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Everyone deserves equal access in public places

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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We must listen to Byron Chapman’s angry words at last week’s City Council public-comment portion of the meeting.

His comments declared that everyone – both able-bodied and disabled residents – should have equal access. That includes in buildings and at parking lots.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ensures that equality.

The act “gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications (http://www.ada.gov/q%26aeng02.htm).

We can’t forget Chapman’s sentiments.

Yes, Chapman’s tone quickly turned offensive at the March 26 City Council meeting and council and audience members were somber as Chapman said he would sue the city.

Chapman is not making idle threats. The News Messenger found almost 100 lawsuits initiated by Chapman.

But we have to move past Chapman’s belligerent tone and see how we can improve the lives of  residents and visitors who can’t move as easily around town as the majority of us.

Although I didn’t like Chapman’s threats, I agree 100 percent that everyone should have the same access to a meeting or social event.

Because everyone deserves the same opportunities.

Residents in wheelchairs are just like the rest of us. They work; they play; they have the same concerns about their family.

Unfortunately, it’s harder for them to reach places than most of us. They have to maneuver simple daily occurrences that most of us thankfully don’t have to worry about, such as using a public restroom whose door is too small to accommodate a wheelchair or paper towels mounted too high on the wall.

“It’s kind of tough getting around here,” said Bob Moran, a 51-year-old former Marine. “They put things everywhere in the way downtown - tables, chairs, other advertisements.”

Moran is in a wheelchair after a bad car accident. He suffered a severe contusion to the brain stem and, consequently, his equilibrium doesn’t have a natural balance, his left ankle to his toes has no feeling and he has dropped foot.

I talked to Moran at last Thursday’s Sterling Cafe karaoke night. He admitted “it’s very frustrating” being in a chair.

“To come here, I have to get here early to get a space,” Moran said. “If I showed up late, I’d have to sit near the register away from the karaoke because there would be no room for my chair.”

At least he has a spot at Sterling Cafe; Moran said that some downtown restaurants put him in the back near the bathroom because there’s no room for his wheelchair.

“If someone in a chair comes in, treat them like a person, not a chair,” Moran said. “Treat them like they would want to be treated. Don’t just stick them in the back. It’s the same everywhere but at Sterling’s where they know me. They take care of me.”

I asked how the city can help. Moran replied that “they would have to make everything bigger such as bathroom doors and rebuild the town. It’s a whole lot of work to upgrade the doors. They have ramps to most all of the buildings but still, once you get in, you still can’t get around.”

Dave Lightfoot, in a wheelchair since 1984 due to a bike accident, offered another outlook.

“I personally haven’t found problems with the (public) bathroom doors being too small,” Lightfoot said. “For me, bathroom problems are the lack of maintenance, toilets not being bolted down, the placement of garbage cans in the way of the door so you can’t get the door open.”

While Chapman complained about McBean Park Pavilion’s bathroom door being too small for his chair and a disabled parking space having a buffer zone on the left instead of right side, Lightfoot doesn’t have those concerns.

“I have more of a problem with the front door at McBean Park Pavilion. The ramp to the door is sloped,” Lightfoot said. “But I’ve never had a problem where, if I’m struggling, I can’t ask for help.”

Lightfoot, a longtime Lincoln resident, said that homes currently under construction should be required to have at least one bathroom with bigger doors.

“I can’t get into my nephew’s bathroom in Twelve Bridges,” he said. “We’re talking $20 more to accommodate a wheelchair. If we’re fortunate enough to live long enough, everyone will be disabled.”

Lightfoot was a Lincoln Arts’ Feats of Clay event docent at Gladding, McBean for five years and is now a Lincoln Area Archives Museum docent.

“As a docent on the first floor of Gladding, McBean, there was rough concrete but if you were cautious and looked where you were going, it was OK,” Lightfoot said.

While Lightfoot didn’t want to publicly name “certain buildings that are inaccessible,” he said “they work to accommodate me by providing service outside or helping bring me inside.”

“I can get around,” Lightfoot added. “It takes planning but we’re fortunate that Lincoln is flat.”

Lightfoot would like “a few more handicapped parking spots in the downtown area,” i.e. the Safeway shopping center.

“We live in a community with a lot of senior citizens with handicapped placards,” Lightfoot explained.

An avid hand-crank bike rider, Lightfoot also has difficulties when curb cuts are not located near bike trails.

That’s especially true in the Lincoln Crossing area, according to Lightfoot.

“One of the biggest problems with the trails, where the trail crosses the street, you have to go to the end of the street to get off the curb,” Lightfoot said. “Lincoln Hills has it right because the curb cuts there are within a few feet of the trail head.”

And yet, despite the challenges Moran and Lightfoot endure every time they go downtown, they’re always upbeat and positive when I see them.

Like many others, I never really considered how much harder their lives are.

As for Chapman, many residents are uncomfortable with his many lawsuits.

“I don’t like these guys who are suing for a means of living. They’re not necessarily looking out for the disabled community,” Lightfoot said. “They’re looking out for themselves, especially when the reason isn’t to improve the disabled community but rather for their financial gain. It’s why Gladding, McBean isn’t doing the clay exhibit anymore because they’re afraid of getting sued. I docented there multiple years and attended the artists’ receptions and it wasn’t a problem.”

Hopefully, our city staff will make the needed changes for those who use wheelchairs, walkers and canes.

Because we want equal access for everyone.

It’s the right way. We don’t need a lawsuit to tell us that.