A few years ago, while strolling around the village near where I live, I noticed a new coffee shop was about to open. Excited, I rolled across the street for a closer look, only to come face to face with the one thing that never fails to stop me in my tracks: a step. As a wheelchair user, steps are the absolute bane of my existence.
I can’t count how many times I’ve tried to make plans only to learn that a restaurant has three steps down or a theater has two steps up. When I’m planning ahead, finding out a place is inaccessible means I’m at least able to pick somewhere else to go. But it can really ruin opportunities for discovering new places, which is something I love to do.
I thought of all that I’d miss out on because of the step up to the coffee shop. The buzzing atmosphere in the morning caffeine rush, the quiet afternoons spent lingering over chai lattes to stay out of the cold. I wanted to experience the coffee shop.
In far too many cases, I simply accept that a place is off-limits to me because of stairs and move on. I tell myself there will be other restaurants, other concert venues, other stores to shop in. The inaccessibility of the coffee shop hit close to home though, because it is close to my home.
So instead of allowing the steps to keep me out, I decided to call the phone number posted on the door. My hope was that I’d reach the owners and convince them to put a ramp in place. When I first got in touch, they seemed caught up in the throes of opening a new business but promised a ramp was to come. I was hopeful, but definitely skeptical.
Several months later, I got a phone call. The owner had finally gotten a portable ramp and they’d held on to my phone number to let me know. I had such a mix of emotions after that call, wondering why it had taken so long, but feeling grateful that they’d even thought to reach out and personally invite me in. It was a gesture unlike anything a business owner had ever done for me before. While I believe accessibility is something that should be prioritized from the start, I also believe in appreciating accessibility wins. And to me, this was definitely a win.
Now, countless chai lattes and chocolate chip chia cookies later, the coffee shop has become a spot I treasure going to often. I’m able to enjoy this part of my community, rather than being shut out. Those morning rushes and quiet afternoons are mine to share with my friends or my boyfriend, or just to have to myself. While I’ll always wish I didn’t have to fight for my right to roll into a place, in the end, it’s worth it to advocate for the necessary steps (pun intended) to eliminate the barriers that steps create.
About Emily Ladau: Emily is a blogger and serves as the editor in chief of Rooted in Rights. She co-hosts a podcast and has been recognized as an emerging leader in the disability community. Emily lives on Long Island and enjoys traveling and trying new restaurants. Click here to learn more about Emily.