“Only hotel guests can use the accessible door.”
|Logo of the ADA 25: 1990-2015.
It’s 11 at night on the 25th anniversary of the ADA and the four of us have just arrived at the W Washington hotel. They have a spectacular bar on the rooftop with a view looking out over the White House and a gloriously illuminated city. After a hot and humid day, the air is a little cooler at night, and the car from the Kennedy Center, where we had just celebrated the signing of the ADA and heard from leaders and felt the strength and power of our community. It ended with the fabulous Diane Schuur playing a short set, and her “Louisiana Sunday Afternoon” is still ringing in my head.
S, one of my companions, directs our driver around to the side door where she knows its more accessible. L and M, the other two, have physical disabilities and, after a long day, would find it much less painful to avoid going up steps. From this door, we can just walk through straight to the elevators and up to the bar. Honestly, I need a drink.
And the security guard says no. He says the door is closed. We sputter a little, looking at each other, wondering if this is really happening. One of us, probably M, speaks first, saying that we need the accessibility this door provides. At that point, accessibility should be a magic word, but instead the guard hardens his commitment to compliance. We each speak, hesitantly, then more forcefully, trying to get the guard to realize he’s making a mistake. On tonight, of all nights, to this group of four – journalists, writers, performers, disability rights experts – he just doesn’t do this. He asks, “Are you guests of the hotel,” and we reply that we are not, but want to go to the bar (it’s a bar open to the public, of course, so this is not unreasonable).
His reply is that only hotel guests have the right to accessibility.
M has had it. Despite the pain it causes her, she literally runs around the corner, up the steps, and right at the desk. I trail behind, just in case she needs anything, but not to get in her way or play abled savior. She does not need my help. Outside, the guard opens the sacred door, seems M at the desk, and perhaps realizes he’s messed up, and just lets L and S in.
At the desk, the manager on duty apologizes for the inconvenience, to which I reply, “it’s not inconvenient, it’s illegal.”
This is discrimination. It’s a micro-aggression, the small acts of control that an ableist society asserts over people with disabilities. And it matters. It shows us that the ADA may be great and powerful, and it is, but we have a lot of cultural to do before this kind of denial of accessibility, when explicitly invoked, becomes unthinkable.
I’ve called the hotel for a comment and we’ll see what they say.
Updated with tweets from L and M (used by permission)