Doable: Party's often over before it starts for disabled people

Published in the Asbury Park Press 12/29/04

Do your New Year's Eve plans include a restaurant or nightclub?

Before making reservations, did you investigate whether you'll be able to get in the door? Did you ask about the height of the tables, or whether the restrooms are usable?

For some area residents, choosing a suitable spot to celebrate the new year or any other event involves checking out more than the menu, party hats and noisemakers. Carolyn Schwebel and friends, who use wheelchairs, walkers and scooters, sometimes find barriers blocking them from joining the fun.

Even an occasional lunch or dinner outing can be frustrating. Until recently, Schwebel, a Middletown resident, enjoyed visiting a Monmouth County restaurant. "We love the food, and all summer we ate once a week at the sidewalk tables," she said.

But after returning this fall, "we found the outside tables were gone and the high tables inside were much too high for me.

"And the stools are unusable," too high, and she can't balance. "I called the owner to ask her nicely to replace one table with a lower table and chairs so that people with disabilities, older people and children could be seated instead of excluded," said Schwebel, a co-chair of Equalizers, an area disability advocates group. "She refused."

Of course, a hump in the entry floor would stop many wheelchair users at the door anyway, she said.

Inaccessible restrooms can present the greatest challenge.

"One of the worst problems for me and my friends is the lack of grab bars in bathrooms and the very low toilets -- instead of the required 17- to-19-inch ones, even in some renovated places," Schwebel said. "This can mean that I cannot eat at that place."

Equalizers co-chair Carmena Caivano-Stoney of Aberdeen suggested that towns that grant certificates of occupancy to inaccessible buildings be held responsible for the violations. "If that were the case, maybe these places would not open in the first place," she said.

Some restaurant and bar owners don't even realize they are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, Schwebel added.

The owners also may be unaware they are discouraging potential patrons, not only those with disabilities but also the friends and family members who would accompany them.

Linda Walls is a parent and grandparent of people with disabilities. Her column appears in the Accent on Food section. Write to her at the Asbury Park Press, 3601 Highway 66, Neptune, NJ 07754, or e-mail