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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Day 21 in Central New York

I have moved to a very pretty small town in Central New York that I prefer to remain nameless.  The town has one main drag that runs from a gorgeous lake for about 10 blocks. The word picturesque comes to mind.  I am very lucky as I am a few miles from town and right on the lake. Better yet, I am on the quiet end of the lake. I am happy and getting much stronger physically. My home is on a very steep hill and I am developing more functional strength in terms of wheelchair pushing power. There is a flat area outside my door and the view from my living is mind boggling. While I am pleased with my living situation. I am also a bit taken aback.

The gorgeous town I live in is grossly inaccessible. I have been to may such inaccessible towns. They dot the landscape of America from coast to coast. I have driven to all the small neighboring towns within a 30 minute drive of my home. Few are as pretty as the town I live in. All are far more accessible. I suspect there is great wealth in my little town. Some homes are nothing short of show case properties. On a regular basis I pass cars that are very costly. I have read a bit about the history of the town and suspect that there is much old money. I have learned so called old money does not like change. Change meaning the historical nature of the town is sacrosanct. Ramps, curb cuts, and wheelchair access would mar the historical element the town is known for. I have heard this line of reasoning for decades. I call it snooty reasoning. Wheelchair access need not mar the historic buildings the people who live in town fiercely protect and are proud of. This is an argument I have entered into many times and it is a red herring. The argument is lost once you engage in a  discussion of historic preservation. The all important subtext is the firm belief that wheelchair access is a choice; a matter of charity in fact. This is wrong. The fact is wheelchair access is a matter of civil rights.  Few people get this critically important fact. The ADA, now almost 25 year old, is civil rights legislation. It is enforced by the Department of Justice. The town I live appears to me to be a perfect example of how the ADA has failed to resonate culturally. People do not value wheelchair access nor the existence of people with a disability. Access is not a priority and instead a nuisance. Access is in fact a threat to the town. How dare I bite the hand that feeds me. The town can pick and choose what is and is not accessible. Of course the fact they know nothing about disability is not considered. Slap a few blue wheelchair logos all over town, provide handicapped parking and the problem is solved.

As I write these words, I am in the public library. It is a nice building. It has what I call fake or old people access. There is a small parking area near the front door. There is one handicapped parking spot and two 15 minutes spot. I have walked past this little lot off the main drag and have never seen an open spot to park. There is additional parking in the rear of the building. It is a gravel lot that surely does not comply to the ADA. Parking in the back requires one to essentially circle the entire building to get to the front door. The path is wide but uphill. The town is responsible for the lot and plowing. The library is responsible for shoveling the walk way. The odds snow removal are coordinated is nil and we are smack dab in the middle of the snow belt. Getting in the door of the library in the depths of winter will be a challenge in the extreme. As I got my brand new bright yellow library card I noted that access from the back is far less than ideal. I noted the parking lot is not compliant with the ADA even though the lot was built four years after the law was passed. This observation was quickly met with: "That is something you need to take up with the town. We are not responsible".  Not exactly a helpful comment.

Here is my dilemma. I am a new to town. I am in the library to learn about the history of the town. I have zero clout. I am an outsider.  What gets me is there are little blue wheelchair logos all over the library. leo present are multiple violations of the ADA. But hey those blue wheelchair logos make the bipedal hordes feel good.  At the library there are two sets of electric doors. Two very expensive doors. As I enter, there is a library cart filled with books that blocks easy access to the door open button. The desk area that is lower at the check out counter is filled with folders and news about upcoming activities. After noting the lack of wheelchair access and the fact the parking lot is not ADA compliant I have pushed my luck. The big welcoming grins I got upon entry I know will turn to cold stares if I ask anything more about wheelchair access. Clearly I am a problem the librarians do not want to deal with. They are all polite, a trait to central New York that will take some time to get accustom to. Behind these smiles however is an eagerness to explain why there is no appropriate access to 90% of the buildings in the town I now live in (the 90% estimate is generous). The lack of access I am told is a very long story. Sorry but no. I do not care about the story that explains why there is strong resistance to make the town accessible. Other local towns I have visited at least try. There is no effort in this town. There is an animosity I feel to wheelchair access.

I must note I have been a resident a grand total of 21 days. Who knows, I could be wildly wrong. Now if I had a cell phone that worked in my home I might actually be able to investigate and advocate for change. I expect my cell phone problems to be solved shortly. What I do not expect is progress in my town.  For real progress to be made a fight must ensue. This fight would be two pronged--legal and cultural. Without a forceful push for access nothing will change. Not sure if I have the stomach for this, the knowledge base, and certainly not community support. For now I am going to work on my knowledge base. Time to brush up on my local history.