Mister Benjamin Goes to Washington

Washington D.C. represents the center of our democracy and it is well worth a visit, whether you are disabled or not.  Without a democratic government where equality is primary, we would not have the opportunities to give voice to make our capital accessible.  The Mall, the grounds between the Capitol and the Lincoln Monument, has been the scene of many historical moments:  demonstrations during the Civil War, Civil Rights demonstrations in the ’60s, and peace rallies today.  The freedom that is granted us in the United States is the reason these grounds have been the scene of so many protests against our government.  Several demonstrations have been held on these grounds to guarantee that the entire country is accessible to all its citizens.  Just a generation ago, most of these monuments and buildings were not wheelchair-accessible-or accessible in any form.  Today, it may be a little hard to find the accessible entrance, but it is there in most cases.  Nowhere, perhaps, other than here in the Twin Cities or in Berkeley, CA, is disability awareness more visible than in Washington D.C.-in transport, sights and the attitudes of locals.

Transportation

For starters, getting around Washington is a breeze-the Metrorail system could not have been set up much more nicely.  The elevator stops that take you down to the subway are clearly marked and, in most cases, were reasonably easy to find.  There are subway routes that are quickly accessible from the airport and the railroad station to the downtown area and many of the suburbs.  Besides the subway, many of the Metrobuses are accessible.  Most of Washington D.C., due to the relatively compact size of the tourist area and the center of government, is easily within electric wheelchairing distance-but it’s just not practical, especially if don’t start the day fully charged and your battery runs out at the Smithsonian as mine did.

A Sight Worth Seeing

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a disability that many Americans were not aware of.  During the FDR presidential years, individuals with a disability were not considered in the same class as able-bodied people.  This is a major reason Roosevelt’s disability was hidden from the public on every possible occasion.  Today, the FDR Memorial is one of the newest and most prominent of the memorials.  Located near the Cherry Tree Walk on the Tidal Basin off the National Mall, as you enter the monument the first thing you see is a life-size bronze statue of Roosevelt proudly sitting in his wheelchair.  He sits straight and tall with his fedora and cape exactly as he is pictured in so many of the photos that don’t show the wheelchair.  There are three more sections of the monument-as you walk through you realize that each represents a term of Roosevelt’s presidency:  his first inauguration, the Depression, and World War II.  The walls are etched with many of his famous quotes from speeches and radio shows.  Roosevelt accomplished all he did despite his disability and without the modern disability tools, such as power chairs, sit cushions, and computer-aided devices.  The FDR Memorial is one that no visitor should miss.

The Locals

I found the Washington residents to be very helpful and proud of the fact that their city is accessible to disabled Americans.  The security is very visible-there are metal detectors everywhere you go-but most of the people running the security seemed very helpful and tolerant of the extra time they spent on clearing the wheelchair.  Even when some people at a location weren’t helpful, others were.  In the case where my wheelchair ran out of juice in the Smithsonian, the supervisor of security was very understanding of my need for an electrical outlet, whereas his underling was eager to go home or take a break and had no time for my “frivolous” request.

This goes to show that there is always more to do when it comes to making things accessible-especially in a city as old as our capital.  Considering the age of many of the buildings in D.C., maintaining the historical integrity of the original structures is vital.  The chore now is to make this and every other city in the country accessible while maintaining these aspects of historical importance.