For much of her adult life as a plus-size woman, Friendly Like Me founder Elysia Everett has been tasked with extra homework whenever she makes plans — homework that boils down to accessibility.
“As a plus-size person, if somebody asks me out on a date or somebody asks me to go to a business meeting or something like that, I’m immediately looking online, looking at the chairs, deciding if I’m going to be comfortable,” she explained.
“How crowded is it? Is it roomy enough? I’m a little bit hard of hearing. Is it going to be quiet enough for conversation?”
More than 25% of Americans deal with disabilities, a number that includes people who struggle with cognition, mobility, hearing, vision and other issues.
“When you add in, which very few people do, people of size as a population that needs access needs — which is not all people of size, but people above a certain size — that changes to one in three Americans who have an access need,” explained Everett.
That makes more than 80 million people who are regularly tasked with the type of reconnaissance that Everett described.
As a longtime accessibility advocate, Everett eventually decided to help make that homework easier with Friendly Like Me, an app she launched with co-founder Dave Jensen in April 2023 that scores local businesses in a number of markets based on how accessible and accommodating they are for people with access needs.
Having worked with three Pride events thus far over the summer — Denver, Portland and San Diego — Friendly Like Me is now launching in the Charlotte area, beginning with businesses surrounding Charlotte Pride, which will take place in Uptown on Aug. 19-20.
“These are people that care so deeply about inclusivity,” Everett said of working with Pride organizations. “They’re living their values, and it’s so aligned. And so many of these organizations, they’ve done so much groundwork and they’re really thinking about it. The Pride organizations and people going to Pride, they really care about being allies. It’s just been this amazing synchronicity.”
How Friendly Like Me works
The app works similarly to Yelp or other online review sites; the Friendly Like Me team goes in and does recon work before launching the app in a city, with a focus on accessibility and comfort for people with mobility issues and plus-size people.
Over the next month, the team will add three more communities: people with hearing impairment, vision impairment, and cognitive struggles such as autism. Following those additions, Everett said the team will be looking into ways to add COVID protocols and dietary restrictions into their reviews next.
“I felt a strong need for this for many years, and to be able to find places where plus-size people could go and be comfortable and know in advance that they would be comfortable, and that was the foundation for me wanting to build the app,” explained Everett.
“And then it did not take long from that moment before we all clearly realized that access needs went way beyond just people of size, way beyond just people with a disability, and so we began getting more and more specific and adding more communities to what we were doing.”
For now, the team has launched the app with a focus on four main issues that folks with access needs due to mobility issues or size deal with: parking and entrances, interior restroom access, seating, and comfort.
The team doesn’t just write out reviews of each business’s accessibility, but grades them on a scale that can be customized for each app user. For instance, if a Friendly Like Me user prioritizes valet parking and a low-noise atmosphere, their business ranking will be different than a user who needs bathrooms accessible to powered-wheelchairs and low-top tables.
When adding a business to their listings, the team sets up a time to chat over the phone with an owner to inquire about an in-depth list of accessibility scenarios.
“We ask them questions like, ‘Okay, your bathroom is handicap-accessible, great, do you know if that’s for regular wheelchair users or power-chair users can get in there, too? If you measure that, here’s the turning radius that you need to know about for a power-chair user to be able to get into that stall. So now let me ask you, do you have a family-style restroom?’” she explained. “So we spend the time confirming those kinds of things.”
Everett makes it a point not to approach business owners from an adversarial angle. Her company is called Friendly Like Me, after all.
“In addition to being pro-everyone with an access need, we are pro-business,” she explained. “I know when I start talking to businesses about accessibility, the first place they go, ‘Is it going to be expensive? Am I compliant? Am I going to get sued?’ That’s not what we’re about.
“This is what we’re about: Tell us in advance because that’s a friendly thing to do. Just don’t let me show up for the baby shower thinking I can get in when I can’t get in. It’s just as friendly for a business to tell me, ‘You know what, no, we don’t have that,’ or ‘We have this temporary solution. If you call us in advance, we’ll pull out our temporary ramp.’ To me, that’s a friendly way to behave.”
Everett has found that this approach often helps uncover accommodations that potential customers wouldn’t otherwise know about at a given venue.
“Almost in every case, the business owner will say something like, ‘Yeah, but when we have wheelchair users, here’s what I do,’ and it’s some amazing accommodation like, ‘We get them right up in front of the stage and we clear the aisles and we do all this,’ but you wouldn’t know to look at the pictures on their website. So we put that right there. ‘Owners are accommodating and suggest you do the following for the best experience.’ That’s when the reviews become very valuable.”
Building a community
Pride events also give the team a chance to not only begin reviewing nearby businesses but help folks with accessibility issues learn how to best access parades and festivals, which can be infamously rough for those with mobility issues or other access needs.
Friendly Like Me’s Accessibility Guide to Charlotte Pride clarifies that there will be an accessible parade viewing area next to the community stage on the corner of South Tryon and 4th streets during Sunday’s parade.
“What we know is that people with access needs are very limited in their ability to attend community festivals, right?” Everett said. “Depending on where those are held or what the crowds are like, or not knowing if there’s going to be a quiet space for you to take a break, will you be able to get a view of the parade on the street? No. So we know this from our community, you can see them posting on social media. ‘I wish I could go to Pride. I wish I could go to Pride.’”
Staff member Manny Portilla, who compiled the team’s Accessibility Guide to Charlotte Pride, came up with the idea to spend the summer working with Pride organizations nationwide.
Each event has led to new challenges. Denver Pride had already done work around accessibility, so Friendly Like Me helped to publicize that, adding info around local LGBTQ-friendly bars.
In Portland, the venue was muddy, which created major issues for accessibility that were only exacerbated after a local vendor tasked with creating accessibility maps pulled out at the last minute.
“Working with Charlotte Pride right now, they’ve actually done a lot, but publicizing it has been their issue,” Everett said. “They’ve done a tremendous amount to become accessible, an increasing amount every year, but not very good at getting the message out.”
Learn more: Rikki Poynter on Accessibility in Charlotte
Desiree Kane, a former Charlotte resident who has been working as a liaison between local residents and Friendly Like Me, credits longtime Charlotte Pride staffer Matt Comer, who recently left the organization, with the wealth of information her team has had to work with.
“Hearing from Liz Schob, the organizer who took Matt Comer’s place, it sounds like Matt did a lot of this accessibility background work, and we’ve heard Liz a couple of times say, ‘Matt did such a good job, I’m just building upon the work that he did,’” Kane told Queen City Nerve. “So the roots of the Charlotte Pride accessibility track originate with one of Charlotte’s longtime queer friends, Matt Comer.”
Following its launch during Charlotte Pride, Friendly Like Me hopes to remain a working guide for folks throughout the Charlotte area, enriching the lives of people who otherwise might stay home for any given outing.
Everett hopes that, access needs or not, people will continue to add reviews to the app with a sense of strengthening the community — just a way of being friendly.
“What we’re saying here with the term friendly, is it friendly to people like me?” she explained. “It’s a concept that, every time I do a review, I’m sort of carrying the people in my community with me. It’s like anybody coming into Houston this week knows five more places where they can go, because I reviewed five places this week, and I didn’t do that for me because I already go there and I know where they are. I did it for the person coming behind me.”
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