By Michael Booth
Denver Post Staff Writer
Oct. 26, 2000 - Dillard's, Lord & Taylor and Foley's all have signs on the outer doors of their metro area department stores welcoming the disabled and vowing to make a wheelchair customer's shopping experience an enjoyable one.
Representatives of the disabled community have some advice on how it can be more enjoyable: Make those outer doors easier to open.
While those national chain department stores appear to be complying with the minimum letter of the law on disabled access, other chains in the metro area go further to accommodate the handicapped with automatic door openers and wider store aisles.
Dillard's, Lord & Taylor and Foley's each have at least one mall store in the Denver area without any automatic doors opening to the outside, an accommodation that disabled advocates say is key not only to their convenience but to that of parents with strollers and to elderly pedestrians.
"If I was the owner of that store, I'd want to look at how to better serve all of my customers," said Joe Ehman, director of Denver's ADAPT activist group for disabled accommodations.
Officials at the department store chains said their stores comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by using outside doors that require only 5 pounds of applied force to open; automatic door openers are not required in the act.
But their neighbors in the malls are doing far more. Nordstrom has sensor-controlled doors or automatic opening buttons at all of the outside entrances to its stores at Park Meadows and FlatIron Crossing. (Nordstrom also won praise from Ehman in a previous column assessing the width of clothing aisles inside the stores.) JC Penney, Ward's and Mervyn's each have them on at least one set of doors at Westminster Mall, while the Foley's there does not.
The reluctant companies' own practices vary widely with geography: Dillard's has door openers on multiple entrances at Westminster, but none at Park Meadows or FlatIron; Lord & Taylor has a door opener at Park Meadows, but not at its newer store at FlatIron.
Dillard's, in fact, issues ADA guidelines to its stores telling managers that none of the outside doors need to comply even with the 5-pound-pull standard, saying the interior entrance to Dillard's from a mall is good enough. At Park Meadows and other sprawling malls, of course, that can mean a long trek around the exterior of a mall to find a door you can open, and then a long trek inside back to Dillard's.
"We're only obligated to have one entrance that qualifies," said Dillard's general counsel Paul Schroeder in Arkansas. Told that every other department store at Park Meadows, for example, has automatic doors on the outside, Schroeder said, "That's their decision."
Ehman said that the ADA minimum still would leave considerable obstacles for shoppers like his own boss, who is quadriplegic, or for people with severe arthritis, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy affecting the muscles needed to open a door. Dillard's at Park Meadows has handicapped parking right outside the doors, he said, but some shoppers might park, get their wheelchair or walker out, move to the door and find they can't open it.
"There's no logic there," he said.
Park Meadows worked to respond to complaints from the disabled community about parking and access issues when it opened a few years ago, and mall management required that all of its tenants meet at least the minimum ADA standards, said manager Pam Shanks.
"Any additional items would be up to them," she said.
For the record, the additional items in the form of door openers cost $2,100, installed, according to Ron Davis of Door Specialties. Order more than one, and he'll offer a volume discount.
Michael Booth's columns appear here Tuesdays and Thursdays, and in Lifestyles on Sundays. Contact him at 303-820-1686 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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