by Randy Pierce
Without the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I would not be allowed the benefits of Quinn in most public places. During my time confined to a wheelchair, I was even more amazed at how many places were still out of my reach, despite the requirements of the ADA. This troubled me considerably, and yet it is not uncommon for me to hear discussion about what defines a “reasonable accommodation” such as the ADA requires. So it is that I and many others wrestle with this notion of reasonable accommodations.
In 1999, the Appalachian Mountain Club was required to provide wheelchair access to Galehead Hut, located 3800 feet up a rather challenging trail. Truthfully, when I hear this, I think that any person using a wheelchair capable of making it up the trail itself ought to be able to handle the additional challenge of a less-accessible hut. However, perhaps I might similarly be expected to use my cane despite the significant efficiency that I get from Quinn, rather than expose someone with allergies to my service dog. How do we measure this word “reasonable” and reconcile the costs or impacts of achieving it?
The ADA requirements are for public locations that involve public funds to maintain or sustain them. Whether it is the roads to the location or the various funded agencies involved in the location’s existence, all of these things use public funds. People with disabilities are not exempt from the taxes that support these locations, and it is a shame when they cannot access these services.
So the question is what is the additional price, fiscally or otherwise, to enable a reasonable accommodation? In the case of the hut, the price was a ramp, wider bathroom stalls, and support bars. In the case of an 1800s-converted home or restaurant, however, it might be substantially more to manage an elevator replacement for stairs. Ultimately, people’s definition of “reasonable accommodation” may vary greatly. I expect that the business owner required to undertake costly renovations for accessibility, which may not be used much, views such requirements as unreasonable. Riding a kitchen trash lift to get to a restaurant for a gathering of friends seems equally unreasonable – and yes, I have had to do this. In fact, at the MBTA, I was carried down multiple sets of stairs due to the elevator lift being broken, despite my calling ahead for a trip to Fenway Park. A balance does not have to demean, humiliate, or bar the way for someone facing such a challenge. A balance does not force the rest of society to install a costly solution that will never be used. Each of us will hopefully come to a comfortable definition as to what is reasonable; I just hope a little exploration and evaluation of all factors is involved. I think each extreme of the issue has, at times, attempted abusive approaches, and those negative approaches are the benchmark for arguments on the opposite side. I hope I can find the humane middle ground and entice a better appreciation of what is reasonable.
The first year Galehead Hut opened saw a group that included three people requiring wheelchairs. I am not sure if Geoff Krill, Nicole Haley, or Craig Gray would have made the 12-hour journey up to the hut without the modifications. I am also uncertain if the estimated $30,000 for the modifications to the hut is reasonable, considering how many people will take advantage of such modifications. I do know that the inspiration and hope brought on by their accomplishments is very cheap at that price. When I stood on the porch of Galehead hut last May, amazed by Quinn’s work in getting me there, I thought of those three in their wheelchairs, and the barriers they broke. I was more than impressed!