What A Difference One Inch Can Make

Deborah Peters Goessling i i

Although today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, accessibility is still an issue. Courtesy of Deborah Peters Goessling hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Deborah Peters Goessling
Deborah Peters Goessling

Although today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, accessibility is still an issue.

Courtesy of Deborah Peters Goessling

For another perspective on the 20th anniversary of the ADA check out what commentator Ben Mattlin, who grew up with spinal muscular atrophy, has to say about how the law has changed his life.

Deborah Peters Goessling, Ed.D. is an associate professor of elementary/special education at Providence College, Rhode Island. Her wheelchair is named Red Rover.

I never realized how much one inch made a difference in my life. As an associate professor of special education, I teach students who want to become special education teachers and work with kids with disabilities. Ironically, two years ago I was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. Now I'm the one who is really learning about disability.

In the U.S. there are more than 1 million wheelchair users. Although today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, accessibility is still a big issue. And often it comes down to just one inch.

In the past few years, one inch has prevented me from using a friend's bathroom and from socializing on a beachfront deck because the entrance was too narrow for my wheelchair. At the post office counter, one inch lower means I can pay for my stamps. When we cannot get my beach wheelchair deep enough into the water, there is no relief from the heat. While my family is swimming and splashing, I must remain on the sidelines. With just one inch too much to the left or right, I'm unable to place my wheelchair into my van's "lock-in" system to be able to use hand controls to drive. For me, one inch can make the difference between attending a friend's 50th birthday party or staying home and mailing a gift. It limits my ability to attend family gatherings, work celebrations and bridal showers and makes me feel excluded from friends and family.

When I went to my brother's house he made a little entry ramp for me, but I couldn't visit, because his door was too narrow for my wheelchair. Most wheelchairs, like mine, measure 28 inches across and benefit from a 30-inch door. From my experiences, most residential doors are less than 30 inches wide.

Now, I am not saying that businesses and the government are in violation of ADA; I am just saying that 20 years later there are still many accessibility challenges. Many more challenges then even I, a professor of special education, could have imagined. It was a big surprise to me that a ramp doesn't always provide enough access, mandated curb cuts can be so deteriorated they cannot be used, that doors can be too narrow, thresholds too high, chairs too low and blackboards too high. We do not need more legislation, but people could be a lot smarter — and more thoughtful — when it comes to designing buildings. An inch may not seem like a lot, but to me and many others it makes a world of difference.

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