How Change Begins

I have enjoyed many fine meals at The Broker Restaurants over the years. I will never eat there again.

The Broker Restaurant in downtown Denver.

The owners are not motivated to find a way to get people with disabilities into their dining room. Located in the basement vault of the Colorado National Bank Building in downtown Denver, restaurant managers cited being on the historical register as the reason for not being required to comply with accessibility codes set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A week ago, our group of 43 America Achieves fellows arrived at the downtown Broker for a dinner and presentation meeting. Two of us Policy Fellows have been battling broken feet and moving around on knee scooters.

Looking downward, there was no possibility of either of us descending the two steep staircases to the basement to sit down with our colleagues. After we found the elevator to be non-operational, the manager on duty quickly emerged from the restaurant below telling us that the elevator is locked on weekends and the building manager was not answering his phone.

Two sets of these stairs to get down to the dining room at The Broker.

One of our Fellows pressed the manager further when he asked how disabled customers are supposed to negotiate the remaining five stairs after the elevator drops them off on the basement level. The manager described how restaurant staff carry customers—wheel chair and all—down the last set of stairs.

Running through my brain: “You plan to carry me on a knee scooter down the stairs? Are you nuts?”

When asked about other handicap accessible entrances, the manager replied that the historical designation of the building exempted them from having to provide further access. In other words, they are not legally obligated to accommodate people like me who cannot walk.

** Aside Note: There are no other exits in the basement dining room. The only way out in an emergency is to climb the two flights of stairs.

The Great Irony

Elaine and Emily waiting at the top of the stairs at The Broker Restaurant in downtown Denver.

The greater irony of this situation was that our group of American Achieves Fellowship for Teachers and Principals educators is a legislative advocacy group whose mission is to create policy and influence lawmakers toward positive change in public education. We take issues of accessibility and equity very seriously. In this case, we were not inclined to accept the manager’s excuses, justified or not.

We left with appetizers on the table and wine glasses half-full.

America Achieves’ Chairman Jon Schnur at Hotel Teatro

America Achieves’ Chairman Jon Schnur was our keynote speaker that night.  After a few quick phone calls, he miraculously arranged a new dinner for the whole group at Hotel Teatro just a few blocks away. The Can-Do attitude of Teatro’s manager and staff to accommodate 40-plus people for a gourmet meal with 35-minutes notice was simply incredible. We had a fabulous evening at Hotel Teatro! I highly recommend it.

The Broker Restaurant lost a huge chunk of business that night. I am saddened that the wait staff were the ones who suffered more than the owners and managers for the high-level decisions that prevented our group members from gaining access to the dining room. We all know how those on the lowest rungs of the corporate ladder are the ones who pay the most severe consequences.

No doubt, administrators in The Broker organization have been nervously awaiting the public fallout of this story, that is, if they even know about it. With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, access to properties open to the public is now a civil right. There are many, many feasible options to make historic properties accessible to people with disabilities. The fact that The Broker chooses not to make its restaurant accessible demonstrates a tremendous lack in core values.

The Freedom of Choice

As Americans, we are highly protective of our freedom to make choices. I choose to never go back to The Broker. I have many other dining options available in the area.

I urge you to do the same. Choose restaurants—indeed, all other businesses you patronize—that place priority on the values that honor people with dignity. It is a simple choice to support businesses with stronger, more ethical core principles.

Little By Little, We Change The World

This is how change begins. This is how advocacy happens. One person tells her story. Another person listens and decides to make a deeper choice to take the higher road. Little by little, we change the world.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the ones who make positive change with our words and actions. We are the ones who create a better world. Let us all begin again today.

The 2016-17 America Achieves Fellowship for Teachers and Principals Cohort