mike Boettcher, an award winning war correspondent (and superhero Easter Seals board member) as he travels to Afghanistan’s front line with his son, Carlos. Viewers follow the father-son duo throughout their mission with 101st Airborne, an elite group of U.S. troops.

For 90 captivating minutes, I was taken to the trenches of Afghanistan, watching soldiers, some younger than me, fight for their lives. I laughed and cried together with other audience members, and all of us in the theater vowed to do all we could to make a change to the heartbreak within our nation’s borders. But at the end of the night, we all returned to our comfortable lives. I was able to return to my typical college student lifestyle where my only “tragedy” was math and Friday classes.

Some of the soldiers featured in the film, who have accomplished more in 20 years than I will in a lifetime, do not have that privilege. These young veterans are some of our nation’s brightest, embodying courage and an unmatchable work ethic. They should be an employer’s dream, yet they face high unemployment rates.

Films like the Hornet’s Nest open our eyes to a necessary reality we may not want to see. I encourage everyone to watch the Hornet’s Nest, and after you’ve seen it once, request a screening in your town so you can see it again. When the film is finished, think of ways your community can support our returning heroes.

Many communities and employers simply lack the resources to support our new generation of veterans and caregivers. That’s where Easter Seals Dixon Center comes in. Easter Seals Dixon Center strengthens communities and enables veteran families to thrive where they live. In June, Easter Seals Dixon Center and the Dole Foundation launched a series of free webinars for military caregivers. Our brave military service men and women served us, now it’s our time to serve them.

Watch the free military caregiving webinar on demand on Easterseals.com/carewebinar.

 

A Soldier’s Story: Ask your local theater to screen this movie

“Never give up. Never quit.” That is Travis Mills’ motto.  And if Travis Mills has no excuses, no one else should either!TRAVIS a soldier's story An injury in Afghanistan may have left him a quadruple amputee, but it didn’t change his goofy personality, his determination to be there for his family, or his motivation to walk and run again and participate in all the activities he used to.

A co-worker here at Easter Seals recommended I see Travis: A Soldier’s Story, and thanks to Easter Seals Dixon Center’s work in serving veterans, I had the privilege of attending a screening. I got to meet Travis at the screening, and I just loved him. He is an all-around good (and hilarious) guy, and that’s not all: he is a Detroit Lions fan, too!

Travis: A Soldier’s Story is a documentary and true story of United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills of the 82nd Airborne. Travis lost portions of both arms and both legs as the result of an IED (improvised explosive device) on April 10, 2012, while on patrol during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan. Travis is one of just five quadruple-amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive their injuries.

Watch this trailer and you’ll get a hint of what I think this documentary is all about: that family is everything for our soldiers. The goal to come home to his wife, Kelsey, and their daughter, Chloe, motivated Travis to press on during rehabilitation.

The movie takes viewers through some of Travis’ therapy and rehabilitation process. It’s real, it’s tough, and it’s this hard work and perseverance that makes our soldiers heroes.

Some may refer to Travis as a wounded soldier, but he doesn’t consider himself wounded. He is a role model through the foundations he works with and his love for giving back. Help spread his story by encouraging your local theaters to screen the movie this Veterans Day.

And as for soldiers who don’t have a strong support system waiting for them at home — if you or someone you know is a military service member, veteran or military family, Easter Seals Dixon Center may be a good resource for help with anything from financial planning for military families and job training for veterans to respite services for military caregivers and more.

 

Should ride-sharing services adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act?

I wrote an op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune called “Should ride-sharing services adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act?” in April, and it seems now that the ride-sharing vs. registered taxi driver issue is heating up all over the country.Billy, who first told me about ride sharing. Our bartender friend Billy Balducci is the first person I remember telling me about ride-sharing. Billy can get off pretty late from work at Hackney’s, our local tavern, and he says going home using UberX works great.

Ride-sharing services like UberX, Lyft and Sidecar allow regular people to offer their personal cars for hire. The rides are usually cheaper, you can order and pay for it with your Smartphone, and you don’t have to tip the driver. “The picture of the guy who’s picking you up comes up right on your phone, so you know who to expect when they pull up,” Billy marveled, leaning over the bar to show me his phone before giving it a little more thought. “Guess that might not work so great for you, Beth!”

We both laughed. I was confident I could figure out a way to tackle that problem. What I was more concerned about was what might happen if a ride-sharing driver showed up and didn’t want to let my Seeing Eye dog in the car, and that’s what my piece in the Chicago Tribune is all about. It opens with an account of me heading to court in 2007 to testify against a cab driver who had refused to pick my Seeing Eye dog Hanni and me up outside the Chicago Hilton on Michigan Avenue back in 2007. Now how could a cab driver ever refuse these two smiley faces? My husband Mike can see, and he helped me hail a cab outside our apartment building the morning I had to go testify. And yes, truth really is stranger than fiction: A cab driver refused to pick me up on the way to court! The guy slowed down for Mike, but then when he saw me standing there on the curb with Hanni, he said, “No dogs!” and sped off. Mike took down his license number and I reported the second cab driver, too.

Chicago cab drivers are required to take classes to learn about service dogs, and they have to pass a Public Chauffeur Licensing Exam before getting a livery license. They know they are required to pick us up, and the cab drivers I reported were fined for refusing to do so. More importantly, each had their livery license temporarily suspended.

I found an NBC News story that said a blind man in San Francisco complained to UberX after one of their drivers refused to pick him up with his guide dog. UberX apologized and gave him $20 credit toward his next ride. The driver was not penalized. From my Tribune article:

The Americans with Disabilities Act states that “public transportation authorities may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of their services,” but since the vehicles used by ride-sharing companies are privately owned and operated by independent contractors, this is a legal gray area.

The blind man who was refused the ride might take civil action, but that could take a lot of time. And money. And that’s my problem with this whole ride-sharing thing. I didn’t have to pay a cent to report the Chicago cab drivers who disregarded the law, the cases were resolved quickly and efficiently, and the drivers were penalized. If a driver from a ride-sharing service refuses to pick me up with Whitney, my current Seeing Eye dog, I will have little recourse. The burden will be on me to pay to take the ride-sharing service and the driver to court.

So for now, I’m sticking with rides in regulated Chicago cabs. As it says in the final line of my op-ed piece, “I’m not against innovation, but I believe the new services should be subject to some regulation and required training — just like cabs.”