Electric EDGE
Web Edition of The Ragged Edge
May/June 1997
Electric Edge

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Deaf victory in Massachusetts goes unadvertised:

    Access to 9-1-1 assured --
    but nobody knows it

How to use 911 when you can't speak or be understood? Deaf activists with the Cape Organization for Rights of the Disabled in Hyannis, MA know it's often impossible to get to a TTY.

The solution, conceived by a father and son involved with CORD, is simple: call 911 and press numbers on the touch-tone phone to convey the message: "1" for police, "2" for fire and "3" for ambulance." "Silent 911" works in any community with enhanced 911 service.

The system has drawn praise from advocates for children and battered spouses as well. They say it could be a lifesaver in situations where it's dangerous to talk on the phone.

"What is missing is that John Q. Public does not know this feature is available," says CORD's Tom Driscoll, who was a driving force in getting the system operational. CORD and area deaf activists are angry that Massachusetts' Statewide Emergency Telecommunications Board has been lax in advertising the simple lifesaving solution. "It's fully in place in over 94 percent of cities and towns" in Massachusetts -- "it is in place and staff have been trained."

CORD is continuing to press SETB to advertise and promote the service statewide. Contact CORD at 508/775-8300.

Most new housing complexes
violate access law, says study

Five years after the Fair Housing Act's access requirements went into effefct, multi-family housing in Baltimore is still going up "on a massive scale" that "fails to meet the access requirements of that law." Three fourths of the new housing complexes in Baltimore violate the Fair Housing Act's access requirements, reports Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. Its study done last fall looked at 59 new complexes; 44 violated the law -- "appalling statistics reflecting either gross ignorance of the law's requirements, or a gross indifference to them," says BNI. The group has filed six lawsuits against seven different developers. For information on the study contact Martin Dyer at BNI at 410/243-6007.

Crip Culture meets the Oscars

Breathing Lessons by filmmaker Jessica Yu -- a film on the life, work and thought of disability poet and commentator Mark O'Brien -- won this year's Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject.

"One look at the iron lung and it was clear, during this My Left Foot/Shine era, that Ms. Wu was a likely winner," snipped one jaded film critic.

Breathing Lessons corporates O'Brien's vivid poetic imagery and his reflections on work, sex, death, God, giving an intimate glimpse into the reality of life with a disability which confounds those who would measure "quality of life" with physical standards.

O'Brien, who from an iron lung tells audiences that "I'd rather be dead than in a nursing home," recently served as in-your-face poster boy for Not Dead Yet's' Heroes Project.

Breathing Lessons is distributed by Fanlight Productions (800/937-4113).

Case points up problems with law

    Florida couple pushes for ramp

By Sally Fradkin
When Betty and Chester Kaplan moved to Florida seventeen years ago, they were delighted with the view from Longboat Harbour Towers. They could sit in their condo and watch the surf breaking on the beach below them.

That beach has now become a symbol of Betty Kaplan's frustration: a long, unlit path running parallel to it is now Betty's only means of access to her apartment.

Five years ago, multiple sclerosis made it necessary for Betty to use a wheelchair. It became impossible for her to get to the condo through the front lobby -- its 6-foot wide double doors were kept locked. Betty couldn't reach the security system from her wheelchair. And beyond those doors, two steps separated the lower and upper levels of the lobby.

To get to her condo from the outside of the building, she would have to wheel herself to the pool area, reach over its fence and unlock the gate, cross a pool deck without guardrails and maneuver around lounge chairs to get to the west side of the deck and a second gate that also needed to be unlocked. Beyond that gate lay a path paved with material difficult to navigate in a wheelchair -- and at its end, a 75-pound fire door to get through to get into the condo. Even if she could unlock the door, Betty's not strong enough pull it open.

Last year the Kaplans believed Betty's problem would be solved when they received a notice from resident board member Susan Gansen announcing a meeting to discuss plans for renovating the lobby. Residents were being asked for their input, said the notice; but, it said, there would be no way for them to vote on the ideas.

Betty's husband Chester asked that a ramp be placed in the lobby to connect its upper and lower levels, making it wheelchair accessible . The cost was estimated at between $800 and $1000 dollars.

According to Chester, initial plans did include a wheelchair ramp. However, after a second meeting last July, the four-person planning committee chaired by Gansen decided against it. Minutes of the meeting report that "Susan Gansen responded that since the building is accessible for wheelchairs that the committee did not anticipate placing one between the upper and lower lobbies." The Bradenton (Fla.) Herald reported that Board president Tom Hostetler felt that it was aesthetics, not the cost of a ramp, that dissuaded residents; that they didn't think a ramp would look appropriate in the small, redecorated lobby.

The Kaplans have been fighting that decision, leading them to contact local, state, and federal officials. Chester also asked for help from the Suncoast Center for Independent Living and the Handicap Advocacy Council.

"I believe the bulk of the people in the building are sympathetic, but they don't want to get involved," says Chester Kaplan. "They're living in a 25- year-old building that's well kept. But now they want to come to the front door and say, 'ah isn't it gorgeous?'"

And the condo isn't covered under the federal Fair Housing Act's access requirements, according to Dixie Grubbs of the Handicap Advocacy Council. Florida's Fair Housing Law does cover such renovation, but contains serious loopholes. "I've gone through that law upside down and backward to get the ramp included, but nothing has come of it."

Then she smiles. "Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act says that any entity using federal dollars must make their facilities accessible to the handicapped. I thought about this a long time, then it occurred to me: That condominium is beachfront property. They may have their insurance through a local agency, but chances are that agency is brokering it through the federal government's flood insurance program." Grubbs is continuing to investigate.

Grubbs points out that the Kaplans' situation is far from unique. "This kind of thing goes on all over the country. Laws need to be made strong enough to help people in all areas of the country. If you can show that it's happening to enough people, the law can be changed; it must be approached on a national level."

Renovation to the condo lobby was recently been completed; it included a fully equipped exercise room and a completely remodeled office. According to Chester, the cost, originally estimated at $78,000, exceeded $130,000.

Betty's ramp was not part of the renovations. She says, "I'm lucky enough to have a husband to push me in a wheelchair. If I were alone, I'd need a mechanized chair. I could probably drive a car in a wheelchair -- plenty of people do -- but how would I open the gate and get around the pool to the car?"

Chester still maneuvers Betty's wheelchair down the two steps that separate the upper and lower levels of the lobby. But he's 78 years old and has undergone six coronary surgeries. His concern for the future has motivated him to become Betty's most zealous advocate. "Chet has left no stone unturned looking for help," Betty says. A recent letter from the Kaplans' Congressman, says Chester, gives him hope that something yet might change.

The Longboat Harbour Tower's renovation is complete, but the struggle to bring a wheelchair ramp into its lobby is far from over. As Chester Kaplan says, "I'm not giving up. If I realize my fondest hope, I'll live long enough to see a successful outcome to this situation."

DOJ: City hall must be accessible

The Department of Justice reached an agreement with the city of Destin, Florida, in March: The city must make its newly built city hall fully accessible.

Under terms of the agreement, the city will modify the parking lot to include the required number of accessible spaces and accessible routes; install a ramp to provide access to more areas of the building; make all public and employee restrooms accessible; make all doorways wide enough for wheelchair users; make counters accessible; and modify council chambers to provide access for people who use wheelchairs. The changes must be completed by August 15.

Disabled pay for parking abuse

Celia Henderson
Until recently, disabled people could park in downtown Tampa at any parking meter free of charge, as long as they displayed their placard permit.

As is true in most large cities, parking is difficult in Tampa's downtown areas near courthouses and other municipal buildings -- the city is overbuilt and doesn't allowing for enough street parking or enough public parking lots. This makes it difficult for non-disabled people to find a parking spot, too -- but at least they're able to walk the distance they need to run their errand, whereas most disabled people can't.

Someone -- or something -- prompted the city last fall to start checking disabled parking permits and comparing them to vehicle registration records. They soon discovered that not everyone using a "disabled parking" permit was entitled to: Either they'd obtained it illegally, or they were driving the car of someone in their family who was disabled. And there was always the stolen permit -- subject of several TV reports.

Not being able to stem the tide of misuse, the Tampa City Council voted 5-2 last winter to end free meter parking for disabled placard holders, except in spaces specifically marked as "disabled parking" spots.

The ordinance was meant to end misuse by non-disabled motorists and thus free up parking spaces downtown. But now disabled motorists who don't put a quarter in the parking meter will find a ticket on their windshield when they return.

Opponents insist the council is missing the obvious solution: Go after the abusers. "There's a lot of things we should try first," Michelle Patty of Concerned African-American Citizens told the Council. "We should not continue to punish disabled people because you can't get a grip on the abusers."

City Parking Manager Gene Bressler said that, despite enforcement efforts, abuse of "disabled parking" permits has gotten out of control. He said the new ordinance would actually help disabled people. "It will be interesting to see how many spaces are freed up (by the new ordinance) for people who come downtown," he said.

Violators began being ticketed with $11 fines in late January.

Vehicles with wheelchair lifts or hand controls are still allowed to park free, as are those with a Florida Toll Exemption Permit sticker, issued to people with severe upper mobility problems.

The ordinance drew support from the Mayor's Alliance, which deals with disability issues, and the Gulf Coast Paralyzed Veterans. "We applaud the efforts to clean up parking abuse in the city," said Paul Wolbert of the veteran's group.

Council Member Bob Buckhorn insisted that the new ordinance had "not done anything about placard abuse. All we've done is exacerbate the competition" for spaces designed for those with legitimate placards. But Bressler countered that under the new ordinance the city had confiscated hundreds of illegal placards.

Placards to park in the "disabled parking" spots are issued for 4 years by the auto tag division of the Tax Collector's Office and cost $15; applicants need a doctor's certificate to get one.

In another effort to crack down on abuse, the state will require disabled motorists to be recertified and reissued a permit by April 1, 1998.

More parking trials ...

Officials arrested 3 valets at a tony L. A. restaurant in the O.J. Simpson neighborhood of Brentwood last winter for stealing parking placards and using sa them to avoid paying parking meters when they parked customers' cars. In another incident nearby, someone had used blue paint to fake a parking space.

From the January 1997
One Step Ahead

Stork parking

The big Southeast supermarket chain, Publix, has started "stork parking" at some of its stores -- close-in spaces for pregnant women. Some people think it's a neat idea, but others grouse that everybody (except them!) are getting "special privileges." Sound familiar?

bar agrees

Judicial candidates in Chicago will no longer be asked to disclose personal disability information, thanks to pressure exerted by Equip for Equality, Illinois's protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities. The Bar Association revised its questionnaire for candidates and removed questions about the candidate's history of hospitalization, as well as as whether they had physical or mental disabilities.

Asking candidates to disclose their disabilities "violates federal anti- discrimination laws and personal privacy rights," said Equip for Equality attorney Barry Taylor. He said the new questionnaire would protect the privacy of people with hidden disabilities "such as HIV/AIDS, mental illness and epilepsy.

"We hope the Chicago Bar Association's actions will serve as a model for other judicial evaluation organizations, as well as other employers who may be asking disability-related inquiries."


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