Accessibility and the Never-ending Quest for a Tattoo

Brianna Albers avatar

by Brianna Albers |

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If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve been seriously considering getting a tattoo for months now. A former personal care assistant (PCA) and I decided way back in 2015 that if we ever took the plunge, we’d get them together. Early in 2017, I figured out what I wanted to get, so we made tentative plans to get them done over the summer.

Finding a tattoo parlor has proven to be far more difficult than I anticipated. Some artists refuse to tattoo lines of text, some businesses are just too expensive, and some buildings aren’t even accessible. My current PCA and I spent an entire day driving around the city last summer, popping into parlors for walk-in consultations and, of course, checking for accessibility.

We finally settled on an all-female tattoo parlor. They were accessible, and several of their artists were familiar with text tattoos. My friend and I quickly decided who would front the deposit and called to book the appointment, only to be told the parlor was on the second floor of a building downtown — with stairs.

I still remember the conversation my PCA had with the parlor’s receptionist. “We were told the building was accessible.”

“I mean, we have stairs?” I heard over the speakerphone.

She turned to give me a deadpan look. “How is someone in a wheelchair supposed to make it up a flight of stairs?”

We spoke to a manager, who apologized for the miscommunication and said the parlor would be getting a ramp installed within the next six months. We were disappointed — the only reason I’d convinced myself to get a tattoo in the first place was due to my growing list of aches and pains. My anxiety-riddled brain decided that if my body was determined to cause me trouble, I might as well prettify it with my favorite line of poetry, making it somewhat easier to live in. But we decided to postpone it for six months.

A few days ago, six months after we tried to book an appointment, my PCA called to see if the building was accessible yet.

The receptionist didn’t understand. “We have stairs?”

“We were told six months ago that you’d be installing a ramp by the new year,” my PCA said.

A pause. Then: “Are you sure you called the right place?”

“All-female tattoo parlor in Minneapolis, right?”

Another pause. “Let me transfer you.”

The manager said they had no plans of installing a ramp or even making the place accessible.

I could hardly believe it. To have had plans to install a ramp that, for whatever reason, were scrapped is one thing; to deny the plans, and to accuse us of calling the wrong parlor, is another thing altogether. I texted my friend and explained the situation, and she replied with: “I am enraged.”

I try not to let these things bother me. I’m used to accessibility issues — thrift stores I can’t enter, Walt Disney World attractions I can’t experience. At this point, I’ve somehow managed to accept the fact that some parts of the world will always be barred to me, just like some parts of life will always be a mystery — something I’m not allowed to see, hear or touch. But this one upset me, maybe because they tried to blame us by saying that we called the wrong parlor. Or maybe it was simply the fact that in 2018, there are still people out there who equate stairs with accessibility. Whatever the case, I tweeted angrily about it and then tried to come to grips with the reality of the situation.

Time to follow more tattoo artists on Instagram, I guess.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


Patrycja avatar


I was looking for a tattoo place some time ago and I've found two places in a town nearby that I did like. One was on the second floor and second on the ground floor, with a flat entrance. I chose the second one, but guys in the first parlor told me "no problem, they will carry me up the stairs". So yeah, it's about people, not the places.

Brianna Albers avatar

Brianna Albers

Hi Patrycja! I'm so glad you were able to find a parlor that worked for you. I definitely agree - if the owners of the business, or even the artists themselves, had showed any interest in working with me, I would've been far more willing to overlook the issue at hand. It's so frustrating! I can't believe accessibility is still something we have to explicitly ask for.

Ariana Dindzans avatar

Ariana Dindzans

Isn't this illegal? How much would it cost to sue them or get a court order?

Brianna Albers avatar

Brianna Albers

Hi Ariana! I'm honestly not sure. Unfortunately, we don't have any proof that we were "promised" a ramp by the new year, so I think it's probably better to just move on. They don't deserve our business anyway!


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