What is Wrong with You, Atlanta?

Image: On my way to the CCAR Convention in Chicago a few years ago. Photo: Linda Burnett

I’m on the road again this week, traveling to Atlanta for the Central Conference of American Rabbis convention. So far, it’s been another disability adventure, and a definite mixed bag.

Travel here was mostly uneventful. I’ve gotten pretty good at my airline routine. The biggest challenge is remembering to ask for help. The temptation is to ask for nothing, but that’s a good way to hurt myself, so I ask for help.

I arrived, as I usually do, a day ahead to scout things out. I find that it’s a good plan to do that because I am on wheels and some research can make my working days here much more productive.

I registered a bit too late to be in the convention hotel, so I’m in a different hotel in the same neighborhood. I’m not going to name the hotel, since I’m still in negotiations with them about some things they need to improve, but I assure you it is not the Cheapo Hotel. It’s expensive, as is my room which is officially “accessible” but in reality is “manageable with humor and persistence.”

First on my “need to improve” list is the most accessible entrance to the hotel, the one I will have to use coming in from the street at night. It is set up to use with my room key card – safety, right? – only the door is set in such a way that by the time I swipe the card and grab the door handle, the door is already locked again. I can’t do it two-handed, because I have to keep one hand on the scooter. This afternoon, I got in when a helpful man grabbed the door for me. The only other entrance is up a steep drive way to the door, which looks like a good way to get killed. The front desk and I are having a conversation about it.

I’m in a very famous, fru-fru neighborhood of Atlanta, and I am a little amazed at how UNfriendly the eating establishments seem to be to disabled customers. I went in two different places for lunch today only to be initially greeted, told to wait, and then ignored until I went away. In every place I’ve entered, doors have been heavy with no handicap button in sight. I finally went into a little chain sub shop called Jimmy John’s and they were friendly, helpful, and had vegetarian food, God bless them. I suspect I’m going to get to know them well this week.

This is ridiculous, folks. Atlanta is a major American city. There is a law called the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed way back in 1990. My money is green. What is your problem, Atlanta?

If you are new to disability issues, perhaps you are thinking, “It so terrible to need a little help?” Here’s the problem: the man who helped me get back in my hotel today could have followed me inside to the abandoned lower lobby and mugged me, or worse. The not-so-nice young women who ignored me at supposedly “nice” restaurants did not respond to my appeals for a table. They just looked vaguely in another direction until I went away. I could, I suppose, have demanded the manager, but I ask you: would you eat at a place where you had to demand to speak to the manager even before you got to a table?

I’m pretty crabby right now. On the other hand, tomorrow I see friends and start the learning and networking that I came to do. Tomorrow is another day.





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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

10 thoughts on “What is Wrong with You, Atlanta?”

  1. I’m angered by how you’ve been treated, but sadly I’m not surprised. Atlanta is like a foreign country. Unfriendly under the best of conditions, hostile much too often. It makes me wonder if they save ALL their fake smiles for the entertainment industry, since they tout how wonderful it is to film there. (I’m a production company executive, which is why I say that.)

    I have psych issues, one of which is that I’m a high-functioning germophobe. When I visited Atlanta, I stayed in a hotel that was also NOT inexpensive. But it was CHEAP, as in they were too cheap to keep ANY of the restrooms stocked with any type of soap whatsoever. I had to carry soap with me. Not even dispensers!

    It wasn’t only the hotel that was sans soap. So MANY places lacked soap that it seriously made me wonder if I’d get food poisoning or norovirus while there. I have never gone back to Atlanta — or Jackson, MS, for the same reason — and I never will.

    The attitudes and hygiene were both unnecessarily disgusting, when it takes such little effort to smile, wash, and be welcoming to EVERYONE regardless of ability. I just do not understand it.

    WHERE has “Southern Hospitality” gone? When I lived in JAX, FL in the early 80s, I was genuinely astonished at how helpful, warm and KIND the people there were. (From Chicago, I definitely wasn’t used to that! LOL!) We need more of that now. We need to come together now more than ever before.

  2. I am so sorry to hear about your treatment in Atlanta. Where I live in the MidWest (the border of Iowa and Nebraska) it is very similar. I made a horrible mistake by moving out here but it is what it is. I really am hoping to get back to the West Coast one day. I hope the rest of your trip is better luv. Be well and take care, eh?

      1. Oh, you’re 100% right! Nothing will change if we just sit back and accept being dismissed.
        I think the part that really bothers me is that many people seem to think that “disability access” is some kind of “special treatment.” It’s frustrating as hell to deal with sometimes.

  3. thank you Rabbi Adar for sharing your experiences; reminds me to ALWAYS treat others as I do want to be treated. It’s hard to let people know they could be doing better, laws or no laws; perhaps a note to them once you’re back in the comfort of your home would be helpful? looking forward to posts about the conference 🙂

  4. I have had issues with the card key entrances, and I am mobile. It was very tricky when we were traveling with two dogs, I can assure you! The doors are heavy. The lobby, way far from these doors, is often not attended. You think you could call for assistance, like get the desk to send security…might work sometimes. I have stayed in some wheelchair accessible rooms that were amazingly well done. They do exist. Just not across the board, as we would like to assume. It is easy to assume that everyone has complied with the law and that is so not the case. I am seriously concerned for your safety. Can you get one of your friends from the convention to escort you home at night? This would be a smart strategy and a sweet mitzvah to be done for you.

    1. I’m going to call the hotel when I’m on my way and they’ll send security to meet me. I frame these things as activism – if I am enough trouble, they will better accommodate the next person.

      1. I like this framing and sometimes do the same.

        Like I’m not so likely to ever need the emergency cord in the disabled toilet in the foreseeable future (IY”H). But I still complained in some place where it was sticked at the wall rather than hanging down to the floor as it should be. And they fixed this, so if there’s ever a person who needs this (G-d forbid), it will be somewhat easier to reach.

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