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August 10, 2005

Western Wheelchair Woes

I ran across two stories today -- one that people would probably say was "unintentional" discrimination; the other seemingly a clear case of "intentional" discrimination. Yet I wonder, in these two cases, which is worse? Who is suffering more? Or is it all just a matter of "whining"?
California wheelchair user Lynette Whitfield has just sued Amtrak and the city of Salinas, CA because the Amtrak station's restroom isn't accessible; she "was forced to relieve herself outside because the restroom's doorways were too narrow for her wheelchair," says the suit. More from the Associated Press via KESQ Television.
And wheelchair racer Curt Brinkman has sued organizers of the Hobble Creek Half Marathon in Springville Utah, saying they refused to allow him to take part in last year's race. According to the The Provo, Utah Daily Herald, race organizer Kenneth "Hawk" Harper and his wife

were shocked to learn that Brinkman -- whom they considered a friend -- had filed the lawsuit against them ... Hawk said he has worked with Brinkman before and wouldn't deny him his right to participate in a race.
"We're willing to let him race," Hawk said.

The suit says otherwise. The judge has refused to dismiss the suit, though Harper tried that tactic. "He's not asking for any monetary reward," Brinkman's attorney said. "He just wants to take part in the race."
An anonymous reader posted this comment to the website of the Daily Herald:
Would Curt like a little cheese with his wine? Or does he think that the whole world revolves around him? If they are not set up for wheel chair racers then why does he want to "run"? Is it so he can be ruled as a winner? I think his attitude shows him to be more of a real loser.

COMMENT-BODY:I'm no crip athlete (see http://midlifeandtreachery.blogspot.com/2005/08/pledge-to-do-bit-better.html)

But: Curt is asking for what I see as second-level access: Integration. He's not asking for separate accessible events but to simply be allowed to participate in a race. If all of our visibility is in separate-but-somewhat equal places like the Paralympics, then that is tacit assent to the mindset that means it's ok to put us "someplace else."

As for that anonymous commenter...

S/he is one of the many that is obviously certain they will never age or deal with a disability...It's amazing how often people believe "I'm going to be at this level of function forever."

I see Lynette as still suffering from denial of access, more of a first level problem, the one that the able truly believe "went away" with the passage of the ADA.

Not quite.

Which was more "important?" If we are forced to prioritize I figure bathroom privacy is more important than running a race, but I reject the idea of prioritizing these. Both are important.
COMMENT-BODY:""We're willing to let him race," Hawk said."

Well, that is what Mr. Harper said alright. It is, afterall, in quotes.

(It's this next series of statements that starts me to thinking)

"....Brinkman didn't exhaust administrative options." Spoke the Harpers.

Well, who else in that race had to "exhaust administrative options?" And why would any of them have to "EXHAUST" administration options unless the answer was "no" in the first place?

"The race director (Harper) refused me to get to the starting line and thus prevented me from running the race," Brinkman said.

And this could be considered "exhausting administration options" can't it?:

"Brinkman said he has had discussions with Hawk in which he has requested they add a wheelchair division. But because of safety issues, Hawk said he doesn't see that as a viable option." Aaaaand aaa horse is a horse of course of course but whosever heard of a talking horse.....

Isn't that "exhausting administrative options?" Harper is the "Director" of this race afterall.

And we read this:

"Plus, Cheryl told him there was no wheelchair division, and there was no way for him to be transported to the starting line because the buses that were being used were not equipped for wheelchair access."

Well, at least we now know that buses WERE being used because of this statement in part: "...because the buses that were being used...."

And why wasn't there a wheelchair lift on those buses? Ah well, I won't worry 'bout that right now. (not this article anyway) Besides, seems to me that Brinkman didn't mind and was more than willing to get there himself. He happily supplied this information: "..he could use own vehicle and that he had taken part in the race before."

Now see, he's a polite guy if you ask me. Not a complainer type. I haven't found anything yet that would indicate he's a trouble maker.

".....Brinkman said Cheryl still denied him participation."

What!? But at the top of this comment is this quote from Mr. Harper himself---"We're willing to let him race."---We all read it and so did anyone else who read that paper. Hmm, something isn't adding up here.

What is Cheryl's reasoning why Brinkman shouldn't take his own car?

"Cheryl said it was a problem for Brinkman to get to the starting line because the canyon was scheduled to be shut down temporarily." (mind you, it's NOT shut down --yet).

Now I'm curious. Just how did all the "other" racers get to the starting line? Or the bus for that matter?

"Cheryl said that before further discussion ensued, she was distracted by others who needed her services...."

Well now, that's either mighty convenient or darned rude of her to cut Brinkman off like that mid-conversation. But I suppose those 'others' that 'needed' her 'services' were probably yelling while in line things like "Hey! I'm in line here! Can ya stop with the crip already and get over here and give me your services!!" or something to that effect. Course, I could be wrong on both counts but something tells me I'm on the right trail with this.

Okay! On with the article.

"The race has never had a wheelchair division, but the Harpers say they would have allowed him to participate if Brinkman had given them more notice."

Now this isn't making sense. If anybody has read the article we find out that Brinkman had participated in a race about 10 years before in an "un-official" capacity (of course). So what "special arrangements?" are needed on this "street?" That's right, it's a street.

Plus he was there the day before picking up his race packet and saw Cheryl at the registration booth.

This is interesting:

" The race takes place on a course where regular traffic flows, and Hawk said that presents danger. He said he is more concerned about novice participants, not necessarily Brinkman.

"I believe in Curt's ability," he said. "I'm worried about others that are less experienced trying to duplicate his efforts."

Ohhhhhhh, I get it--Harper is worried that either those others racers will become disabled or somehow grow wheels. Or because of Brinkman's abilities Brinkman will end up miraculously growing legs to run with! Okay, well, it's a valid concern. (and ducks have lips). (I know that isn't what was meant but couldn't resist. Those two statements by Harper taken alone could mean anything!)

".... Hobble Creek Half Marathon tried to get the case dismissed on a technicality."

And because they couldn't AND "...an event such as a marathon does need to provide reasonable accommodations for a person like Brinkman who wishes to participate."

"That is the burden that Brinkman must demonstrate in his lawsuit. In addition, he must show that accommodations made by race organizers do not fundamentally alter the race."
Amtrak, oh Amtrak--Hast thou not heard of the ADA?

Lynette Whitfield will bring it to your attention.

Thank you Lynette Whitfield for speaking out. I'm sorry you had to be humiliated like that however. This is the kind of stuff that should never still be happening to any of us!
I couldn't prioritize either case. Both people who are disabled in these stories were wronged, humiliated and degraded. The Federal Law is on their side.

I agree with you on the separate but equal stance. None of us like segregation. However, because it was requested, according to the newspaper article, by Brinkman, it was important to note the reaction he receieved even after asking for the 'segregated' option. It's not an option I'd chose. Although as all can see, as 'his friends' they weren't even willing to consider what he thought might be an option for himself.

And ditto on the anonymous commentor and especially this ADA near myth--- that'll hopefully turn into the intended ADA written up. Now to see it's real implementation with it's intended meaning.

No doubt, these stories show the true color of bias. And we know these are but the tip of a hat. Someday we will have genuine civil rights. Hopefully sooner than later--it's been a long road.
COMMENT-BODY:Stupid media. Most of the articles are pretty short. Here's a detailed article about the first one:

City, Amtrak sued for toilet access
Salinas: Suit says disabled woman forced to relieve herself outside station
Herald Salinas Bureau
A Salinas woman who is unable to gain access to bathrooms at the Salinas train station has sued the city of Salinas and Amtrak.

Lynette Whitfield filed the lawsuit Tuesday in federal district court in San Francisco.

The lawsuit describes efforts by Whitfield, who uses a wheelchair, to use the restroom while waiting for a train in October. Frustrated, the woman "was forced to relieve herself outside the station... while holding onto a bicycle rack adjacent to the side doors," according to the lawsuit.

Whitfield soiled herself and her clothing and was unable to wash herself before boarding the train, according to the lawsuit.

"No one should have to go through what I went through," she said. "I was humiliated."

A year earlier, the lawsuit alleges, Whitfield was not able to fit her wheelchair into a stall and, with lack of handrails, could not maneuver from her wheelchair to the toilet.

When she complained to an Amtrak ticketing agent at the time, the agent suggested she sue, according to the suit.

Whitfield's attorney, Andrea Asaro of San Francisco, said the action was taken after she and her client could not convince the city to fix the problem.

"No one wants to do this unless we have to," Asaro said. "We sent a letter to the city and spoke to attorneys for the city and its redevelopment agency. We sent letters to Amtrak and to Union Pacific, but to no avail. The idea is to get this fixed. Ms. Whitfield has family in Washington state that she goes up to visit and she needs to be able to use the station."

Vanessa Vallarta, Salinas city attorney, said the city unsuccessfully attempted to resolve the issue with Whitfield and Asaro when Whitfield filed a claim against the city.

She said the city plans to make the restrooms compliant with American with Disabilities Act regulations when it renovates the station as it prepares to turn it into a transit center that will make it the hub of most commuter operations in the county.

"We've also been trying to set up some intermediate measures until that project is complete," Vallarta said. Work is expected to begin on the ADA upgrades within the next couple of months, she said.

The lawsuit alleges that the old station off Market Street violates state and federal laws, specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act enacted in 1993.

"The station's barriers to access unlawfully deny persons with disabilities full and equal access to these accommodations," according to the lawsuit.

"It's clearly out of compliance," said Asaro. "The federal law was enacted in 1993, so it's outrageous it has not been fixed since then."

The city's redevelopment agency owns the property and has leases and operating agreements with Union Pacific and Amtrak.

Vallarta said the train station was originally built before 1892 and was last renovated in 1942. The major upgrade on the entire station is expected to begin next year.

The lawsuit does not specify how much Whitfield is seeking in damages, but her claim with the city sought $45,000.

Thank you for that more detailed article. See, it just goes to show that we're forced to sue in order to get anything up to code with the Federal ADA.

And all too frequently, most of the time unfortunately, we, the disabled, are made out to be "sue-happy" "trouble-makers" or our attorneys are made out to be "vultures who take advantage of us for purposes of monetary gain" (ask Clint, he'll tell ya).

People refuse to see that basic civil rights have been violated. The ADA ignored completely. Now if it happened to them--THEN and only then, would they 'get it.' Or if they get sued, then they 'get it', however grudgingly. Course they always come off with lines like "And we didn't know we were in violation of any ADA thingie until we were 'blindsided upside the head' with a lawsuit! Those trouble making!....those robbers!!"

Nevermind it's been a Federal Law for well over a decade now. ::::sigh::::

Posted by mjohnson at August 10, 2005 04:21 PM