“I used to get this all the time when I was growing up,” says Andy Arias. “People would say, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so cute. Too bad you’re in a wheelchair.’ And I would say, ‘Gosh, you seem like such a nice guy, except you’re an idiot.'”
While most people are not aggressively rude to Arias and others with disabilities, there can be raised eyebrows and furtive glances even when they do something as simple as go out for a drink. And that’s on top of the trouble of actually getting into many places while in a wheelchair.
“I’m not a big bar person, but I wanted to go out and meet people when I first arrived here,” he says. “It was very difficult for me to enter establishments. There were about three places I could go, but only on the first floor.”
Arias estimates that about 20 percent of the bars and restaurants in the U Street corridor and Dupont Circle neighborhoods are fully accessible to people with disabilities. Which is why he started a support group for LGBT people with disabilities, currently meeting once a month at The DC Center. Arias hopes to grow the numbers over time, using Skype, FaceTime or Facebook to include those who are unable to attend in person.
“I see this group having many facets,” he says. “Being a place for people to come and feel like they belong, like they’re not outsiders, and promoting acceptance of the disability community within gay culture.”
Arias hopes to promote awareness among the owners of various LGBT establishments so they’ll make themselves more accessible using a project known as #OneStepAway. “The only way to change, is to show there’s a need for change,” he says.
The DC Center’s LGBTQIA Disability Group meets on the second Friday of each month at 8 p.m. at The DC Center, 2000 14th St. NW. For more information, call 818-264-9009 or email email@example.com.
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