Burke’s extreme case should be a wakeup call to architects, business owners and lawmakers shaping the design of public amenities.

Often, when we think of “accessible design,” we think of people in wheelchairs, hearing aids or dark glasses for the blind.

But this lack of nuance—even in the illustrations of ADA manuals—limits the designer’s imagination. The American Disabilities Act definition of disability is broad—”as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities”—and it does not specify any single impairment.

Not representative?
Not representative?
Image: U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Disability Rights Section

“I have a very visible physical disability, but there are thousands in the population who have an invisible disability,” notes Burke. The US Survey of Income and Program Participation Statistics, shows that 74% of Americans with severe disabilities are not in wheelchairs.

Burke argues that companies who address only the bare requirements of ADA regulations are missing out on a significant segment of their customers. About 15% of the world’s population—about a billion people—have some form of disability, according to World Bank data. Burke explains that the disabled’s friends and families are more likely to visit establishments that make everyone in the group feel comfortable.

Better accommodations don’t need to be drastic or expensive. Speaking to Quartz from a cafe in Dublin, Burke says she frequents Accents Coffee and Tea Lounge not for the coffee, but because of their chairs. “Not only do they have chairs and sofas but they have bean bags,” says Burke. “If my legs aren’t supported, they just dangle and I get pins and needles and I get this numbness. Usually, I sit on the floor but that’s not very comfortable.”

‘There are so many aspects to the design of these different facilities,” says Burke. “I think those with the most power and influence have a responsibility to instigate the conversations in their offices to ask, ‘What can we do?'”

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