© 2015 Luke T. Bush
|NCCI Executive Director Robert Poulin uses a computer program to enlarge screen details, an important feature for people with visual impairment. (Background photo-edited to fix distracting elements.)|
Impasse. Sidewalk seating for restaurant diners blocks your way. One option: back up your wheelchair and bypass the obstruction by riding in the street, an unsafe choice. Or jump the curb, a really unsafe maneuver.
But you take the option of standing up for your rights. Able-bodied restaurant employees and owners might be annoyed but you ask for the seating and the perimeter chains to be moved back, creating a wide enough space. You now can now pass through. There’s enough room for everyone.
But later the seating and chains are moved back to their previous locations: the barrier remains.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted way back in 1990. This civil rights bill was to bring about equal access for all people with physical and mental disabilities. So why do the same problems exist?
In a word: inertia. The tendency for communities like Plattsburgh City to stay at rest, a tremendous weight ignoring change. The greatest barrier to the disabled.
But it’s not just private businesses that aren’t ADA compliant. Local public officials also resist change, saying the required modifications for governmental properties are too expensive.
But after 25 years that excuse shouldn’t be an issue says Robert Poulin, Executive Director of the North Country Center for Independence (NCCI).
“Part of [the problem] is an unfunded mandate,” he says. Laws are created, requirements are made, but without the needed funding to back them up.
“If you have to put an elevator in your structure,” he explains, “that’s a major capital project.”
While acknowledging the expense Robert points out that there has been enough time for the responsible entities to build such projects into their budgets.
“They didn’t do that,” he says, “and they still use the same excuse [cost]. It can’t go on forever.”
He points out that tax credits can defray the expense.
“I think there is a real fatigue in the disability community,” he continues. “It is running out of patience when it comes to the same tired arguments.”
Another factor besides advocacy, says Robert, is an aging population. More baby boomers will end up disabled in their later years. They’re aware of the challenges they will encounter.
He observes: “The disability community is the one minority group where there’s a likelihood that you’re going to end up in it.”
In a recent press release NCCI calls upon the Plattsburgh City Mayor and Common Council to order an ADA accessibility audit of all municipal properties, programs and services. This survey should be completed in a year.
It would include a look at workplace accessibility, Robert adds. This is a problem for people in the disability community who want to be employed but face barriers hindering their employment.
The press release states: “It is time to stop making excuses and start obeying the law.”
Something to think about when dining comfortably outside, your seat an impasse to a person in a wheelchair just trying to safely move along.
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The offices of the North Country Center for Independence are located at 80 Sharron Avenue, Plattsburgh City, NY. More info: http://www.ncci-online.com/ . Phone:(518) 563-9058 .