Caltrans evades legal responsibility for sidewalk ramps

Ah, California. Sometimes you come through with your sidewalk accessibility, your ramps and ADA compliance, and sometimes you just don’t. I opened up my issue of New Mobility magazine this morning over coffee to find a brief and horrifying news snippet. Caltrans is fighting the ADA. “CDR and other disability groups filed suit in 2006 demanding Caltrans meet obligations to provide accessible walkways and curb cuts.” Read more about it here: CDR vs. Caltrans. Here’s part of the horrifying bit, a quote from CDR president Laura Williams: “We are very concerned that they are going to use this as a challenge to the ADA itself, which then affects everyone nationwide, if they should prevail.”

Your tax dollars at work, as Caltrans wastes your money you paid to create great public transit, on legal battles to screw us disabled people who are ALSO TAXPAYERS.

In my own small town here on the SF Peninsula, it took me months just to get an answer about who was responsible for a stretch of sidewalk. And in part, that delay was because people tried to tell me that the county, city, or Caltrans might be responsible for my sidewalk corner. No one knew and there was no way to find out.

Here is at least one thing that cries out for a quick technological fix. Someone make a Google maps mashup that demarcates who is responsible for which bit of sidewalk and crosswalk. How hard could it be? Does Caltrans have the information available digitally? If so, they should make it available online. Here is the Caltrans site map. Can you find coherent information about ADA compliance, sidewalks, curb cuts, and crosswalks? Can you figure out how to find which sidewalks Caltrans “owns”? Can you figure out how to complain? I couldn’t.

Caltrans controls around 2,500 miles of sidewalk. They can’t fix them all at once, there isn’t the money or time. They haven’t surveyed their walks for ADA compliance, and they’ve had many years to do that work. But, worst of all, considering the practical realities, they don’t even provide a way for their users to report ADA problems, and they won’t take responsibility for their sidewalks.

It burns me up.

I am a happy and proud member of the super-awesome Flickr group !Rock That Disability! This morning’s realization that my own state, California, center of much disability rights activist history, is with my tax money funding a fight against the Americans with Disabilities Act. The very ADA that Barack Obama would like to support and extend; a politician who cares about the human rights of people with disabilities. I will be writing some emails to politicians this morning, notably my representative and Governor Schwarzenegger. But, I also created the Flickr group Inaccessible!. Here is its description:

A blog for photos of inaccessible places and spaces. Ever been frustrated at lack of wheelchair access, insane potholes in the sidewalk, stairs, badly configured bathrooms too small for wheelchairs, badly placed handrails, elevator buttons too high for you to reach? Snap a photo, label the place as clearly as possible, and explain why it is a barrier.

My hope is that this group will be useful to building owners and people who want to make their environment more accessible. It also helps those of us with disabilities to express our frustration and to record daily encounters with barriers to access. Documenting the problems may also help us to follow through and try to get those problems fixed by the people responsible for them.

I populated the group with a few photos I happened to have tagged already in my photo archive. Because sometimes when I’m facing a giant flight of stairs, a huge hill, a bathroom I can’t get into, or a museum where I can’t go with my kid to the exhibits, I snap a photo. Maybe 1 time out of 100 I bother to do this. But what if we all did it, every time, and built up evidence? If I document and label all the worst intersections, broken sidewalks, and so on?

I would love to see something good come of this outrage, something like I consider my own time and energy and expertise. I have done a gazillion BarCamps. What about an AccessCamp, for some web 2.0 love for disability rights activism?

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Apple store sued over ADA issues

Wow, I wonder why sue Apple in particular? Because most of these same things have happened to me in … well… pretty much every single store or public place I’ve been in.

ON the other hand I was unusually ticked off at the Apple Store in Palo Alto a few weeks ago. A “genius” was trying to fix my computer and I was insisting on trying to watch (as, if not using a wheelchair, I would normally do.) Another employee came by and told him he could pull out a little stand from the side of the counter. He complained.. .and they argued about it in front of me without talking to me. She showed him how to pull out the counter, and I started helping her do it and set it up. The dude acted put out. Then, at some point, he needed to plug into an ethernet cable because part of the problem was that my wireless software wasn’t working. And he couldn’t manage to find a cable long enough to reach to the little pull-out desk extension that I could see from my wheelchair. So we fought about that for a while, I went behind the counter and craned my neck and was rudely kicked out by a manager who said it was against store policy. When I tried during the *next* problem to come up that day to get him to pull the wheelchair accessible desk out again, he refused because it was inconvenient for him and blocked the way.

I am routinely in elevators with inaccessible buttons, or have to put up with someone else’s humiliating fussing over their wires or chairs or boxes stacked in a hallway to the bathroom… and so is every other disabled person I’ve ever talked with.

This bit made me laugh, “they were unable to reach products or service desks at the retail shop”. This is also true nearly everywhere. I accept that part and will just ask for help if I need it.

This part made me happy:

“The women said they are more interested in changing the store to better accommodate their disabilities than punishing the Cupertino-based company”

Well, yeah. And sometimes you have to push it, and sue, or bring down the law in any way possible, or change doesn’t happen. That’s how we got the ADA and equal-access laws in the first place.

Politely talking to a manager doesn’t always work. Picketing doesn’t either. Using the law might. It is legitimate activism.

So I respect their lawsuit and wish them luck.

But wait. Read the comments on the article. Check this one out:

“First, it seems unlikely that a company as astute as Apple typically is would miss something this important. They do have blinders, but not usually like that. ” That’s so annoying. Oh, well, it’s impossible to imagine that some poor yobs in a retail store, even a nice new fancy one downtown for a slick computer company, might be rude and discriminatory. Or that there are flaws in the ADA compliance in the building or the store setup, such as the wheelchair buttons or inevitable boxes in the hallway to the bathroom.

Bah. Screw them… no, sue them. Until they shape up. The disabled protesters who occupied the SF Federal Building 20 years ago didn’t do it just for fun… they did it so we can use the law to change things.

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