Active allies, actions are needed to make the promise of the ADA a reality

Every time an electric door opener doesn’t work or is absent; every time your wheels are stopped by a two-inch […]

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Every time an electric door opener doesn’t work or is absent; every time your wheels are stopped by a two-inch edge going from one slab of sidewalk to another; every time you are forced to sit in “handicapped seating” in a section distant from the action because you use a cane and can’t climb stairs; every time the accessible route to your parking spot is locked early and you can’t reach your car; your value to society is denied by the majority. Yes, each of those things are illegal and immoral, but because so few are impacted the rest can just shrug and say there’s nothing to be done. In America we’ve been trying to change that attitude for forty-some years. We’ve failed.

Good people, who have engaged in political activism on other subjects, listen to me discuss the obstacles disabled people face daily with empathy and concern for my well-being, but with no sense that they should be involved in any sort of solution… or even that solutions might be feasible.  Minorities can never win political issues without active allies.      

I want to suggest a course of action, not a new organization or something to belong to, but things we can do in our regular routine that will turn those otherwise good-hearted political activist able-bodied types into real allies that make change happen. Unless we do that, we will remain the unseen minority. Ironic that our anti-discrimination law, the  Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is one of the few having built-in enforcement apparatuses, but also one of the least often enforced.

Last week I listened to a Metro Mobility official telling a virtual audience of 34 listeners that they were functioning at 97 percent efficiency and meeting most federally mandated efficiency goals. I was puzzled because that has not been my experience with Metro Mobility. Then I remembered, Metro Mobility isn’t late until 30 minutes after your pick-up time, and it doesn’t matter at all if they drop you off after your event has started because they don’t keep statistics on that. It also doesn’t seem to matter if you’re on the bus for 1 and ½ hours or two hours, even if you drove right past your stop on the way to pick up passenger number three. Efficiency is determined by statistics, not reality.

We need to create our own statistics and deliver them to sympathetic people who can be “radicalized” by real information into becoming active allies. Key individuals taking specific actions can change the obstacles we face every day. We must act in order to make them do it. Most of us have a phone with a calendar or notes, the rest can use a notebook; keep notes and pictures about every obstacle. Where is the door opener that never works?  Where are the sidewalks impassable?  Where is the only “handicapped” parking spot farthest from the entrance because that’s where the city supplied curb cut is located? How often is Metro Mobility late?  How often are you picked up at 28 minutes after your scheduled time, or dropped off after your event has started? How often do they take you from Little Canada to West St. Paul to Maplewood before they drop you off at the capitol?

We need enforcement. We need government enforcement of existing laws. We need a government office of enforcement of disability access laws attached to someone with real authority. The governor is perfect, because Greater Minnesota has greater obstacles, and they need metropolitan disabled people to be their active allies. Every disabled Minnesotan must know a phone number, e-mail address and mailing address for an enforcement office that will receive documentation of existing obstacles and dispatch a municipal, county or state public official to see to its correction. Period.

Take notes, take pictures, keep a diary. Watch for details as we prepare to take our “statistics” to the governor’s office in September. Let’s roll/stroll into the governor’s office, maybe monthly, and share our “statistics” and ask for his help.

Barb Metzger is a disability rights activist from the St. Paul area.

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