Last week, I decided to blow my two-year-old son’s mind, and take him to KFC. Dad of the year, I know. I wanted to take him to the flash new KFC, in downtown Auckland. They even have table service. Upon arriving, however, I discovered that I would not be able to get inside. I use a wheelchair, and the store was not accessible. Gutted, I told my son that we were not going to be able to sample the Colonel’s secret recipe after all (I had done some serious prepping on the car ride over, something about “the best thing you will ever eat”). He was clearly disappointed, and asked why we had to go somewhere else. “Well, they don’t have a ramp, see, and Dad needs a ramp to get inside,” I explained. “No ramp?” he repeated, as if to underscore the absurdity of it all. “Nope,” I replied, “no ramp for Dad”.
No ramp for Dad.
It is those four words that make the difference between my son and I being able to take a trip somewhere together, or having to make alternative plans. In the days following the failed trip to the temple of fried chicken, I began noticing all the other stores, cafes, and restaurants around Auckland that also fail the basic ‘ramp for Dad’ test. I would struggle to take my son to half of the places in Parnell. God forbid we ever want to share an overpriced croissant. Even somewhere like Ellerslie — hardly a bastion of historical buildings — many of the shops were inaccessible. Computer parts? Forget about it. Massage? Nice try. Want to take a holiday? Not at House of Travel you won’t! Everywhere I looked, shops were slapped with a virtual ‘No ramp for Dad’ sign.
Part of the problem, I think, is that wheelchair access is often seen through a lens of compliance. “I only have to do this because the council says so,” fumes local businessman Kevin. And Kevin, bless him, will do anything he can to avoid more council red tape. “Aha,” he thinks, “my building is a heritage building! No ramp for this store!”. Of course, what he is really doing, is not putting out a ramp for Dad. Fiona, down the road, is opening up a kid’s toy shop in an older building, and the entrance is up a few stairs. Because of the kind of lease she signed, she escaped being tangled up in any pesky retro-fitting accessibility legislation. Once again, no ramp for Dad. Or rather, no ramp for Dad and his family, which just so happens to include two young boys who love toys.
So you see, accessibility is not really a compliance issue. It is a humanity issue. Accessibility is what allows my wife, two children and I to live our best lives and engage in the world around us. Only one of us uses a wheelchair but accessibility affects us all. I have deliberately avoided the use of the world disabled in this column because, of course, I am only disabled if your shop has no ramp. So if it doesn’t, get out there and build one. Don’t build a ramp for the council, or for your conscience, or for the sake of compliance. Build a ramp so that me and my family can pop in, say hi, and buy your stuff. Build a ramp for Dad.