Sunday, January 5, 2003

Alive & Well

Disabled appreciate courtesy more than ramps and elevators


Inclusion doesn't have to cost money. Neither do public accommodations to people with disabilities.

Sure, ramps offering alternatives to stairs, rest rooms with wider doors and grab bars, tourist information in Braille or visual interpretations of sound are all fabulous enhancements that appeal to people with or without disabilities.

But sometimes, such conventional accommodations aren't possible. And amenities that cost virtually nothing can serve just as well.

Bonnie Fair of Symmes Township says that she recognized the value of maintaining the historic integrity of the Golden Lamb restaurant and inn in Lebanon. She didn't mind so much that the restaurant's gift shop was out of bounds for her due to one unmanageable flight of stairs. What she did mind, however, was the treatment that she and her friends from a multiple sclerosis support group encountered during their holiday luncheon.

For the past year, a group of 20-25 women who met through the MS society have gathered once a month at area restaurants to share a meal and the easy acceptance and understanding that comes from shared experience of the disease.

"If you can't come one month because of the fatigue," she says, "you know there's no need to explain. Everyone understands."

Although many members of the group use support canes or walkers, one new friend depends on a motorized scooter. When her friend arrived at the Lamb's front door, the dilemma of the two steps there was clear to everyone. A staff member unlocked another door that would bring her directly (on a flat surface) into the dining room.

Ms. Fair's disappointment was not with the steps. The accommodation that was missing, she says, was an attitude of acceptance and compassion.

"There was a guy in a pink shirt who just looked so disgusted and annoyed by the scooter," Ms. Fair says.

"Then he was annoyed with all of us (for not getting to our table fast enough) and for holding the dining room door open too long," when the friend with the scooter was ready to leave.

"Some of us are embarrassed enough that we have to use such mobility aids," Ms. Fair says. "We shouldn't have to be treated with condescension and arrogance, too."

Paul Resetar, managing partner at the Golden Lamb, remembers the incident. He says that he was throwing some negative nonverbal communication toward the group - but that Ms. Fair misinterpreted the cause.

His problem, he says, was with the organizer of the group, who insisted on having all members of her party sit down immediately, rather than wait until all had arrived.

"She was being selfish," he says, "because they were sat at a table of 10 and a table of 12, when there were only 14 or 15 of them."

"We deal with handicapped people all the time because a lot of our clientele is older," Mr. Resetar says.

Before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1994, Ms. Fair worked as an administrator in Christ Hospital's cardiology unit. "When you're serving people," she says from that experience, "you should do whatever it takes to make them happy."

The group has eaten at a number of area restaurants, and generally Ms. Fair says, staff are warm, friendly, accommodating.

Sometimes "accommodating" might simply mean smiling and not hurrying someone who takes a little longer to arrive at the table.

Customers with disabilities are just that: customers.

It isn't ramps and elevators that bring people back to a business. It's service. And hospitality.

Contact Deborah Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail:

25 forces that will shape culture in 2003
1. The big economic squeeze
2. Clear Channel's dominance
3. Suburbanites: Will they roam?
4. The plea for racial healing
5. The media's message
6. A whole new ball game
7. Edgy art center opening
8. Tall Stacks rolls back
9. Will tourists go home happy?
10. How Fine Arts Fund carries clout
11. You can't fight City Hall
12. Laura Long: Downtown force
13. The CSO's growing empire
14. Rosenthals' big impact
15. Northern Kentucky development
16. Museum Center's main man
17. Lobbyist Weiland
18. UC at crossroads
19. The Nederlanders make a comeback
20. MidPoint: Rebuild the city on rock 'n' roll
21. The Schuster Center alternative
22. Another public art project goes to bat
23. The brain drain
24. Local film community gains focus
25. Dancing around visa problems
The wild card of 2003: War
2003 dates to keep in mind

DEMALINE: The arts
KENDRICK: Alive & Well
Get to it!