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.