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.