Friday, January 30, 2009

Heroes and Anitheroes: Minna's Getting Healthcare and School Access in the U.S.

Today Elizabeth writes about heroes (Screw Bronze!: A type of hero: a brush with greatness.). We've all needed heroes at times, someone who would at least try to speak up on our behalf or do what's right despite the personal cost. We need to remind ourselves to be heroes too, not to be complacent, not to let someone else do the important work of the world, the important work of the spirit.

I was very happy to read this evening at Media-dis-n-Dat, Minna Mettinen-Kekalainen will be getting home health care, thanks to the lengthy phone negotiations of a woman named France Gelinas. France is one of my heroes. Minna had been turned down not only by her own home health agency, but by two others, setting a bad precedent for the care of other people in difficult circumstances. We need more women and men like France Gelinas, people who will push until others do what is right.

According to another story at Media-dis-n-Dat, people in a Connecticut school district also need more France Gelinases. A local school has received a report that it needs to be brought into compliance with ADA. School officials balk at making any but the most basic changes, such as painting the disability parking spots, saying they can't afford even the initial $10,000 to $15,000 fee to bring in an architect. So I did some research. Fermi High School, the school in question, is in Enfield, Connecticut, a town of 45,000. The average household income in Enfield is $52,000. So on average, homeowners might have to pay about $1.00 or $1.50 for a family, or $.25 to $.30 per person for this architect. Given the size of the town, the high school auditorium and classrooms are likely to serve multiple functions and as a center of the community. Giving access to people with disabilities is imperative. In education above almost all else, we need access. Education. It's where we receive our life opportunities and can unlearn our prejudices, even parents and administrators and school board members.

While the administrators and board state the needed changes may cost millions of dollars, I think this is most likely a knee-jerk reaction based on no evidence for actual cost. In addition, the school does not have to make every restroom and every classroom accessible, according to the ADA. The administrators may misunderstand what needs to be done to bring the school into compliance. Nevertheless, it must be, whether or not the school has to raise taxes slightly or ask for state assistance. I have no question, however, that an architect can be hired and a plan developed. It's almost 20 years after ADA and it's a shame that the school is not accessible. A shame. The district officials should be ashamed, not angry. They've had 20 years to figure this out and make a plan. That's $500 a year for an architect and plan.

And if the school is so strapped for money, could some of the modifications be made through volunteer assistance, as with Habitat for Humanity? My husband and other volunteers installed our school's new playground equipment last year to save vital construction/installation funds after our 40-year old elementary school (the same age as Fermi) added a new wing (with more accessible restrooms).

What concerns me most with cases like this is the kind of hostility that accumulates against people with disabilities. It's a reminder of school segregation in the 1960s, with angry white men ignorant of how their belligerence affects young students or their parents. They're creating a hostile environment, not a welcoming one. They're balking, not worrying on behalf of students who need access. It's a matter of tone, and the tone is still hateful rather than welcoming to people with disabilities.

How would the heart change if one of these administrators had a child, a relative, a close friend with a significant disability? What does it take to soften the heart? None of us wants to be Moses trying to snake charm Pharaoh's best men.

Let us not forget that Moses had a disability.


Penelope said...

*snort* As far as the high school goes, it's not a "we can't afford it" thing, it's a "it's too much hassle" thing. I grew up in the area and had friends who went to the high school in question and I really do feel like it's an area that's apathetic about disability. I think there's paratransit, but I've never seen it used. While the schools in my town are all accessible at this point, the library is no where near being accessible. People just don't care.

I left a similar message to this on the blog you linked, although with a little more info there, I think.

FridaWrites said...

Thanks so much, Penelope, for confirming my hunch that it's not about the money. $10,000 is just not that much when divided over that many residents and businesses. I think it's good we both left comments on the original blog--maybe people in that town will see and think if they google for information.

I hear you about people not caring--I dreamed about trying to get into a new store last night and couldn't--they wanted to measure my wheelchair even. This reflects my real-life anxieties. And ADA codes are ignored even in new construction by big stores, such as the need to have at least accessible counter.