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Historical buildings have a hidden feature: indifference to disabilities

It is 2020 and still, it can be hard to find compassion and equality for people with disabilities.

This is specifically the case in historical neighborhoods where properties aren’t up to date or accessible to everyone.

Emma Suzanne Lewis Brown is the owner of Cousin Emma’s Bed and Breakfast in Mount Airy, North Carolina.

She’s been applying for a paved, half-circle driveway due to injuries she’s suffered since she’s bought the bed and breakfast.

The Mount Airy Historical Preservation Board denied her request.

The first denial by this committee happened in April of 2016.

In 2015, Brown retired and bought the Bed and Breakfast, fulfilling a dream she had had for a long time. In the process of restoring the house, Brown suffered injuries to both knees and later had to get knee replacement surgeries for both of them.

In the past three years, Brown has undergone five surgeries. Her mobility is now limited so she uses a cane to walk around.

Currently, Brown has to walk on an uneven muddy path when getting in and out of her car. This is inconvenient and especially dangerous for someone with a permanent disability.

Emma Suzanne Lewis Brown has continued her business, undeterred by The Mount Airy Historical Preservation Board denying her request to make the home more accessible. She has continued working hard, and by doing so has maintained the sanitation inspection grade of 100% at her property.

Brown has gotten estimates from three local contractors and is able to afford the construction costs for the renovations. She isn’t worried about the money, she’s worried that her business will be inaccessible to her and any customers who might also have disabilities.

There is now a petition that has been created by David Roberts, a good friend of Suzanne Brown. I urge anyone who wants to make a positive change to sign this.

An article in STRUCTURE magazine about the Americans with Disabilities Act Guidelines (ADAG), explains that asking for an even paved way to the house shouldn’t have been denied.

“The ADAG requires that all stories and mezzanines be connected by an accessible route. However, under §206.2.3 Exception 7, historic properties are only required to have an accessible route on the level of the accessible entrance.”

According to the history of the National Park Superintendents, the objective of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other regulators is to remove any form of barriers that deny access to people with disabilities.

Emma Suzanne Lewis Brown has made it clear to The Mount Airy Historical Preservation Board that this is her goal. She has also gone ahead and found contractors to do the job. She’s ready for this appeal to be approved.

This case is not an isolated issue. And people with disabilities even outside of businesses, on public property, are not given fair treatment.

Many Universities around the United States have faced issues regarding historical buildings and their lack of accessibility.

Miami University in Oxford, Ohio is an example of a governing body doing right by its people. In 2013 the University changed the entrances of buildings so that they either had ramps or were at the surface level, allowing easy access into the buildings.

This was a win-win situation, Miami University can now say they have an accessible campus, and students with disabilities feel wanted and seen.

I don’t understand why The Mount Airy Historical Preservation Board wants the reputation of denying accessibility to tourists who want to stay at Suzanne’s Bed and Breakfast.

Many Universities find ways to make discreet changes to structures so that the overall well-known historical buildings look almost the same as they did before the changes. Often times this means the add-ons are behind the building.

If elevators can’t be added into a historical building, campuses will change classroom locations to give the students a mind of ease.

Limitations should not stop people from experiencing life. As a society, we need to build each other up by giving endless opportunities for everyone.

Historical buildings are important, preservation is important. But so is being able to share their significant and robust histories with people who wouldn’t be able to if they were not made accessible to everyone.