Friday, May 26, 2006

City "Permits" street furniture & city is responsible for maintaining access

Now that the City has decided to grant permits to Restarants and Bars for street "cafes" the City has unwittingly entered the "restarant business." The City is responsible for maintaing the public sidewalks, and must insure "Accessible Rights-of-Way." When speaking with John Nardone, DPW, this week, he was under the impression that if street furniture blocks access for PWDs, that it would be the restarant who is responsible. The agrieved would file an ADA Title III complaint with the Dept of Justice.

That is not what the Dept of Justice told me this month. If the access inside the restarant is blocked by furniture then one files a complaint against the restarant, a Title III complaint, but if the City permits the restarant to set up furniture on the sidewalk, public ways, then one would file a complaint against the City, an ADA Title II complaint, should the City allow the furniture to block access.

I sure hope we can have outdoor cafes, especially in Central Square, but the placement of the furniture must not block access. The City's failure to bring it's ordinances on this topic into compliance has resulted in giving permits for street furniture that is blocking access. I have informed the City previously, that they need to bring these ordinances into compliance, their failure to do so is now causing confusion for both public accomodations, the restarants, and pedestrians who suddenly find their access blocked.

The City must maintain access on rights of way. They must bring their ordinances into compliance.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Oh, where have you been, Michael Muehe, Michael Muehe?

On May 8, I went to the hearing at the Mass Architectural Access Board, re the City of Boston not bringing the cross slope on the sidewalks at Symphony Hall into compliance. On my way there, who should I espy, but none other than Michael Muehe, ADA Coordinator for the City of Cambridge. I was curious why he would be in Boston, at the same time as I, so I asked what was up. He told me he testified at an earlier hearing at the MAAB.

After I attended the hearing where Boston was ordered to correct the bad cross slope, by July 1, and fines were accessed retroactive to Nov 30, at $500 daily should they fail, I inquired about the earlier hearing that Michael Muehe had attended. I was informed that Michael had testified for the "applicant" for a variance to Trolly Sq. The "Applicant" claimed that they could not provide parking for handicapped vans in the underground garage because the entrance to the garage was too low.

A few days later, one of the commissioners on the Cambridge Commission For Persons With Disabilities told me that Michael had explained to him that they needed to support the varience, because if they had to correct the problem and provide parking in the garage for handicapped vans, it would drive up the cost of all the "affordable" units. I called the MAAB to see if I couuld get a copy of the testimony, and was told I would have to request it in writing, and that I should provide a "disk." It would take time. I was told that at the hearing they had said they would "take it under advisement."

Today I called to get an update, and found out that a letter had just been sent stating that the MAAB would continue this to June 15th, to allow the petitioner to correct the problem or submit plans for off street covered drop off area that could be converted to an off street covered parking place if needed.

I spoke with the Director, who explained that the MAAB denied the request for a varience at the incoming case review 2/27/06, because the applicant had not prove "impracticability." The "applicant" during the 30 day period applied for a hearing, and that was held on May 8th, at 10:30 am. Notice of this public hearing was sent to the locak Disability Commission, Michael Muehe, the Building Dept, BCIL and the Applicant.

I do not have the Docket Number for this case. I am not sure, but I do believe that interested parties can still submit writen comments, concerns, testimony to the MAAB. I will try to find out the proceedure for this, so, keep tuned. I have nothing in writing on this, so forgive me if I have inadvertantly mis-stated something I was told verbally. Please leave a comment or a correction.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

This Bus Is Not For You

Recently we may have heard reports that the Complaint filed against the MBTA by Boston Center for Independent Living, (BCIL) was settled successfully and discrimination against persons with Disabilities, (PWD's)would end. In meetings I heard that the MBTA had agreed to take steps to insure folks who use wheel chairs, walkers and service animals wouldn't be trapped underground when they arrive at a station with the elevator out of order. This happened to me once, and I assure you it is no fun. I arrived at Park St on the Red Line, and took the elevator up to the Green Line level, only to find the elevator to the street inoperable. I had no choice but to return home, as finding a way around this barrier would make me hopelessly late for my meeting.

For some reason the MBTA has been slow to understand that folks with physical, mobility disabilities, who work, have doctors apointments, attend meetings, etc, expect to be able to use public transportation to get there. from my observations, the MBTA has been content to simply change a service, or shut down a service, sometimes without notice, as a solution to operational and maintainence problems, without access around the barrier that is created by this. "Sorry, the elevator is not working." is the total message I recieved. Gee. Now how do I get to where I am going?

After repetedly trying to work through access issues with the MBTA, and not being able to get the MBTA to resolve this continued denial of service, the BCIL filed a complaint against the MBTA. The complaint has settled, and the MBTA has agreed to stop dening service based on disability. However, my expierienc last week shows that the MBTA still doesn't "get it!"

Last week I was denied service by four MBTA bus drivers on the #1 line, the "Mass ave bus." Each of these drivers stated that it was only at their discresion if a person with a disability brings their service dog onto the bus with them. They stated that this was the MBTA's policy. One driver refused to allow entry to the bus,slamming the doors shut, and pulling away prematurely, leaving me standing in the pouring rain, one driver took my fare, then, because the bus was crouded, and I needed to enter the reay, slamed the doors on my dog's nose, and left me behind, driving away with my fare in hand. A witness has come forward in this incident.

In another incident, Tuesday May 9th, the driver refused to drive with me on the bus, and all the passengers were removed, while the "inspector" tried to find out the "proceedures." I was informed that a "disabled person cannot have a service dog on the bus, unless it has either a red or a yellow collar!" LOL I must tell you, that is NOT the Law! So, I politely explained the fed ADA service dog law to him. he then made another phone call, and l;ucky for me, he came back and apologised, and said I was right. He then helped me to take the next bus that came alone. Time for me to catch a bus to Harvard Sq, approximately one hour! I was not so lucky in the fourth incident, when the driver of bus #2259 decided to lock me up inside the bus and call the police. My crime? She was angry that I had provided another passenger, who uses a wheelchair, with the name and address of Mass Commission Against Discrimination. A third passenger, who lent me the pen, was not harassed, and he was not disabled, either. When the police arrived I asked if I was free to go, and they said yes.

The purpose of this report is to inform folks of the responsibility of the MBTA to provide service to all their customers. The MBTA must provide training so individual bus drivers do not discriminate against persons based on their disability. The real issue here is the Civil Rights issue, which the MBTA seems not to understand. They mistakenly believe that treeting Persons With disabilities the same as other folks is the way to stop discriminating. In fact that is a gross misunderstanding. What the MBTA must do is "identify barriers" that prevent folks with disabilities from access to the MBTA, and take appropiate steps to "remove those barriers."

What are barriers? Well, some are architectural, like steps, or seats; some, according to the dept of Justice, (DOJ) are "barriers in the general environmnet" like a "no pets allowed" sign; but the most serious barriers folks run into are referred to by the DOJ as "attitudinal barriers."

The MBTA needs to look at it's attitude toward persons with disabilities, and begin a comprehensive program to address the latent bias directed at those who's abilities make access to the MBTA impossible without the removal of the barriers.

I might add, as an observation of common sense, that the new million dollar busses, with the low floors, are useless unless the drivers slow down, and "curb the bus" so the purpose of the low floor can be realized.