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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When Following the Chile Lindo Saga, Don't Forget How Important the ADA Is

Posted By on Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 8:29 AM

Lauren Smiley's coverage of Chile Lindo's closing in the face of an acrimonious lawsuit regarding wheelchair access makes me prickle in discomfort, torn between feeling for owner Paula Tejada and worrying that readers will excoriate the defendant, glossing over the importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act to restaurants and to diners with disabilities.

The discomfort is personal: Every week for nine years, Sunday afternoon meant tea and shopping with my friend Vincent, who was in a wheelchair. Vincent (who died in 2007) used to read my restaurant reviews in the East Bay Express and scold me if he hadn't spotted wheelchair-accessibility details in the information box ― something this story has reminded me I've grown lax about. On our weekly outings I learned about the intricacies of paratransit, the necessity of sidewalk curb cuts, and how ADA compliance is only the starting point for making a business accessible to people in wheelchairs.

It's one thing for restaurateurs to install the proper hand rails next to a toilet, and another thing to arrange the dining room so a person in a chair can maneuver between packed tables to get to the bathroom. Vincent, a spherical man who moved about in an extra-large electric chair, encountered this problem daily. He would grumble when our walks took us past supposedly ADA-compliant stores and cafes that he couldn't get into. Sometimes he'd fight his way into a cluttered market, polite but determined to wheel through it, just to make the proprieter realize some rearranging was needed. I'd have to follow behind, picking up everything his wheels had knocked over, mortified and proud at the same time.

I've been to Chile Lindo's takeout storefront, but I haven't been there in the company of anyone in a wheelchair, so I can't assess what shopping there would have been like for defendant Craig Yates. That the situation devolved into threats and animosity ― and ultimately, closed down a tiny operation ― is a shame. It may well be an abuse of the ADA. But before you and I get all outraged about predatory lawyers and victimized business owners, just know: There's probably more to this situation than able-bodied readers realize.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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