We decided to start the date by meeting at Seoul Taco in downtown. From our memories, we remembered it to have wide spaces between tables and a nice, large space. Plus, Seoul Taco is a great bang for your buck.
The route we took from Brookside Downtown led us up to the Hitt Street entrance, where there were no problems to get in. However, as we turned the corner, we noticed the Broadway entrance (the main entrance) had a few larger steps leading up to the door – which was built into an awkward angle into the building – which would make it difficult for a wheelchair user to easily get in.
Once inside, Seoul greeted us with wide open spaces and hallways, but another couple of steps were right in front of where one would order food. I asked a worker if they knew if they had any sort of braille menus, and they didn’t. However, the soda fountains were on a countertop at the same height as the tables around it.
Around the corner, we found more doors leading out to a patio area right next to Gunter Hans. We were pleased to find a steady ramp leading up to these doors, which would bypass both sets of stairs for a wheelchair user. This entrance however, was hidden and I would have never found it if I didn’t know it was there.
Their only bathrooms were labeled for men and women. Each bathroom had two stalls; one large enough for a wheelchair user and each sported grab bars. However, it should be noted that they were gendered. The counters were fairly low, and the soap and paper towels were close to where the user would be standing or sitting.
In all, Seoul Taco seemed to be accommodating in the openness of the space, but lacked in a lot of other aspects. The bathrooms were gendered, there were steps barring almost every path to the food line, and the only entrance to bypass these steps was tucked away in an alleyway and hidden by an iron gate. Not to mention, they did not have any accommodations (that those workers knew of) for someone who may have a visual impairment.
For entertainment, we chose to watch a movie at Ragtag Cinema. Ragtag is located across the street from the restaurant we chose for dinner, Seoul Taco. It was important to us that the three locations we went to for our date were in close proximity. My date and I are movie buffs so we wanted to make sure that we arrived at Ragtag in time to see film trailers trailers and find good seats.
The theater is accessible for a date with a person with a disability in a variety of ways. During visits to Ragtag on other occasions, we’ve seen staff be willing to help make the film experience and environment accessible to and comfortable for individuals with disabilities. Employees at the theater said that to accommodate people with disabilities, staff will move free-standing chairs to make space for a wheelchair user to navigate the theater and find a seat or place to move their wheelchair. Staff sometimes need to ask other movie-goers to adjust their seating if they do not elect to move themselves. Based on our conversations and personal experience at Ragtag, responsibility is placed on the business, staff and other viewers to accommodate people with disabilities. It seems that Ragtag aims to avoid adding to accessibility limits.
Ragtag also offers hearing-assist devices for people who are hard of hearing or have partial to total hearing loss. The devices, made up of a radio and headset, transmit at a different audio frequency. There is visible, well-placed signage in the theater communicating that the devices are available.
In terms of the building space itself, the theater has two accessible gender-neutral bathrooms with door handles at an appropriate height. These are located inside the theater area. These bathrooms have grab bars to carry body weight, a low countertop, soap and paper towels in close reach and an approximately three-foot-tall trash can in a corner. Bathroom countertops seemed to be placed at an appropriate height. We tested the height by standing next to the counter to compare to height of our hips. There are two large doorways that open out to Hitt Street. To access the theaters, there is a mostly clear aisle through seating and tables that can accommodate a wheelchair user. To enter the theaters, there is a large entryway that is closed with a heavy black curtain which hangs almost to the floor. The curtain may prevent easy movement and balance. Floors in the building are flat and level and are made of hardwood, carpet and concrete.
While Ragtag is a business that has prioritized some ways to accommodate people with disabilities, some areas are still lacking in accessibility. For example, it did not appear that Ragtag offers other forms of assistive devices for people who are legally blind or have low or limited vision. The bathrooms outside of the theater area are labeled for men and women. The women’s bathroom has two stalls that do not allow room for a wheelchair. The soap and sink dispenser are placed where it could be difficult for a wheelchair user to reach. The men’s bathroom is a single room with more space that could allow for a wheelchair, but again, these bathrooms are gendered.
The Big Theater in Ragtag has a flat, level carpeted entryway with rails but has large, wide steps leading into the back of the room and majority of the available seating. For a wheelchair user, the only option for accessible seating would be to sit at the sides of the screen or at the front of the room if larger couches were moved. The Willy Wilson Theater is smaller, has tight aisles and rows with only free-standing seating and larger couches so options for wheelchair users and people with other physical disabilities are limited to the left side of the room._________________________________________________________________________________
For the final component of our date, we chose to go back to the wheelchair user’s apartment at Brookside Downtown. We really hit it off during dinner and the movie, so we thought some private time was appropriate.
Upon arriving, we entered the building and went to the elevator. I noticed that there was an oddly placed trash can on the wall. It was elevated and there was about 2-3 feet between the bottom of the trash can and the floor. A wheelchair user would not be able to dispose of their trash in this container. The elevator was spacious, had braille on the floor numbers, and there was a ding when you arrived at your floor.
We went to the leasing office to see if we could ask about accessibility. Conveniently, there was a model room that we could look at so we were able to get a good idea of how someone living at Brookside would be accommodated. The walkways in the unit were plenty wide for a wheelchair user.
When we walked into the kitchen, we noticed a few positive and negative aspects of the setup. Fortunately, the counters were low enough for a wheelchair user to reach. If they wanted to move from their chair to a barstool, those were low enough as well. The walkway between the island and the stove was plenty wide. However, most of the cabinetry was too high for a wheelchair user to reach. The microwave was at the same height too which was problematic. It could be uncomfortable for a wheelchair user to ask their date to microwave something for them because they couldn’t reach it in their own home. Also, the refrigerator and freezer were on top of one another. It would be more accessible if they were side by side.
If the couple decided to take their date to the bedroom, there were also positive and negative aspects in there. The bed was fairly low to the ground, so it would be relatively easy to access. The closet only had one rack to hang things and it was pretty high up. The shelving units in the closet would also be inaccessible for a wheelchair user. The counter in the bathroom was an appropriate height; however, there wasn’t much floor space for a wheelchair to maneuver. It seemed that in every location we went to, there were pros and cons in terms of accessibility._________________________________________________________________________________
During the date, we noticed common problems as we traveled from each location in downtown Columbia. Sidewalks had curb ramps at crosswalks and outside of parking lots, but broken pavement and debris created unlevel surfaces in the crosswalk and curb area. On Hitt Street, we noticed a decline slant in the sidewalk and general incline in the path from Elm Street to Broadway. The sidewalks on Hitt and Elm near Ragtag and on our way to the apartment had large cracks, broken pavement, and bumps and lips between sections of the sidewalk. This would make it difficult to safely move with a wheelchair, walker, cane, crutches and other devices for people with physical disabilities. Generally, sidewalks on the route were also narrow, so any obstacle (large construction site signs, parked bikes, benches or outdoor seating) makes it inaccessible for a wheelchair user to pass. There was also construction blocking crosswalks on Locust Street that would prevent travel for people with disabilities. For people who are legally blind, have low or limited vision or are hard of hearing or deaf, many crosswalks did not have audible or detectable warnings to communicate whether to stop or cross. Overall, we found the sidewalks in downtown to be inaccessible. Wheelchair users, as well as other people with disabilities, would have a hard time navigating narrow sidewalks that are cracked and uneven.