Accessibility Management: Why Do You Do What You Do?

Man seated in wheelchair fishing along the lake.

Last week while working on a new accessibility assessment project I had the unbelievable good fortune to make the acquaintance of Mr. Clarence Johnston of southern Ohio.  Mr. Johnston has a soft voice, beautiful smile and a passion for fishing.  From across the waterfront, he was mesmerizing.  Of course, from the photos here, many would think it was because he was fishing along the accessible waterfront area using an electric wheelchair.  But a closer look would give way to the symphony he conducted with the cast of his fishing rod.  Three poles in all were lined up as he awaited the faintest indication of the first nibble.

At the young at heart age of 75, Mr. Johnston says that fishing makes him feel good. No longer able to drive, he relies on public transportation to get to his favorite county park at least three times a week.  He insists he would be there everyday if he could.  He says of the days he is able to fish in the morning, his family finds him much easier to get along with in the afternoon.  I have been thinking fondly of this sweet man since the day we met.  And then it finally clicked….

Mr. Johnston represents the story of “Why?”

There’s an old saying that you can teach a man how to sail, but you cannot teach him why.  The why he must feel in his heart and soul.

We can all learn about the accessibility standards and how to make environments accessible.

But it is people like Mr. Johnston that help us to feel the why in our heart and soul.  Mr Johnston helps us to know that what we are doing is right, not because it is the law, but because it is the right thing to do.  Mr. Johnston affirms for us that accessibility and ADA compliance is about more than meeting minimum standards, it is about planning for inclusion where everyone has the equal opportunity to participate and benefit from the programs, services and activities we provide.

More than 10 years ago and well before accessibility standards for recreation facilities had been finalized, county recreation planners for this site made the principle-centered decision this waterfront park would be accessible.  They had their why.  They saw the redevelopment of this site as an opportunity to plan for inclusion and design an environment that would help people enjoy life and, in turn, help contribute to community wellness.

Accessibility Management is a tough job.  More often than not, there is still resistance and questions like “what is the least that we have to do to be ADA/504 compliant?”  We can all try to answer those questions with the how.  But what about the why?

Sailing.  Fishing.  Or ADA/504 compliance.  The how is easily learned.  The why requires a shift in paradigm.

Mr. Johnston has his why.

What about you?

Why do you do what you do?