People with disabilities are not the primary clients of independent living centers, says Stephen L. Brown in our cover story this issue.
"I think communities are our real targets," he writes. "If we do not change our communities, it won't matter what we do with specific individuals. "
Brown's vision of what independent living centers should be in coming years flows from Bob Kafka's discussion in the Sept./Oct. Ragged Edge, in which he laid out what he hoped would be "the next evolution of the independent living movement." In "Empowering Service Delivery," Kafka said he felt that the classic CIL argument as to whether centers "should become part of the system" or remain outside the system as a "strong advocate" was a dated one: Centers had to do both. Centers have to deliver services--but the way they do it, he said, should be with a new model of consumer control. Our cover story this issue is the second of what we hope will be a series of articles exploring the concept and practice of running independent living centers.
We see Brown with a new laboratory to test Kafka's ideas: The Southern New Mexico CIL, where Brown landed last fall as Acting Executive Director. How he got there--after swearing off working in CILs (as many of us have no doubt done)--is a fascinating story. We get to watch Brown sort through some new ideas that have been forming in his mind during his long "sabbatical" from CILs.
"There are many ways to change communities," writes Brown. "Whether change is accomplished by force of law or other means is irrelevant. Different tactics work in different places at different times. What does matter is the result."
In Sandusky, Ohio, which does not have its own CIL, advocates from CILs in the neighboring cities of Toledo and Elyria, Ohio took up the case of Kelly Dillery--against that city's newspaper, it would seem. Our story looks at how the Sandusky Register chose to cover Dillery's continued need to drive her wheelchair in the streets because of the city's abysmal curb cuts: they ignored the curb cut problem, focusing instead on Dillery as the problem.
But CIL advocates were having none of it. They see that the problem is Sandusky's failure to follow Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and maintain city curb cuts.
We talked with Shona Eakin and Renee Riddle of Toledo's Center.
Eakin went down to Sandusky to meet Dillery last fall to make sure, she said, "that the case held water"--that Dillery "wasn't just riding in the street when she could in fact use sidewalks."
What Eakin found, she said, was that "the curb ramps, where they existed were broken, they had lips of 1 to 4 inches; or there were tree roots pushing them up." Eakin rode in her chair alongside Dillery as they inspected the neighborhood. "Where we could use the sidewalk we did; where we couldn't, we went in the street."
Riddle said she believed that "the underlying issue--the reason they're picking on Kelly--is that she's someone with a severe disability who's also an unmarried woman with a child. There's that undercurrent."
She's disabled, she's independent, and "she has these other dynamics."
It seemed that what we were seeing in Sandusky was bigotry.
As Ragged Edge was going to press, the Toledo advocates were meeting with an attorney to discuss filing a Title II lawsuit against the city of Sandusky.
The old saying "the more things change, the more they remain the same" will likely come to mind while reading the companion stories by Carol Cleigh and Zen Garcia, coming online on April 1. Doesn't anything stay changed? Stay accessible? It's not just Sandusky's curb cuts that have become inaccessible over time. It seems, sometimes, that advocates' work is never done. You push, you cajole, you persuade, you file complaints or lawsuits and you win--and yet, in a few years, things seem to be back to business as usual: inaccessible.
At least part of J. Quinn Brisben's poem (coming online on April 15) seems to reflect this:
Whose free and equal citizens excluded
Slaves, women, foreigners, and the maimed,
Who nevertheless keep rising up
Reminding us that power never lasts
And too much faith in reason is
An assurance of catastrophe . . .
. . . But some stories were old
Even before the first fire,
Especially the one about strangers
Who are always melting into us
Whether we like it or not.
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