The first sentence is embarrassing: I was shopping at Forever 21. Ok – I can qualify – I was shopping with MY DAUGHTER at Forever 21.
For the uninitiated, Forever 21 is a mass market clothing store founded in Los Angeles in 1984, now with over 600 locations in the United States and abroad. Its reputation was built on bringing runway fashion to the budget-conscious masses via Chinese factories, but in my house it is best known as the place for the greatest $2.90 t-shirt money can buy.
I typically prefer to order the T’s on-line, but by accident my daughter and I got sucked into an actual store last weekend. Mesmerized by the just-off-the-runways-of-Paris-via-Shaoxing fashion, we ended up at the dressing rooms where, this being a Saturday at the Santa Monica Promenade, there was a line. As we waited patiently for our turn I noticed that the massive go-back rack of unwanted clothes was parked immediately in front of the door of the largest dressing room – the one designated for disabled access. Much to my daughter’s embarrassment, the architect in me took over.
“Are you not using that dressing room?”, I asked the skinny-jean-clad store dressing-room sentry, waving my hands at the line of 10 people behind us waiting to try on clothes. “That room is reserved for people in wheelchairs” he informed me helpfully. At this point my daughter, sensing what was to come, tried to hide behind a cheetah-patterned polyester trench coat. “You are allowed to use that room for able-bodied people too, actually,” I pointed out. “Trust me – I’m an architect.”
Guess what? “Trust me – I’m an architect” is fun to say, but it gets you absolutely nowhere with the staff at Forever 21, nor anywhere else I have tried it. I will keep trying, though, because otherwise why bother with all that licensing?
Next I tried a logical line of reasoning: dressing rooms are like accessible toilet stalls – available to anyone to use if no one else is needing it at the time for a wheelchair. Nope. I tried pointing out that the store has essentially removed 20% of their changing rooms from general use, creating unnecessarily long lines that will discourage more sales! Nope. By then I was truly curious. “How many times have you had to move that rack away so a disabled person could access that dressing room?” I asked my new friend. “Um, never that I can think of.” Exactly!
And so to the ADA. The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990, with the purpose of prohibiting unjustified discrimination based on disability. It has been a positive part of creating a just society, allowing, among other things, people with physical disabilities to navigate through daily life without physical impediments. This is a good thing. To do this effectively our goal as architects is to create a world in which all people, abled or disabled, navigate together, not separately. As we learn (and re-learn every two years for required continuing education credits – but don’t get me started), accessible ramps to front entrances are to be located along the same entrance path as stairs, rather than tucked into a side door. Accessible tables at restaurant or chairs at a theater should be integrated within the overall seating plan. And toilet stalls (and dressing rooms!) provided for use by the disabled do not need to be singled out and locked up until the day that someone in a wheelchair shows up, making the long line of non-wheelchair users frustrated, angry, and likely to write venting blog-posts.
So, Forever 21, move that go-back rack, open up that dressing room, and let’s all navigate our $2.90 t-shirts purchasing as one. Thanks.
*photo cred: tsaiproject @ flickr