Deaf victory in Massachusetts goes unadvertised:
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.
Access to 9-1-1 assured --
but nobody knows it
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
Case points up problems with law
By Sally Fradkin
Florida couple pushes for ramp
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
them to avoid paying parking meters when they parked customers' cars. In
another incident nearby, someone had used blue paint to fake a parking
From the January 1997
One Step Ahead
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?
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
"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."