Why accessibility is good for business (according to my mechanic)

Editor’s note: Today we bring you a post from Nicolas Steenhout, originally published on Simply Accessible’s website January 26, 2016. As that website is no longer available, we’ve gotten permission from Nic to republish it here.

I was lucky to find my mechanic, Pete. He was reliable, affordable, and—maybe his most unique characteristic—honest. When Pete told me my ’85 Ford Mustang hatchback needed a new radiator, I knew he wasn’t up-selling me or jerking me around. He got the work done quickly and he got it done well. What’s more, he didn’t hunt for issues to fix above and beyond what he quoted me. Pete was a gem.

There was only one problem.

A single, 6 inch step that stood between my wheelchair and Pete’s office. Most people wouldn’t even notice, but it was enough of a hindrance that I couldn’t get into the garage.

Each time I needed to have work done on my car, I’d have to call ahead and make sure Pete or one of his employees could meet me in the yard to discuss the issues with my car, get the keys, or arrange payment. (This was in Illinois in the mid-1990’s—long before cellphones were popular.) Most times, it worked out okay, but I vividly remember two occasions where it didn’t.

Once, in spite of calling ahead, I waited 20 minutes in Pete’s yard, right on the asphalt, with no shade overhead, 100ºF (38ºC) heat, and full Chicago humidity. The second time was the opposite extreme: same spot, middle of winter, -10ºF (-23ºC), and windy. I was, quite literally, left out in the cold. I waited so long I thought my nose was going to fall off.

The experience wasn’t just unpleasant and inconvenient—it was downright dangerous. It was time to talk to Pete.

“Pete, you’d do yourself and people with disabilities a great service if you put in a ramp into your office,” I said.

“Why should I?” he shrugged. “You’re the only disabled customer I have.”

I looked him straight in the eye. “And why do you think that is, Pete?”

That’s when the penny dropped. Pete’s universe shifted right in front of my eyes.

A few weeks later, Pete invested a couple hundred dollars in materials and put in a ramp. Of course I went and tested it out. It was great. I was able to get in his office for the first time, and it was even easy to get in. We chatted a bit while his guys changed the oil in my Mustang. I sent at least a dozen wheelchair users his way. Everyone needs a good mechanic.