Promoting Wheelchair Accessibility of Private Business Settings


Environmental barriers in a community restrict the access of people with disabilities. A review of literature suggested information about the importance of accessibility, feedback on accessibility changes, and incentives for change were the most successful strategies to make accessibility changes.

Purpose and Anticipated Benefits

Getting facility owners to make an appointment for free technical assistance regarding accessibility was the project goal, which ideally would result in more openness to making accessibility improvements.


Research and Training Center on Independent Living at the University of Kansas researchers Michael Jones, Neil Salkind, and C.F. Nelson worked with a center for independent living in Kansas City, Missouri, to survey 2,000 public settings (for instance, hotels or theaters) for accessibility.




Ninety percent had substantial barriers to accessibility. More than half (55%) were totally inaccessible. Barriers found were parking lots without reserved space (66.8%), curbs without ramps (32.5%), inaccessible bathrooms (31.7%), public telephone coin slots too high (89.5%), elevator car controls too high (79.6%), and no level floor in theaters (33.3%). Data suggested a person using a wheelchair can expect to encounter at least one, and typically more than one barrier when visiting a public use facility.

Of partially accessible settings, the researchers randomly selected hotels, restaurants, restaurants, bars, fast food restaurants, theater and stadiums, and recreational or cultural centers to promote accessibility. They then developed six strategy packages with a combination of information prompts (a brochure emphasizing accessibility benefits and information about accessibility issues), feedback (a form listing 31 architectural barriers that might be found in a setting), and incentives (a listing of positive consequences and rewards, such as media publicity and an improved accessibility rating in the projects accessibility directory). Packages were mailed in three waves, two weeks apart. All were addressed to "Manager."

Two weeks after each mailing, managers who did not return a response card were telephoned. If contacted, they were read a brief statement that had appeared in the cover letter. They were then asked whether they wanted to make an appointment to learn about accessibility. Of the 300 packages delivered, 15% expressed interest in accessibility. Follow-up contacts boosted the rate to 67.3%. Of those 47.4% said that they had read the package.


Results showed that the packages using combined strategies generated less interest, which suggested that details overwhelmed managers. Managers who did make appointments did so based on interest rather than persuasion. Those managers who said they did not want to make an appointment said either (a) they thought the facilities were already accessible, (b) they lacked authority to make an appointment, or (c) they thought modification would be too expensive.


While this study failed to demonstrate the effectiveness of one strategy, results showed that in person or telephone contacts may be best for promoting accessibility.


Direct contact ensures managers receive information about accessibility.


Nelson, C. F., Jones, M. L., & Salkind, N. S. (1986, January). Promoting wheelchair accessibility of private business settings: An analysis of the effects of information prompts, feedback, and incentives. Environment and Behavior 18(1), 132-145