In Their Shoes

by Nate Hunter

There’s a saying that goes: “You can’t understand what someone is going through until you walk a mile in their shoes.”


There’s a saying that goes: “You can’t understand what someone is going through until you walk a mile in their shoes.” Well, in this Dish, I want to share an interesting experience I’ve had in the last 4 weeks. Recently recovering from foot surgery, I had the familiarity of being wheelchair bound and on crutches. The decades of being in retail development ensuring we were compliant with all the stringent ADA requirements, not only for our customers but our associates as well, now have a whole new meaning to me because I lived it for a temporary period. The truth is, I used to think that the inspectors were being “excessive” with their demands and any fines they would write up. I always thought it was treated like a business — where they can collect on fines from violations. I know that may sound terribly insensitive but I believe many folks in our industry thought similarly. Also, when you’re building or remodeling multiple stores at once to open on time and under budget, it’s not uncommon to focus on the rollout without necessarily appreciating the ADA requirements.

A typical weekend in New York City was a huge undertaking and it became evident to me, having experienced this firsthand, how important ADA compliance is in our stores, restaurants and hotels. Even public spaces such as the crosswalk on street curbs with a forgiving ADA grade (or any grade at all) made all the difference to me and the person pushing me in the wheelchair. And as construction and facilities folk, we understand at times certain properties may be “grandfathered in” in terms of being 100% ADA compliant — however, my limited experience with this encouraged me to research this some more. I found there are actually still spaces that were designed and constructed after the ADA was passed that suffer from numerous violations of the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. In particular, many hotels in New York City have concerns with their main entrance, registration counter and public restroom. There are also hotels that have hundreds of rooms without any one single room designed with accessibility for people with disabilities. Now I appreciate everything from the permitted handicap parking spaces, to being thrilled to see an automatic door or wheelchair access button to open a door, to the ADA bathrooms stalls that allow for a full wheelchair turn — offering grab bars, soap dispensers and wash basins installed at the appropriate height with clearance for a wheelchair to roll under it — all are critical for people with permanent or temporary disabilities. So the next time you run across an inspector that may appear ‘demanding’ with ADA requirements — just remember that space you’re building or remodeling may one day have a dear friend or elderly parent in a wheelchair visiting it.






Grace Daly is an industry leader in retail design, construction and facilities, as well as an avid career coach. She is currently the Executive Director of Construction & Facility Conferences for InterFace Conference Group.

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