Monday, June 3, 2013

The apple doesn't fall far.

My nephew is a young man who has Asperger's Syndrome, which is a form of Autism.  My mom has worked with the government in her state to change laws to expand services to people with Autism.  The link below is to an article that talks about the work she, my nephew, and others in the state have been doing to get these services part of the law.
I definitely feel like I was taught to be an advocate by my parents.  They always taught me to stand up for myself and for what I believe in.  So when I found out recently that the city government wanted to do some construction in my city, I became involved.
The project would be completed through a federally funded grant and would cost the city nothing.  It would bring 2.5 miles of roadway and sidewalks to width and length requirements as outlined in the best practices of the ADA.  Some residents who live on the street where the project would take place felt that the city was imposing in their property.  Many residents don't want to project at all, but some others want the project but don't want to follow the specific requirements as outlined in the American's with Disabilities Act.
This is where I come in.  As a resident of this community, I felt like I had to share my feelings about this and any other future project that will occur in my city.  I attended the city council meeting and said the following information during my 3 minutes of the public hearing:
I’m here to talk with the council about universal design, accessibility and the American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990.  And while I don’t have a disability or need mobility modifications, I have dedicated over 15 years of my life to working toward a better world for people with disabilities.
UD is designed to even the playing field so to speak.  If the world is accessible for all people, disabilities will cease to exist.
I envision a world without disabilities.  Not because we find a cure for Spinal Cord Injury or Traumatic Brain Injury, but because we start to build a world that is designed for all people.  We can only do that by following the manual that the ADA provides to us as a standard practice as we consider any new construction in our neighborhoods and in our city.
These standards benefit all people.  I live behind the community center and walk 1-2 times a day in the neighborhood.  My family and I are not able to walk next to each other because the sidewalks are not wide enough.  We either walk single file on the sidewalks or move into the street so we can walk and talk together as a family.  Luckily we live on a block where walking in the street is a somewhat safe option.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I want to know that if something happens to me, that I will continue to be able to access all areas of my neighborhood, even if my mobility needs change.  There is a woman named Marca Bristo, who runs a very successful disability resource agency in Chicago, who described to me her experience when she returned home from rehab after she sustained a SCI as a result of a diving accident.
She wanted to have some friends over as a welcome home party.  She headed out to the store to purchase groceries for the party and rolled to the end of her street.  There was no curb cut, and she was unable to get down from the curb.  She turned around, and rolled her chair to the opposite intersection, which also did not have a curb cut.  She followed her whole block around and there was no way for her to independently cross the street because of a lack of accessibility.  In the matter of one accident, her world shrunk to the one block radius where her house was.
I challenge each of you to look at your street and curbs when you get home, and ask yourself how you might be able to access the places you do, should your mobility needs change.
Because the fact is, every single one of us in this room, as well as our children and our parents, is one car accident, one diagnosis, or one wrong place at the wrong time moment away from our world shrinking to that which is accessible under these ADA best practice standards.
Thank you for your time.
The 3 minutes flew by, and I actually had to skip some of what I wanted to say, which included some statistics about people with disabilities in our area, but I think my message was effectively sent.  I also thought of more to add as I listened to the other residents speak.  One of the biggest arguments is the preservation of the trees that line the street that is to be redone.  There are many trees on the street, and most of them will be preserved with the plan, but some will have to be removed.
This was a hard one for me, because I am also a self-proclaimed tree-hugging hippie, so to advocate for the removal of trees goes against some of my own personal beliefs.  But as I heard these folks speak I came to a very important conclusion.
What good is preserving a tree of not all people in the world are able to enjoy it's beauty?  Or it's smell.  Or the sounds of its leaves blowing in the breeze.  A beautiful place is only beautiful if it is not isolated.  Especially if it is in a place that is open to and for the public.
The specifications laid out in the ADA and in laws following it are there for a reason.  Many people poured their hearts into writing them.  Spend days and nights measuring, testing, capturing, and ultimately ensuring that those specifications are what is needed and what is best for all people, regardless of ability or mode of mobility.  They cannot and should not be dismissed.
So I had my 3 minutes, and felt an unbelievable sense of pride in having the opportunity to address my city's council.  And I am more prepared for the next issue that might arise.  I plan to attend more of the meetings to stay up on the current happening in my city.
Because I can't complain about the problem if I am not willing to be part of the solution.  Or something wise like that.