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Bend: a nice place to be a jock

Bend, Oregon, is a fine place to be athletic (and young and wealthy), but not too good for those of us who are neither able-bodied, young, or financially well-off. On the other hand, neither is America, these days. But, here in Bend, the situation of physically disabled people has reached the point where even the life-is-wonderful daily paper had to click it’s editorial tongue.

Bend’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements limps (uh-huh) along, frustratingly slow and over-cost. Compliance is a long way behind schedule. This is about as surprising as the foot-dragging that went along with Bend establishing a fixed-route transit system.

The city’s delays in meeting the standards would be a joke if it wasn’t so unfunny.

In a recent story, the Bend Bulletin covered the delays and excessive expenses in meeting some of those requirements. According to the story, the city has had difficulty in getting competitive bids from contractors—on something as simple as accessible parking places. The bids received were high: many were for several times the estimated costs. The city decided to do much of the work itself. But the recurrent theme is oh-it’s-just-sooo-expensive…

Yes, it is expensive. So what? The compliance is mandated by federal law—and being in compliance is the decent thing to do. People are not disabled by choice. Nobody seriously wants to spend their life in a wheelchair. I’ve spend various periods of my life in wheelchairs and no doubt will again—it’s just not all that great. It’s a continuing stream of frustrations. The Americans with Disability Act makes mobility easier, but “easier” is a relative term.

My own intuition on this is that Bend doesn’t really mean to go slow, it’s just that accessibility is down the priority list. Disabled people aren’t as visible or vocal as, say, serious bicycle riders or joggers. Nor are disabled people as numerous or as wealthy, as a rule. There are a lot of wealthy jocks in Bend; that gives them political power. The city is likely to listen to the money. That’s the reality of politics, like the old joke: the golden rule—the rules are made by those with gold.

But what’s frustrating is that there’s so little public advocacy for those who are segregated by mobility problems. I use the word “segregated” deliberately, because up until the enactment of the ADA, the disabled were discriminated against right and left. Even today, there’re a lot of informal restrictions on those of us who don’t get around too normally.

About peter webster

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3 comments

  1. Well written Peter.

    People with disabilities are undoubtably the class of Americans that it’s not a big deal to discriminate against. I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that people with disabilities aren’t as “vocal or visible” as non disabled people. Why is that?

    I believe it’s because of a mindset that believes “others” will do the advocacy for them, and being vocal and visible will only hinder the efforts of the “others”.

    It’s time for people with disabilities to become loud and obvious. It’s time to take the struggle for civil rights out of the hands of “others”, and demand equality and parity NOW.

  2. It is time for public officials to see, listen, seek out advice and act to bring more progress. With public funds and leveraging the sense of fairness and good will of business and the greater community.

  3. Demographics determine, I guess.

    So much of what’s happened in Bend in the last half-dozen years is about marketing. The city decided to “go” where the money is. A drive through the business districts will show you that the money is in high-priced bicycles, fancy ski duds and equipment, kayaking, and, of course, expensive clothes.

    As is normal for American cities, Bend’s infra-structure is hurting for money for basic services. Extra money comes from developers (“subdividers” is the old name for them) and retailers who donate lots of money for various civic events, like concerts and festivals. These events draw attention to Bend, increase it’s market value, and help make our town a (more) popular place. But those donations—”sponsorships”—don’t do much for things like accessible bathrooms or sidewalks that can be navigated by wheelchairs—or reasonably priced housing…

    The town’s in a bind. We’ve been riding a boom, but in the history of the west, every boom is followed by a bust. Having to come into compliance with federal laws, and doing what’s clearly the right thing, isn’t going to be easy or cheap. Too bad so much money is going to fight an ugly war instead of being invested at home.