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.