CAN FREMONT FOLLOW THE BLUE PATH?
by Kirby Lindsay
Imagine 54 million customers across the U.S., and 826,000 of them live in Washington State. Nationally, these people control 220 billion dollars in discretionary income -about $4,500 per person – and they would spend them in Fremont, at our shops, restaurants, galleries and events if only they knew they could get through doorways here.
Sara Woody and Don Brandon gave these figures based on Department of Labor and Census information about people who self-report that they live with some form of physical disability. Brandon and Woody want to let people with disabilities know about businesses, in Fremont and elsewhere, that they can access. According to them, these customers currently spend their money, those billions of dollars, in big box stores and chain restaurants where they already know what access to expect.
From Pleasant Surprise to Expectation
BluePath, a web-based, non-profit, non-governmental program, offers the names, locations and access information on businesses that qualify as ADA accessible. Woody, coordinator for the site, described it as a CitySearch-type site and their logo calls BluePath a “directory of businesses committed to accessibility. Woody calls Brandon, who works as director of the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC) for this region, her boss and the idea-guy behind BluePath.
Adopted nearly twenty years ago, Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) standards changed access for people in wheelchairs, with walkers, sight-impaired or hearing-impaired. Brandon explained, “prior to passage of ADA, [businesses were] rewarded for accessibility, after passage, the disposition towards accessibility changed.”
A combination of events over a long time inspired Brandon to want to solve what he calls “a systemic problem,” yet he can narrow the story down. At DBTAC, he dispenses information on how to make our world more accessible. One day he found himself riding, with his expertise in access standards, along on a drive with a lawyer who wanted to find places she could sue over a lack of access. “I felt awkward about the way my information was being used,” he admitted, and by the end of the day he felt dirty. This experience, and others, left him chewing on the problem, and asking, ‘what if businesses had a little bit of information? What if we started trusting businesses to do the right thing?’
To Get On the Path
BluePath provides business owners with information on accessibility, and offers free membership to those who qualify. Many businesses already do, but have never thought to market and promote themselves in this way. People with disabilities – or their friends and family – can access BluePath listings, for free, to find new places to shop, eat, explore and experience. “A one inch lip,” in a doorway, “can be Mt. Everest to someone in a motorized wheelchair,” Woody noted, “people really just don’t know.”
Some businesses, especially those in Fremont that occupy funky, historic buildings, may need to make small changes – or schedule big ones over the next year. BluePath features a simple checklist of 25 yes/no questions on the facility and customer service to qualify a business as ‘accessible.’ Changes may be structurally and/or financially infeasible but “we could find an option,” Woody advised, “at least if they do [the checklist] we’ll know.”
“We want to market the [businesses] that are,” accessible, Woody admitted, and for those who aren’t, “we don’t want to punish them.” If small businesses can be made accessible, “it opens the world,” Woody stated. She can also, in some cases, visit a business – as she agreed to do for Fremont Brewing Company – to suggest options for now, and larger projects that could create access in the future.
To put your Fremont business on the map, visit the web site at www.blue-path.com or call 1-800-949-4232, and review the checklist. Roughly 90% of all customers can enter Fremont businesses, but the number of people who need easy access are “increasing exponentially,” Brandon advised, “as people live longer, more people live with disabilities.” Maybe it’s time to invite them here?
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.