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2015 is the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA. We will be posting 25 posts over the course of 2015 which will focus on the ADA- how it has changed society and what still needs to be done. Our goal is to cover for you, dear reader, as many different angles and issues as possible. Below is the seventh post in our #ADA25For25 series. The most recent post was We’re Not There Yet.
When our then 10-year-old son Danny was accepted into a local synagogue’s highly regarded summer day camp, I was very excited. With his multiple disability diagnosis, including cerebral palsy, Danny had spent all of his time in public school special education placed in separate “special day classes.” Finally, he would be mainstreamed, and get to enjoy time in the park, music, art and swimming with typical kids the same age as himself. We privately paid his aide from public school to be his 1:1 aide, and the job included pushing Danny in his stroller. A few days into the day camp, however, the aide told me that they had trouble getting to a program on the third floor of the synagogue because the elevator wasn’t working. The aide had to maneuver Danny, his backpack and the over-sized stroller up three flights of stairs, and because all the other campers and counselors had quickly walked upstairs, the two of them were left behind, with no one around to help.
I talked to the Camp Director about the problem, and she asked the Director of Facilities to get the elevator fixed, but no one expedited the process so the elevator was not fixed by the end of Danny’s time at camp. Instead of participating in any activities held on the third floor, our aide ended up taking Danny on a walk on the ground floor whenever it was time to go up those three flights of stairs. Ten years later, Danny is much better at being able to handle stairs by himself, but it is slow going, and there’s always his backpack and walker, and sometimes the stroller, to schlep along.
As instrumental as the American Disability Act (ADA) has been in making public and community spaces much more accessible for those with physical disabilities, there are ongoing problems, such as elevators filled with cleaning equipment and boxes, leaving no room for someone in a wheelchair, staff not trained on how to use the equipment, and a general lack of maintenance of elevators, ramps and other accessible areas. My sense is that once the general contractor has installed the elevator or ramp, the Facilities Director crosses that item off of his/her ADA compliance list and then moves on, without much of a look backward to see if everything is still working.
If the electricity goes out at a temple, there are emergency plans and a great sense of urgency to restore it. Even when a day school’s phone system is down temporarily, parents will get an email. But the one elevator in a building? It can remain idle for days. In brief, senior management at most religious and community buildings regard the elevators/ramps as convenient and helpful for a few people but not essential for everyone.
ADA compliance is not a one-time fix; it must be a continuous commitment from the top leadership to ensure that everyone who comes into a venue will be able to enjoy all aspects and programs provided at all time, without being stuck on the ground floor.