Bring Your Own Ramp: Philly Restaurants Limited for Handicapped

Friends and I stop by a swanky new restaurant. You know the kind – their menu bursting with culinary keywords like confit or demi glaze, set in some unholy fusion of colliding cultures (“It’s Mesopotamian-Hungarian cuisine!” gushes the hostess).  Their small write-up in the local paper states they are wheelchair accessible. My taste buds are pulsating with anticipation.

On a frigid January evening, we find parking in Old City, the equivalent of performing a root canal on a rhinoceros. By wheel and by foot, we travel the bleak, cobblestone streets only to arrive at a pair of concrete steps as a final obstacle into the restaurant. A surprised look on the hostess’ face suggests steps qualify to her as accessible. My friends’ faces show a mix of disgust and disappointment, as we congregate outside on the sidewalk. Other patrons walk past us and step inside. Now I feel like the kid picked last for dodge ball. The hostess offers to have several bus boys and waiters carry me in.  While I appreciate the offer, it’s a ridiculous concept. How would you like it if you had to ask people for help before you enter or leave a restaurant?  A passerby asks if I carry a ramp.  I do have a portable ramp that I bring to places if I know they have steps, but this place advertised accessibility.  Therein lies the problem – disparate definitions deny my dining. Wheelchair accessible to me is not wheelchair accessible to them.

Being a rational, reasonable human being, I accept that places will not be accessible to me. Old City, for example, has archaic buildings that would be costly for business owners to renovate for wheelchair access, or may even be aesthetically displeasing to add a ramp or elevator to a colonial edifice. While the Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses to make accommodations for the disabled, enforcement and the liberal interpretation of the Grandfather Law are strong enough factors to leave most places inaccessible.

To restaurant, bar, and club owners -- the fact is that I am an alpha customer. I bring with me a crowd of hungry and thirsty young professionals that are loyal to places we can visit as a group. And we spend a lot of money, too. We are exactly the kind of business you want.  So, do yourself a favor and at least consider the needs of wheelchair-bound customers. And then consider if you can afford to turn away customers.

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