How Lack of Accessibility Harms Local Businesses

By Sara Porcaro | Oct 5, 2021
Rhode Island, Disabilities, Inclusive, Workforce, Discrimination, ADA, Accessibility, Activism, Employment, NDEAM
CEO Diana Perkins with includesign staff

Last month, the late summer weather brought evening sunshine and a cozy warmth to the Steel Yard in Providence. The city bustled along late that day, cars turning towards the Providence Place Mall or continuing on for the very beginning of a Saturday night among still-open shops and restaurants. But to the left of the mall, tucked away on Sims Avenue, the industrial arts center's grounds were abuzz already--music, food trucks, and stands of small businesses stationed around huge pieces of welded artwork. At the entrance, logos of many local agencies surround the name of the event being hosted: Accessibility is Beautiful, an event hosted by Tina Guenette Pedersen, President and Founder of Real Access Motivates Progress (RAMP).
"Tina is such a resourceful person," says Skills for Rhode Island's Future Supported Employment Coordinator, Christina Battista. "With her connections and everyone's help, we were able to put this event on in two months, as well as have legislators join us to speak on this topic. We estimate well over four hundred people signed up for this, never mind walk-up attendees!"
It's an event that, especially in a time where our places of business and work have changed so dramatically, calls attention to the importance of accessibility--and how it can be overlooked, even with non-discrimination laws. When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed in 1990, it opened up a new era for disability rights, where discrimination against people with disabilities in the workforce, public transportation, government programs, and more became officially illegal. It marked a step towards inclusivity, signaling hope for people with disabilities across the country. However, change didn't happen with the ADA overnight--and where businesses may do what they can to avoid active discrimination per the ADA, the unfortunate truth is that, without efforts also being made to also make spaces accessible, the result is awfully similar: entire locations, services, and jobs become unavailable to people with disabilities.
"Our work didn't end with the ADA," Tina says. "So many businesses still aren't properly accessible to people with disabilities--and that means businesses in Rhode Island could be alienating up to fifty percent of our state's community if this isn't addressed by 2030."
And not only is that an issue for people looking to patronize local businesses; it's a problem for the businesses themselves, who lose out on countless customers and employees by not having proper accommodations in place. That's why Tina hosted her event: to raise awareness for not only the need for accessibility in businesses, but the benefits of creating spaces that accommodate all customers. In fact, in 2019, Tina worked with the Steel Yard--a industrial arts non-profit located in the historical Providence Steel and Iron (PSO) Complex--to help adapt the 1902 building to a more accessible. With the work the Steel Yard and Tina have done together to promote accessibility and inclusivity, it naturally became the perfect venue for local businesses and providers such as includesign, the Outsider Collective, RI APSE, Laura White Carpentry, Oakley Home Access, and more.
"The I/DD community is a population that's constantly overlooked," says includesign CEO Diana Perkins, who began her business as a senior capstone project at Brown University. "Our product, LapSnap, isn't a necessarily complicated design--but it is one that no one thought to create in order for customers in wheelchairs to have an easier time shopping."
This product, a collapsible, lap-sized shopping basket that can be secured behind a shopper's back, under their legs, or through the arms of the wheelchair, is one example of simple ways to increase accessibility in not only in stores, where using a shopping cart is often difficult for wheelchair users, but in everyday life--including around the home, for things like gardening. Diana, among other vendors at the event, were there not only to display the work done by individuals with disabilities in their community, including art and other handmade wares, but also to showcase the many services, products, and other tools available to increase everyday accessibility in one's life, and to promote that accessibility in businesses across the state. Several speakers, including Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Billy Kepner of Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos's office, and more, also came to show their support and commitment to seeing a more inclusive Rhode Island.
As we sail through October--which is also the National Disability Employment Awareness Month--it's a great time to reflect on the places in which we do business. Whether our favorite stores or our everyday workplaces, accessibility for customers, clients, and employees alike is a critical piece of making our society more inclusive to all, and we're grateful to activists and professionals like Tina and her team, who work hard every day to raise awareness for this important issue. Learn more about Tina and her work at RAMP at their website!


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