A is for Zebra– wheelchair accessible if you can pick a lock or use the stairs.

This is why I don’t go out much. This sort of thing happens pretty much every time I try to access my community. It isn’t so much the lack of access, but the absolute hostile indifference to my attempts.  I don’t take it personally, because it’s obviously common policy and has nothing to do with me. It has to do with dis-ability and common attitudes against inclusion. But it does upset me and it does wear me down.

I wanted to go to the LACMA exhibit, A is for Zebra, http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/zebra , because I’m working with art and text, and that’s what THIS exhibit is about. (Actually, it’s a great example of how NOT to use text with art, but I’m not writing THAT article. I’m writing how a structurally accessible venue locks out –as in, with a key– people with dis-abilities.)  I found out about the event on LACMA’s web page.  http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/zebra . This exhibit  is in at an off site LACMA gallery,  in an elementary school. The information on the web site clearly says: “The gallery is open to the public weekdays 2:30–6 pm. The gallery is closed December 19, 2011–January 9, 2012, January 16, and February 20.”





Then I went to :  http://www.lacma.org/visit/plan-your-visit to check out dis-ability access, where it explicitly states:

“Visitors with Disabilities LACMA offers wheelchairs and assisted-listening devices for use during your visit. There is no additional charge; photo identification is required. Guests requiring assistance should plan to arrive curbside along Wilshire Boulevard in front of Urban Light, at the intersection of Ogden Drive and Wilshire, or at the intersection of Spaulding Avenue and Wilshire. Proceed to the Welcome Centers for assistance. For wheelchair access to the plaza and galleries at the eastern half of the museum’s campus, elevators are located to the right, immediately inside the entrance at Spaulding Avenue and Wilshire.”

Well, OBVIOUSLY, that’s about the actual museum, and not the off site exhibit, but nowhere on the LACMA page does it say the off site event  is NOT accessible. and it clearly says it’s open to the public.





BUT just in case, I called the school. I didn’t get the name of the person I spoke with, but she was very friendly and informative with an authoritative voice that gave me confidence in the information she relayed to me: yes, the gallery IS accessible, and there is parking off of Corondolet, around the corner from the actual address of the school. (that parking could be validated).  I asked again, if it was accessible and she assured me that it was. No other instructions.

GUESS WHAT!!!! (it’s not accessible.)

After walking past the unstaffed (but wide open) school office, and through a playground with both supervised and unsupervised students, through a maze of ramps and steps, having asked directions from a variety of children (there was no staff at all within our range of conversation), we arrived at a staircase and an elevator. The staircase descended onto a patio, around a corner to the gallery. The elevator would have provided access, except it was LOCKED. There was no signage, no instructions, no buttons, no bells,  no personnel within sight or voice range (even if I had yelled!)  –See photos below.  Luckily I wasn’t alone, and luckily I had  my walker and not my scooter, which is considerably heavier,  so my friend, another artist/photographer, and I managed to get me and my walker down the stairs to the gallery doorway, which was totally blocked to wheelchairs and walkers, by student book bags that were piled in front of the door way. (In case access isn’t an issue, a fire hazard maybe?)

At this point  I should mention that the gallery is located on the corner of Parkview and Wilshire, and there’s actually a ramped entrance RIGHT THERE, but it’s LOCKED. To access the gallery, the public HAS to go around the block, and go through the school and 2 playground areas. — so despite two means of structural access— the elevator and the gate, the gallery was NOT accessible because both structural means of access were LOCKED, preventing dis-ability access. (It should also be noted, that a direct entrance to the exhibit makes much more sense in regard to student security, than an entrance through the school and the playground, where any adult can simply walk in and have total access to the students, who,  after school have very minimal supervision.)


A man came out and asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was taking pictures in accordance with LACMA’s photography policy (no flash or tripods. There were no children within the range of my camera, either, by the way!).  He insisted the exhibit was closed to the public, and informed me that he worked for the district and was evaluating the after school program. (At no point did he tell me to leave, not to take pictures nor did he ever call security!) I informed him that the exhibit was in fact open to the public, was on the LACMA web page,  and was supposed to be wheelchair accessible, and that I had also called the school office which had confirmed all of that information.  In his lack of information he continued to insist it was not open to the public. At that point he ran to get a LACMA employee, a young woman, wearing a LACMA apron, who approached me and told me she provided customer service. She went on to tell me that a person needing wheelchair access was supposed to go to the main office, and that the custodian had a key. (So a person in a wheelchair or a walker, is supposed to make their way around the school, know to ask for a key, know if they get to the locked elevator, to get a custodian, who could be anywhere on campus.)  This young woman explained that they rent the space from the school and access isn’t LACMA’S responsibility.  She also added that the street entrance was locked at the insistence of the school. She seemed very sure of herself that LACMA bore no responsibility for access to the exhibit, and especially empowered to make sure I knew that. At no point did she offer to help me nor did she show any concern for the issue in general, the lack of information or my particular experience. Then she told me she wasn’t the person I was supposed to speak with. I then asked her why she had approached me. A young man joined in with the same trope. He then told me to stop “bickering” with him in front of the children. (There was no concern about what would happen if a child in a wheelchair attempted to access the exhibit and had been subjected to the same obstacles and the same hostile indifference. This is, after all, a public school and an exhibit open to the public. A point I did make!)  I told him again, that HE had approached ME, and if he didn’t want to talk to me,  to stop talking to me. He continued to talk at me, explaining how it wasn’t LACMA’s responsibility to make the exhibit accessible. I told him if he didn’t want to talk to me, he should stop talking to me.

I attempted to call LACMA while the man who was upset with me for talking to him, continued to talk at me and about me, in front of the children.  No one answered at LACMA, and I attempted to enjoy the exhibit, but I was upset and distraught at the frustration and indignity, as well as the repeated abuse of my personal space by personnel who engaged me, while insisting that they weren’t the people I should be speaking with.

Finally, I asked the young man if he could contact his employer, that I had been unable to reach anyone at LACMA. He handed me a leaflet that had a phone number on it, but he wouldn’t actually help me contact anyone. I asked him repeatedly for help and he repeatedly refused to help me.

Everyone who spoke with me was more upset with me for raising the issue of lack of access than they were with the fact that I had attempted to attend a public event hosted by a public museum, at a public school, and couldn’t without difficulty and assistance, because both means of accessing the event, were locked.

I called the number the man gave me and got the voice message for a Sarah Jesse, which explained that she would be out of the office until March 5.  (Almost 10 days ago. All this happened on  March 14). I left a detailed message. I hope she gets back to me. I’ll follow up if she does. Don’t hold your breath. I’ll also call the school in the morning, since the one district personnel I encountered knew nothing about the school’s responsibility, and the LACMA personnel put all the responsibility on the school. I’ll also send them the link to this blog post. One would hope they would address the issues of access and school security. (Again, don’t hold your breath!)

Aside from simply not existing, I’m not sure what the people who approached ME expected of me. THEY asked ME what was wrong, I told them.  My observation didn’t seem to upset them as much as the fact that I was articulating it. Or perhaps, they just expected me to accept their excuses and stop scowling? Say something to make them feel better? Or maybe they simply wanted to convince me that my exclusion was an obvious and acceptable consequence of the conditions and excuses they were hurling at me.

If this story shocks you, you don’t know jack about dis-ability discrimination. Just another day. Just one more reason why I don’t go out much. Something like this happens pretty much everywhere I attempt to go.

To increase size of pictures for greater detail, double click the image.

keypad for elevator-- needs key, for entry

Elevator, with keyed entry, and a flight of stairs to a lobby.

6 responses to “A is for Zebra– wheelchair accessible if you can pick a lock or use the stairs.

  1. Dear Emma,
    On behalf of the museum, I want to sincerely apologize for your experience. What you describe is in direct opposition to the kind of experience we aim to offer all of our visitors both on and off campus. We take full responsibility for the valid points you bring up and are working to address them. Unfortunately, there are some limitations beyond our direct control, due to the location of the program at a school site. For example, to keep the students safe, the gate you referred to at the corner of Wilshire and Park View must remain locked at all times. We can, however, clearly articulate on our website how to arrange for accommodations prior to a visit. We will also continue to provide sensitivity and awareness training for staff on how to accommodate visitors with disabilities. A fundamental tenet of LACMA’s mission is to be fully accessible and inclusive to all individuals in our community. We sincerely apologize that we failed to meet your—and our—expectations during your visit.
    Sarah Jesse
    Director of Community and School Programs
    Los Angeles County Museum of Art

  2. emmarosenthal

    In response to Sylvia, see below:
    I’m a strong proponent of due process. All the employees, including plant security need support and training to assure that the issues I raise are addressed, that the people providing this service and in charge of this event as well as campus security have the tools and information they need, and the agency necessary (like a key to the gate and the elevator, and a means of communication from the elevator platform to the gallery) to effectively, respectfully do their jobs.

  3. Sadly, I’m not shocked. I used to work at the University of St Thomas in Houston TX when now-Archbishop of Vancouver J. Michael Miller was president. Fr. Miller is a Canadian who got American citizenship so he could vote Republican. Says so much. Also, he had a walking disability as a child, that he “overcame” (I do not recall the exact condition he had, but he walks with a stilted gait as an adult still). You’d think the man would have some understanding of what disabled people need, right?


    I worked at the tutoring lab, which at the time was located an older “arts and crafts” era house that the university had acquired as part of its notorious property-grabbing habit. This house was built up on a raised foundation to prevent being flooded (Houston is prone to a lot of flooding). It was not built to be very accessible for anyone who couldn’t walk up steps.

    We needed math tutors badly. We found one–a very eager and brilliant undergrad math major named Matt. Matt also happened to be in a wheelchair. We at the tutoring lab called Miller’s office, telling them we needed a wheelchair ramp for our tutoring lab. At first, Miller’s office replied, “But we don’t have that in the budget. Why can’t he meet tutoring students at the library or somewhere else on campus?” We told Miller’s office that wasn’t acceptable because we already had invested in having a tutoring lab as students could have a specific place, PLUS disabled students have the right to access to lab and all that, especially since they were paying for it with their tuition like every other student. Miller’s office wasn’t happy with this logical and legal defense, so they decided to throw us a half-hearted promise to find money to build a ramp, which gave them the time and leverage to drag their feet and FORCE us to arrange for tutoring sessions at other locations around campus for Matt. No one was happy. Wasn’t long before we were sick of it and felt like we were seriously failing our new tutor.

    So we buckled down on Miller’s office and threatened them with all sorts of ADA stuff. It got heated. Miller himself was pretty pissed. But so were we. They finally caved and said they were sending maintenance people to install a ramp that weekend. We were like, “That wasn’t so hard, now was it?”

    Well, Monday came and I showed up to the lab and went, “Um, where the ramp?” And our tutor coordinator said to me, “You’re not going to believe this. Brace yourself.” and then walked me to the *back* door. She opened it and there was our ramp–a make-shift thing made out of plywood, with *indoor* traction strips stuck on it and no handrail. Add to this, we had to keep that back door locked for security reasons, so anyone using that ramp would have to ring the doorbell and then wait for someone to open the door. My jaw hit the ground. She said, “I’ve already called Miller and he gave this bullshit about how maintenance couldn’t install a ramp in the front without it costing tons of money and taking too much time. Can you believe this? Matt has to come in through the BACK door! And how are other disabled students suppose to know we have a ramp if it’s BEHIND the building???”

    It was literally like “Oh, you wanted a ramp? Well, here’s your fucking ramp!” We were livid, but we were not able to get anything better than this before they ended up moving the lab to…wait for it…a very long, narrow room in the basement of the library. Granted. there were elevators but the room itself was too narrow for someone with a wheelchair to get around with all the tables and chairs. But by then I had had enough of the crap Miller was heaping on the tutoring lab and had quit in disgust.

    Miller displayed just how much contempt he had for disabled people another time that I recall well, when he began scheduling his staff meeting on the third floor of the old administrative building–the same floor as his office, so HE didn’t have too walk far. This building had not only no ramps, but no elevators. One of the top staffer who was required to be at these meeting had limited use of one leg and had to get around on crutches. So she had to walk up two flights of old 1930’s style stairs on crutches with bad leg she couldn’t put any weight on. Later, word got out that when Miller’s secretary informed him of this staffer’s request to move the meetings to a more accessible room, he said no and replied, “She’s just faking it anyways.” Apparently Miller thought if he could overcome his disability, so should anyone else, and if not, they were faking it. And that classy piece of humanity ended up being made an archbishop in the Catholic Church! Yeah, says so much.

    So not only do I have some idea of what people who use mobility aids have to contend with, I also know that sometimes, it’s the result of deliberate malice and contempt towards disabled people and any attempt or request to get them the access they need and deserve.

  4. It’s extremely disappointing that neither LACMA nor the school bothered to consider and provide information about accessibility when promoting this exhibition. Your treatment by people on the school grounds was appalling. I’d fire the guy who abused you. Bickering indeed!

  5. emmarosenthal

    my visit to A is for zebra. a very bad experience.
    From: emmarosenthal
    To: educate@lacma.org
    Subject: my visit to A is for zebra. a very bad experience.
    Date: Mar 14, 2012 9:49 PM


    feel free to write back to me, or comment on the blog how you plan to address these issues. what happened to me shouldn’t happen to anyone! ever!

    you can reach me here, or at 818 404 5784

  6. I had witnessed what had went on and it totally affected me. The way these people treated you really angered me and ruined this whole experience at this gallery. It felt like a waste of time having to go around the school and maze just to get through the gallery all thanks to the locked gates. Being hassled around made things even worse. I honestly felt uncomfortable and un-welcomed at the school and gallery. I’m sorry that you had to go through this. 😦

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