Saturday, August 17, 2019

Newport Accessibility Games

A friend informed me some people are supporting the new traffic plan on Spring St. on Americans with Disabilities Act grounds.  They say that closing off the street altogether makes it safer for persons with disabilities in that area.  They don’t realize that it creates the necessity to travel further by wheelchair to get places and it makes access to the courthouse even more difficult than it already is.

Let me explain my lack of enthusiasm for this “support”.

First, who is making this an ADA issue?  Everybody whose business is totally accessible (no excuses acceptable here), please step forward.  Nobody?  Everybody whose nonprofit organizations hold fundraisers only at accessible locations, show yourselves.  Hmmm.  Still no one.    Well then, surely, these are people who supported the Accessibility Advisory Committee when there was one and routinely support ADA issues.  Anyone?  Still no response.

So, the only other group I know consists of people who have no real ADA knowledge or commitment but who have other goals and hope that creating an ADA issue will help achieve them.  Ahhhh!  There you are!  We’ve met before. 

Some of you didn’t like the designer of Queen Anne’s Square, so tried to make it an ADA issue.  You yourselves owned businesses that were not then – and are not now – accessible.  Some of you objected to sidewalk seating at some restaurants but needed assistance in making that happen.  Call on the ADA!  Some of you wanted help with ordinances that enhance biking or wanted tree removal.  Make it an ADA problem to ensure success.

To those of you making the traffic pattern an accessibility issue, where were you when the Washington Square redesign demolished half the accessibility that existed before?  If you were concerned about access, why did it take fifteen years of fighting to get an elevator in City Hall?  And why did the lower Broadway project make the entire area inaccessible? 

I could go on, but you get the idea.

I know that whenever and however the traffic pattern issue is resolved, you will all go away.  Since the same people who designed Washington Square and lower Broadway oversee the Spring Street project, it will involve more bricks and cobblestones and other elements that make access dangerous or even impossible for persons with any mobility impairment and persons who are blind.  None of you talking about the traffic pattern will be there to object. 

So, call me a cynic.  I’ve earned the right. 

Every time I try to access a Newport business, I hear excuses about why it just cannot be accessible.  I’ve seen announcements of fundraisers held in restaurants and other inaccessible facilities.  I worked with the now defunct Accessibility Advisory Committee to educate city officials and city residents to change the city’s accessibility and attitude toward it.  I regularly get calls to make problems go away by turning them into ADA issues.

You can’t just play a single card in this game.  You need to sit in for the entire hand.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Raising Expectations Through Sports

Sports have often led the way to elevating the expectations of persons with disabilities and two recent events continued to validate that leadership:  The Clagett Regatta and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

The Clagett Regatta, the premier regatta for persons with disabilities in North America, was held in Newport, RI, its home base, June 18 to June 23, 2019.   Since its inception, this regatta has provided sailors with disabilities the opportunity to compete on an elite level with other sailors around the U.S. and the world.  Many of the Clagett sailors gain the skills and confidence to compete in national and international events not identified as being adaptive.  Sailing is a great equalizer.  This year, the results were published in a story in Scuttlebutt Sailing News, a daily electronic newsletter about all things sailing in North America.  A great example of inclusivity!

On June 20, 2019, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Paralympic Committee confirmed their merger with the name change to U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC).  The commitment to this change began nearly a year ago and the merger includes raising the awards for Paralympic medalists to the same level as that for Olympic medalists.  The USOPC is the first organization in the world that includes both Olympic and Paralympic in its name and one of only four national organizations in the world to manage both Olympic and Paralympic sports.

Paralympic sports don’t get the same television and news coverage in the US as other Olympic sports or as Paralympic sports do in other countries.  Their inclusion in the USOPC and their parity in awards should lead to more awareness of this level of sport and this writer hopes that leads to more and better coverage.  If anyone has ever seen Paralympic competition, wheelchair tennis or regattas in adaptive boats, they know that the level of athleticism and intensity of competition is worthy of attention.

If the expectation of persons with disabilities can be raised in sports, that raise should be translatable to employment and accessibility as well.  That would bring parity to persons with disabilities in all areas of life.  What a great idea!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Stop Making Excuses

How often have you heard:  “I didn’t know I couldn’t park there.  I’m so sorry.”  I’m willing to bet you hear it more than once a week if you have a disability and use accessible parking.

Not only do people not seem to recognize the meaning of the little blue sign with the international symbol for accessibility but they also seem to suddenly not know that the diagonal lines in the access aisle mean no parking.  So, let’s review the use of diagonal lines in all areas.

Diagonal lines in front of a fire hydrant mean:  No Parking.

Diagonal lines in and near a crosswalk mean:  No Parking.

Diagonal lines in a fire lane mean:  No Parking.

Diagonal lines near a corner mean:  No Parking.

Diagonal lines between accessible parking spaces mean:  No Parking.

See?  There is consistency.  In every single case, diagonal lines mean No Parking.  So, how can a person claim to not know the meaning of the lines when they are in the access aisles of accessible parking?  Seriously, if they don’t know, they should have their license suspended until they go to driving school for a refresher.  Or, are they just making an excuse?

That’s one of the main reasons I no longer accept their apologies.  They don’t mean anything.   They are not sorry that I had to sit out in the rain for an hour and miss an important appointment because they were too lazy to walk a few steps. It’s just another way of trying to say they thought they could get away with it and they are sorry they got caught. 

It seems that people pick and choose which laws they will obey.  Most of the time, accessible parking and anything under the Americans with Disabilities Act fall on the side of laws that won’t be obeyed.  Sadly, they also fall on the side of laws that are rarely enforced.

If someone parks in a fire lane, a parking ticket will be issued.  If someone parks in a crosswalk, a parking ticket will be issued.  If someone parks in the access aisle – with the same diagonal lines – it becomes “a teachable moment”.  Frankly, I feel I have been the teacher for far too many teachable moments.  Graduate them or fail them, but stop asking me to allow this to happen again and again and again, etc.

If accessibility laws were enforced across the board, I sincerely believe they would have the effect they were meant to have – to level the playing field so that persons with disabilities can live, go about their business, recreate and otherwise live full and independent lives. 

These laws have been in effect long enough for people to know about them unless they have been living under a rock.  Who really doesn’t know about parking under the little blue sign?  Who really doesn’t know what the diagonal lines mean?  Who really doesn’t know that the Americans with Disabilities Act exists for the purpose of allowing persons with disabilities to live full and productive lives on an equal basis with other citizens? 

Stop saying you’re sorry when you really mean you don’t care.  I know you will do it again first chance you get.  And this sorry state of affairs will continue until the laws are enforced and you feel the pinch. 

Police please take notice.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

We Need Another Martin Luther King Jr.

This week, we’ve been celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  He was a committed advocate and leader and his work greatly advanced the Civil Rights Movement.  In my never-to-be-considered-humble opinion, his greatest strength was the ability to mobilize so many to peacefully support the rights of all to live as fully integrated citizens of this country. 

I would love to see such a leader support the rights of persons with disabilities.  We are so very far behind when it comes to civil rights.

Persons with disabilities are black, white, brown, male, female, transgendered, gay, straight, rich, poor, young, old, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, and speak every language that exists on this planet.  We are part of every segment of society.  There are even some who refer to those without disabilities as temporarily able, since we have an open enrollment all year long.  While some are born with a disability, membership in this society is not closed at birth.  An illness or accident can open the door to anyone at any time.  All told, persons with disabilities, both visible and not visible, comprise approximately 20% of the population.

We have the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008, but we don’t have the strong leader needed to support our taking our rightful place in society. 

I can hear some of the arguments against our achieving this goal now: 
·      It’s too expensive.
·         What do those people want now?  They’re out of institutions and nursing homes.  What more could they want?
·         We support (or help) the handicapped.  (How many insults can you see in such a short sentence?)
·         And more.

Perceptions and expectations are big barriers to full inclusion into society.  We are acceptable if we are a charitable cause.  But, there are many who do not imagine we can be customers, employees, employers, colleagues, etc.  One question that was posed to me during a training has stuck with me as an example of this:  We are a healthcare facility, what could we hire people with disabilities to do here?  While this was a healthcare facility, this question shows the doubt that we face every single day.

We need a national leader of the caliber of Martin Luther King Jr. to change this perception, show our abilities in as strong a light as our disabilities, and lead us to the place that we have a right to be as fully integrated members of society.

Any volunteers?

Monday, August 24, 2015

To Be Treated As Equal, Take Equal Responsibility

We recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The Governor’s Commission on Disabilities organized an informal celebration where persons with disabilities, advocates and agencies that support our efforts could mingle and talk about the progress or lack of progress resulting from the ADA.

The celebration was held at the Eisenhower House in Fort Adams State Park.  This location was selected because it had recently been made accessible with a grant from the Governor’s Commission on Disabilities.

In order to complete this story, it’s important to know that public transportation in Rhode Island leaves a lot to be desired.  Since public bus routes are limited, paratransit operations which run within three-quarters of a mile from fixed bus routes are also limited.  So, that particular option, either public transport or paratransit, were not on the list of available options.

The celebration was pretty well attended so it was a surprise to later hear so much mumbling, grumbling and outright complaining about the perceived inaccessibility of an event to celebrate the ADA.

I am all about supporting the rights of persons with disabilities to have opportunities equal to those of our counterparts in the able-bodied world, but I have to admit I was miffed about this criticism.  A number of people did attend, including people in wheelchairs, so where did this fall apart?

The average person, when faced with a transportation barrier, will start calling friends (“Are you going?  How are you getting there?’), looking to carpool or share rides.  Alternatively, more telephone calls and using the internet can help locate alternative means of getting from point A to point B.  There were a number of alternatives that would have gotten people with or without disabilities to the Eisenhower House, some of them really fun.

Besides finding someone who was driving and offering to help pay gas or tolls, the possibility of putting together three or four people and renting a town car could work.  In a state the size of Rhode Island, four people sharing a town car can be quite affordable.  Another alternative would be to take the public transportation or paratransit to the Gateway Center and take a cab from there.  There are accessible taxis in Newport and they do not require reservations.  Even more fun, and probably more affordable, would be to get to the Gateway Center and take Old Port Marine’s accessible launch across the harbor to Fort Adams.  I sometimes take this launch to avoid driving and dealing with traffic.  Sometimes I take it just because it is a fun way to get there.  A similar option would be to just get to Jamestown and take the Jamestown Ferry from there. 

So, persons with disabilities, if you want equal rights – and it’s good to fight for them – you need to take equal responsibility for yourself.  Don’t limit yourself to one option and complain because it doesn’t work.  You’ll have a lot more fun and a much better life by taking some initiative.  Focus more on what you want to do than on the limits.  I know this because I’m there with you.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Excuses for Lack of Access

People don’t always recognize how inaccessible their businesses can be and how that discriminates against persons with disabilities. I know they don’t understand when they give excuses that don’t make sense.  Some of these excuses make me laugh until it hurts and others just make me shake my head.   Here are some examples:

During a survey of business owners, the question of accessibility was posed.  One business owner actually said that his business was accessible since the building only had one step to get into it!  Talk about no clue.  For someone in a wheelchair, that one step was as good as a steep cliff.  Access is denied. 

Another business owner said he wasn’t concerned since no one had come in to say he couldn’t get in.  Yes, that’s right.  (Read it again if you don’t get it.)  He somehow felt that if people could not get into the building, they would come in and tell him.  How?  Do people even think about what they say?

Another interesting response from a business owner was that he was not required to be accessible since he never said he was accessible.  How about if we apply that to other laws?  Suppose a policeman stops you for speeding.  Do you think that excuse would fly?  Try telling the officer that you were not required to obey speed limits since you never said you would.  While the officer may have difficulty writing that ticket at first because he would be laughing so hard, you can be sure there would be a ticket with a fine attached.  The same goes for any other law you break.  This is not a response that will benefit you.

When I recently complained to a business owner that I couldn’t attend several events that were held at his facility, he replied that two out of three of their facilities were accessible.  He then invited me to visit the accessible ones.  Somehow the fact that two facilities are accessible does not help when the event is at the inaccessible one got lost on the business owner.  Access to the events I was trying to attend was denied. 

When you fail to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, you are effectively putting up a “Keep Out” sign.  Actually, a sign can be ignored when the barrier cannot be.  Is keeping people out of your business what you really want to do?  Persons with disabilities make up the third largest market segment in the U.S.  I think that’s a lot of business to turn away.

Annette Bourbonniere

Twitter:  @AccessInclude

Friday, January 13, 2012

Federal judge rules in favor of more accessible taxis

Hurray!  Advocates for persons with disabilities have been fighting with the city of New York regarding accessible taxis.  Now, a federal judge has ruled in their favor.

The resistance on the part of the city and its Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has been both puzzling and annoying.  With the population of persons with disabilities growing, and a new fleet of taxis being commissioned, the city administration, led by Mayor Bloomberg, fought against making the new taxis accessible.  The new taxis were to have all sorts of amenities, including televisions, but it was deemed that they should not be accessible.

Advocates did not give up the fight and this decision was recently handed down.  Additionally, Governor Cuomo signed a bill that asks for a plan for more taxis to be accessible. 

Persons with disabilities comprise the third largest market segment in the United States.  Additionally, accommodations for persons with disabilities are frequently adopted by the general population as innovations.  So, it’s time to retire the argument regarding costs.  It’s an investment, people!

Annette Bourbonniere

Twitter:  @AccessInclude