Friday, April 15, 2011

Accessible to Who??


It's hard to think about the idea of accessibility without other words being included. Words like "justice", "equality", "civil rights", and "inclusion". That's because barriers set up by people with pre-conceived notions of "who should have what" often make accessibility much more of a challenge than it should be. I believe that what's accessible to some, should be accessible to all.

Several years back, I was working with a group of people who have profound developmental disabilities. Many of these people also use wheelchairs to get around. There was a park a mile from where we hung out, with a beautiful water fountain; surrounded by thousands of rose bushes. On warm, spring afternoons, there is no lovelier place in Portland. This park was created many years ago, before any thought was given as to WHO should get to enjoy it.

In order to get down to the fountain, you negotiated 30 steps, and there was no wheelchair ramp, which i found troublesome. One afternoon I began making phone calls to see if the City would consider building a ramp. When I brought up the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the idea of accessibility for ALL citizens, I was told they weren't required to, because the park was an historic landmark. After haggling, I asked the city employee if they personally believed that an excuse was more important than allowing ALL citizens the same RIGHTS. There was a brief silence on their end, until they finally said (quietly); "I'll see if there's something we can do".

Shortly after, a new job that I'd wanted for a long time opened up, and I moved on. As time passed by, I lost contact with the people from those days. A few years later, on the first warm and sunny day of spring, my wife exclaimed "Let's do something outside on this beautiful day!" I suggested we take a long walk to the park where the fountain and roses would surely be a treat. As we walked toward the fountain, I noticed there were now 2 wheelchair ramps beside the steps! I was beyond myself with a feeling of accomplishment. I also realized that we don't always see the fruits of our labors. The most important thing we can do is speak up about the many barriers that get in the way of REAL accessibility.

5 comments:

Howard Doughman said...

Your effort in bringing accessibility issues to the attention of those in charge is commendable. Often times mobility challenges keep us from enjoying the outdoors and public parks.

It is amazing how planting that seed with a public official ended with them noticing that there was a need for wheelchair ramps in the park. All of us should point out other mobility challenges when we come upon them.

Thank you for sharing this blog.

David McDonald said...

Thank you Howard! I wrote this post not to toot my own horn, but to demonstrate that we don't always see the effects of our advocacy immediately.

James said...

I believe that it is safe to say that your afternoon of haggling with city employees has offered what will undoubtedly become years of enjoyment for ALL citizens, and hopefully further the solidification of the ADA and its laws of accessibility. Your story makes me wonder how many excuses cities nationwide have made in terms of accessibility because of a building or locale being termed a 'historical landmark'. Real accessibility will not be truly won until cities stop seeking loopholes which allow them to avoid construction of alternative entrances. It seems even the city employee you spoke with realized how very wrong their argument was through their silence...

Anyways, great blog! It'd be nice to hear about others advocacy through stories such as yours. To think that one afternoon inspired such a change; if only others would speak up!

James said...

I believe that it is safe to say that your afternoon of haggling with city employees has offered what will undoubtedly become years of enjoyment for ALL citizens, and hopefully further the solidification of the ADA and its laws of accessibility. Your story makes me wonder how many excuses cities nationwide have made in terms of accessibility because of a building or locale being termed a 'historical landmark'. Real accessibility will not be truly won until cities stop seeking loopholes which allow them to avoid construction of alternative entrances. It seems even the city employee you spoke with realized how very wrong their argument was through their silence...

Anyways, great blog! It'd be nice to hear about others advocacy through stories such as yours. To think that one afternoon inspired such a change; if only others would speak up!

David McDonald said...

Thanks James..."Be the change..."