What I’ve learned about Accessibility
It’s been one year since I moved from Ohio to the Valley of the Sun to join the brettapproved team. The intervening 12 months have been a tremendous learning experience. I’ve learned more about the importance of accessibility, running a lean start-up and myself than I could have imagined.
I have called Brett Heising, CEO of brettapproved, a friend for more than 20 years going back to our days of youthful exuberance at The Ohio State University. Given our history, I thought I knew him well. I did, but it wasn’t until I started working for brettapproved that I realized the degree to which accessibility is a daily challenge for him and so many people.
I’m fortunate to be able-bodied and before I started working for brettapproved, I took my body for granted. The truth is, if you’re not forced to think about accessibility you probably won’t. It’s not because we deliberately choose to ignore the obstacles other people overcome, it’s because as human beings we’re consumed with our own reality.
Working closely with Brett, I see obstacles everywhere that I never noticed before. There aren’t enough accessible parking spots at the grocery store. The ramp is blocked by a delivery truck. The credit card reader at the convenience store is nearly impossible to use from a seated position. The aisles between the tables at the restaurant are too narrow.
I could go on but lamenting the difficulties we face isn’t what we do at brettapproved. We celebrate what works. We know there are lots of places that don’t take accessibility as seriously as we wish they would. Conversely, there are business owners who make their establishments as accessible as possible. These are businesses we promote and encourage our community to support.
I’ve also learned that patience is not only a virtue, it’s a requirement. Travelers with physical disabilities or mobility challenges learn to expect the unexpected. It’s their reality. However, losing your cool when things aren’t going your way never improves the situation. Anyone who has waited until every passenger has gotten off an airplane before their chair makes it to the jetway, knows exactly what I’m talking about.
The final lesson I’d like to share with you is this: Brett always talks about examining life from a different perspective and that’s what I’ve been able to do throughout the last year. I was surprised to learn that Brett, who has spent almost his entire life in a chair, is more adventurous than I am.
I’ll never forget our trip to the Dominican Republic last April. As you might expect, many parts of the “DR” are “as accessible as a punch in the face” as Brett occasionally points out. During our trip, I was concerned and hesitant about trying different things that just weren’t accessible. Not Brett. He always pressed on.
His belief that “life is defined by experiences” is the reason he made four new friends who carried him up three flights of stairs so that we could catch a cable car to the top of the mountain overlooking Puerto Plata. I was mortified. Brett was beaming.
This spirit of adventure makes brettapproved what it is — a vibrant community of doers — but I can’t wait for the day when accessibility doesn’t require a sense of adventure. We have a long way to go but I know, with your help, we’ll get there.