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How to maximize accessibility when dining out with a disability

My column has been missing the last couple of weeks because I was injured in a fall as a result of having Meniere's disease, an inner ear disorder that causes, among other issues, hearing loss, loss of balance, and extreme dizziness.

Between the loss of balance, the injuries from the recent fall and previous injuries from a crash with a drunken driver, I have been forced to use my wheelchair more and more, and can no longer walk about without the use of at least a cane.

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Meniere's disease is one of the many disorders covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Title III of the ADA, which was passed in 1990, states that "businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities, and doctors' offices" must comply with ADA accessibility requirements. This means that restaurants have to be accessible to folks who use wheelchairs, walkers and canes.

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Historic buildings must comply with such standards to the maximum extent possible. We have many lovely restaurants in the Reisterstown, Owings Mills, and Glyndon area that are in historic buildings some of which are well over a hundred or two hundred years old. Personally, I love these historic old buildings, but they do prove to be a challenge for folks such as myself who need a wheelchair, cane or walker.

This challenge got me thinking, because I am not the only one here in our community who needs aids for mobility. This week I thought I'd write about how to best handle dining out with someone who is in a wheelchair or needs to use a walker or other device to assist their mobility.

As always, my motto in life is "Prior Planning Prevents Problems."

Here are the things I have learned in the past few weeks while needing to be in a wheelchair.

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It is best to call first and ask questions, like is the entrance for wheelchairs different than the main entrance? Ask if there is a less crowded time to enjoy the restaurant than during peak times. Trust me, nothing is worse for a person in a wheelchair than being maneuvered through a crowded restaurant during its busiest time by patrons or the wait staff, or other diners pushing them. If possible, plan to enjoy the restaurant at a non-peak time.

Let the maître d' or hostess know you will be dining with someone in a wheelchair. This allows them to plan ahead as well, especially if you will be dining with a large group. Ask the person you are speaking with if it will be easier for the staff to maneuver around if the handicapped person transfers from the wheelchair to one of their normal dining chairs. Wheelchairs tend to be larger than normal chairs, with wheels and handles that stick out. If a restaurant is crowded and have their tables and chairs configured closer together, transferring from the wheelchair will aid the wait staff when trying to move around with heavy trays of food.

In the event that you are dining with someone who has hearing challenges, please make sure the servers know that, as well — there is nothing more frustrating for someone having a difficult time hearing than to be in noisy restaurant straining to hear what the server is asking. The same applies if someone as an eyesight deficit.

Remember: Planning ahead will prevent a number of problems for a person with a handicap.

Terry Chaney is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached via email at

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