The Anti-ADA Bar Crawl – Is Your Business at Risk?

When I was injured in a car accident and became a wheelchair user in 1985, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) didn’t exist. The ADA was passed in 1990, but wasn’t fully implemented until 1992; so for years, I dealt with a completely inaccessible world. Restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and malls may as well have not existed to me.

President George Bush Sr. on the White House Lawn signing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990

In 1992, thanks to Republican President George Bush Senior and the ADA, my world slowly became one that would allow me to equally enjoy living in the United States. I could finally go to the bar with my friends, eat at restaurants, attend public events at public facilities, and even work in a commercial building, because they were all accommodating. I no longer needed to be carried into bathrooms, or pulled up the stairs.

Unfortunately, there has been a new and alarming shift taking place in America. It’s 2019, and I find it increasingly difficult to find restaurants and bars that have tables in the main areas that accommodate my wheelchair. Business owners (and the architects/designers who plan their establishments) seem to have very little knowledge of the ADA requirements and universally accessible design. Whether they’ve done this consciously or not, they’ve made our lives less equal. They’ve taken us back to pre-1990, before the ADA was passed and before equality was nationally recognized. We’ve once again been barred from the equal enjoyment of those facilities, and I can’t imagine this being acceptable if done to any other minority group of people.

A friend and I recently checked out some new local restaurants in sunny Fort Lauderdale, and we were met with tremendous examples of this very issue.

At this particular location, not only are high tops the common culprits in this issue of inequality, but picnic tables as well.

We tried the next “new and trendy” restaurant, and faced more of the same. High tops (of course), but also elevated booth seating with an inaccessible step up. They also had a beautiful outdoor patio, which unfortunately, was 100% high tops and not ADA compliant.

On to the next one, and once again, HIGH TOPS! We also ran into the elevated booth seating problem again.

This particular place added insult to injury by presenting us with THE RUDEST manager who refused to move a table to the covered bar area for us, and instead insisted that we sit in the sun. My friend proceeded to grab a table and some chairs to make us a makeshift eating area on the sun soaked patio. As you can see, it IS NOT easy or comfortable to eat from a wheelchair with this setup. We tried to smile and make the most of it!

This is just one neighborhood, in one city, in one state, in America. Not a single establishment that we visited had ADA compliant accommodations in the main bar area or even close to the bar. Yes, we were sometimes accommodated in another section of the restaurant, but that’s not where we wanted to be. We wanted to be in the bar, where the action was, where we could roll up and order a drink, where we could chat and mingle with the other patrons, but we had no choice. We could either sit at a makeshift table, looking up at the other customers’ high tops, holding our plates, and eating off our laps, or be banished to the accessible far corner of the restaurant.

So what can be done?

The ADA’s Title III criminalizes establishments with public accommodations from discriminating against individuals with disabilities in regards to access to facilities, services, programs, and goods. The maximum penalty fee for the 1st violation is $75,000, and the max for the 2nd violation is $150,000.

  • As a a person with a disability, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • As an establishment owner, you can contact us at PUSHLiving Advisors for an ADA assessment, and change your non-compliant design features quickly before someone files a complaint and legal expenses start to accumulate.
  • Hire us to speak to your business or association about accessibility issues with the ADA, architecture, or design.

Here are some excellent examples of wonderfully inclusive and ADA compliant design features that I’ve come across.

So many people fought for decades to gain equal rights for people with disabilities, and we are forever in their debt for the non-partisan efforts that brought about these laws. We can’t allow or accept the use of high top tables and raised bench seating in our society. We can’t allow or accept the exclusion of anyone from having a seat at the table.