On Not Being Accessible

I received the following email last week (it has been edited for length):

“I am a disabled person with an established Bikram practice. I have practiced in New York, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay Area. This year brings me to Decatur on several occasions. I had hoped to practice with you at your studio. Your website emphasizes that Bikram Yoga is for all abilities and all people; it even has a FAQ about practicing with multiple sclerosis. Given all of this, I was looking forward to learning from you.

I was deeply disappointed to find that your studio is inaccessible. It is upstairs in a building with no elevator. If I cannot access the building, I cannot practice. It makes no sense to offer openness and a welcome to all who would practice with and learn from you, if you then situate your studio in a building that bars some of us from joining you. Old buildings are not an excuse; if openness and accessibility were a priority, you might have chosen a building with access.

I am saddened and frustrated that I will not be able to practice [at SHY]. I wish you had considered architectural access as part of your philosophy.”

I replied (also edited for length):

“I am deeply sorry for having failed in making our studio accessibility live up to our claim of inclusiveness. You are absolutely right to call us (me) out for this and I appreciate you taking the time to do so. In my studio’s 12+ years history I can’t remember feeling more disappointed in myself and ashamed by my lack of sensitivity for, and consideration of, people for whom stairs are a barrier to accessibility. I offer my sincere regret and humble apology.

As I read your letter, and re-read it more than once, I came to realize that I have not only failed you and anyone else who will be prevented from practicing at my studio, but I have also failed all of my instructors and clients, by denying them the opportunity to meet and practice with you and a whole segment of our community. I am disappointed that I will not get to meet you and welcome you into our studio.

It’s extremely unlikely that we will be able to install an elevator but I will do some research on that. Cost is certainly the most prohibitive factor but I also suspect that our building has structural limitations that may prevent this. If it turns out to be physically feasible maybe we could look into some kind of crowd-funding.

I will update the language on our web site to be more accurate and forthcoming about our lack of accessibility.”

When I opened SHY in 2002 I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no experience in or training for creating and managing a small business and I had been teaching Yoga for barely more than a year. I also had only been practicing Bikram Yoga for little more than two years. In many ways I wasn’t qualified to open a yoga studio and I made some early decisions that I regret. Opening in a building that had no handicap access is one of them and I won’t pretend it wasn’t a conscious choice. One of my initial criteria when looking for studio space was accessibility but, for several reasons which I won’t proffer as excuses, I ultimately chose to sacrifice accessibility when choosing this location. In doing so I made some rationalizations that I would be embarrassed to admit including some naïve and unfair assumptions about who might want to practice Bikram Yoga.

Even now, in response to the above letter, I was tempted to rationalize our inaccessibility by saying, “this is the first time in 12 years this has come up,” but the truth is that I can’t know how many other people may have been as disappointed as the writer of the letter above but who chose not to speak up. It doesn’t feel good but I appreciate being called out. What stings most is realizing the hypocrisy of claiming inclusiveness on our web site while not being handicap accessible. I have edited our Location and FAQ pages to be more accurate.

Written by Eric

Eric Jennings practices and teaches yoga in the style and method originated by Bishnu Ghosh, acclaimed Indian physical culturist. He holds certifications from Ghosh Yoga College of India (2016), Yogic Physical Culture Academy (2013) and Bikram Yoga, Inc. (2001). He has studied with Muktamala Mitra, Jared McCann, Mary Jarvis, Tony Sanchez, Marlysa Sullivan, William Huffschmidt, Yoganand Michael Carrol and Bikram Choudhury. With a background in theatre and performance one of Eric's strengths as an instructor is his ability to offer clear and accessible instruction making all practitioners, no matter their level of experience, feel safe, supported and encouraged in their practice.