Accessibility for the disabledDecember 22, 2008 by Bill Strong I never realized how truly inaccessible the world is for those with disabilities until our experience with Gwendolyn -- and I'm not even the one with the disability. When we transport Gwendolyn, on walks or in the GVan, we live in a constant state of planning ahead to make sure we can get from point A to point B with as few obstacles as possible. We are so fortunate to live in a community that has so much to offer right out our front door, but I have found the lack of basic public disabled-friendly facilities, specifically sidewalk ramps, increasingly frustrating for such an accommodating community. I wrote the following letter to Kristy Schmidt, our local ADA Compliance Officer, and I hope that it will have an impact on some of the sidewalks directly around our home. We'll see...
Dear Ms. Schmidt:
My 14-month-old daughter, Gwendolyn, has the terminal disease Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). She will never sit, crawl, or walk and will always need the assistance of machines to help her breathe, swallow, cough, and feed. Her mind is no different from that of any healthy baby, but her body is failing her. Due to Gwendolyn's condition, she has to be in a horizontal position for most of the day and when we leave the house we have to take her breathing machine, battery for her breathing machine, oxygen, feeding machine, suction machine, and pulse and heart rate monitor with us on her special wheelchair stroller. As you can imagine, this can make transportation extremely challenging.
We are very fortunate to live in the community of Santa Barbara with such an amazing climate and so much to offer so close to our home. Our house is 5 blocks from State Street and we take Gwendolyn out almost every day - something she absolutely loves. Unfortunately, we have found that, save for State Street and the immediate surrounding area, the sidewalks and curbs near our home are not close to being handicap accommodating. On our daily walk from our house to State Street we pass through five intersections, Olive, Laguna, Garden, Santa Barbara, and Anacapa Streets; three of the five (Olive, Laguna, and Garden) are completely impassable for those with disabilities. To get through these intersections with Gwendolyn's wheelchair stroller and all of her equipment, we must enter the street into the oncoming traffic on Micheltorena Street from the nearest available passable driveway, walk against oncoming traffic, wait at the intersections in the street, pass through the intersections, walk against oncoming traffic, and get back up on the sidewalk at the next available passable driveway. These driveways can sometimes be hundreds of feet from the intersections and navigating them, especially with a wheelchair stroller, a baby, and several medially necessary machines, is EXTREMELY dangerous, to say the least. We're not alone. There is at least one other severely disabled gentleman that we see almost daily with his handler leading him into the street in his wheelchair, against traffic, to get through the aforementioned intersections on his way to State Street.
As you know, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in the case Barden v. City of Sacramento in 2001 that sidewalks installed and maintained by local governments must be accessible to persons with disabilities under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Thus, I am formally requesting that you fast-track sidewalk accessibility projects near our home so that we, and our neighbors, can enjoy our walks in our beautiful community in a little safer manner.
I look forward to your response and plan.
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