Traveling in the age of COVID-19, I am here to say friends, is possible to do so safely and responsibly! Last month, me and my circle of germs (aka my parents and two besties) embarked on our first vacay to the Marriott Timber Lodge. Our family has a longstanding history with the Timber Lodge, having begun our timeshare experience with the chain when my brother and I were kids. The familiar tranquil redwoods and beautiful serene lake provide a familiar comfort that allows for a mindful respite during these uncertain times. With a clear mind, I find myself contemplating on past vacations; with the recent ADA 30 celebration, one in particular came to mind. If you’ve visited the area lately, you may have taken a scenic gondola ride to Heavenly Valley. If you’ve been a frequent visitor, you may have noted some changes made to the area in the past couple decades; a beautiful children’s play area adorns one section of the area, all covered with a brightly colored rubber flooring. Various paved paths all lead to the entire section, providing a truly inclusive environment. But it wasn’t always like this.
A little over 15 years ago, my family and I decided to take the gondola trip all the way to the end. Like any good parent of a disabled child, my mama made sure when buying the tickets that the entire experience would be accessible (i.e. elevators, some semblance of a paved path etc.) the cashier was all too eager to look her in the eye and assure her all of the above.
All I can say is that the cashier was lucky to be absent when we made the return trip; Hell, hath no fury like a warrior mama scorned! Because, low and behold what was waiting for us at the end could in no way have passed at all for “accessible.” We knew as soon as the wide-eyed gondola attendants laid eyes on my wheelchair that we were fed a line. Not only was there no elevator in the vicinity, in order to get to the main area, supposedly accessible hiking paths, and the accompanying café one had to make it down 47 stairs (yes, we counted), but once we made it you had to make it across a small yet sizable trench, with one single piece of plywood meant to make the trek easier. The way to the café was no easier, rocky not to grade pathways with rampant stones littering the pathways. My thoughts turned to my active wheelchair using friends, who I know would jump at the chance to be one with nature. Suffice it to say, something had to change.
Fast forward a few months, we found ourselves in a courtroom alongside the Heavenly Valley owners hearing for presumably the first time, that blueprints that initially included an elevator, along with a number of other accessible accommodations, had been signed off on by the inspector…but clearly had not been implemented. The judge said he’d never seen a clearer violation of the ADA. We won the subsequent lawsuit, which while it was a win, was something I wished hadn’t been necessary. I cannot wait until we reach the day where universal design is the reality and not an afterthought. If you're interested, here is the link to the original article from the Sacramento Bee: https://reincleftonlaw.com/trouble-at-tahoe/
-Christine Burke, Ms. Wheelchair California 2020