Life with Disabilities: Discrimination with Caregivers

Most people can go about their day without worrying about physical barriers. A small step in front of their favorite restaurant, a bathroom at any gas station along the road, beautiful rugged trails in parks and beaches, and doors that just work for them in every building and every house. I am not most people. Being married to a wonderful, loving woman who happens to have a spinal cord injury, I also have pay attention to small steps and bumps everywhere that stop a wheelchair at its tracks, doorways too narrow to fit through, bathrooms not wide enough or with no unisex stalls, and an endless parade of barriers and obstacles that were grandfathered in with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I would love to say that I am used to it by now, but the truth is, I’m not. Some obstacles are sometimes shameful — like having a separate “accessible” entrance, reminiscent of the segregated black and white entrances of the past — while others are enraging, like being charged extra fees for the misfortune of being disabled.

One such enraging incident was coming to the MVP Athletic Club at Rockford, MI to inquire about memberships. Not only was there very minimal equipment that someone in a wheelchair can use, but we would also have to pay extra for my wife’s caregiver. Her caregiver would not be using any of the equipment or facilities. She would be there to assist my wife with her physical and medical needs, such as transfers and changing. Without a caregiver, she would not even be able to join a gym. So in a way, bringing a caregiver was no different than bringing her wheelchair — it simply was required due to her medical condition. So, for MVP to want to charge a full fee for a caregiver was akin to charging for a wheelchair, a service animal, or a similar assistive device. Not only was this discrimination, but also, likely, an ADA violation.

A couple of days ago we had a similar enraging experience at Meijer Gardens. We e-mailed ahead of time to ask whether caregivers would be charged, and were told they wouldn’t be. We were glad to hear that answer. However, when we got there, the admissions clerk told us that was only the case for “charitable groups,” whatever that means. So we had to pay for the caregiver. We followed up with Meijer Gardens by e-mail and were told the fee exception was only for memberships, not general admissions, which fell under a different manager. O, how nice, I thought to my self! They were willing to be reasonable with membership fees, but would discriminate on the basis of physical disabilities when it came to general admissions.

The stories go on an on — at the John Ball Zoo, Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park, Fifth Third Ball Park, etc. Not only is it hard enough and a financial strain to have a disability, but companies and organizations like these have to make it even harder by charging for medically-necessary caregivers. Shame on them.

To all readers — I invite you to ask these companies and organizations to change their policies, and to ask our elected officials to pass legislation making this type of discrimination illegal.

About Gabriel Mongefranco

Gabriel Mongefranco is your software developer for all things data: extraction, integration, analytics and security. He is also a blogger, a poet, a proud daddy and a faithful Christian. He is always eager to contract with faith-based nonprofits! Learn more.