Some good news…autistic teen gets a replacement bike

There’s been a lot of bad news lately. But there’s also good news too. A Utah teen received a gift from a stranger (from KSL, with video) who wanted to replace his stolen bicycle.

I too learned the hard way to lock up my bike. I lost two bikes in my home town – both were found bent and broken (with no pieces missing, just destroyed) in a field not far from my house. Mine were most likely stolen by other kids who just thought that it was a fun thing to do to the autistic kid who lived down the street.

Like A.J, the bicycle represented freedom. You didn’t need a destination to ride a bike. You didn’t need a friend to go with you. And you could be anywhere you wanted to go, so long as you were willing to move your legs enough! It was the one time when my body worked in harmony with my desires – it was natural to ride the bike. Today, I don’t ride the bike as much as I should, but ride the motorcycle instead – for exactly the same reasons.

Someone who is used to having freedom and being in touch with their bodies probably doesn’t understand how freeing the bike can be. I know that many other autistic people – I see how well and careful my wife is with her large scooter. She (like me) is significantly more careful with it than most people are with their motorcycles. It’s more than two wheels and an engine, it’s a chance to enjoy being in the world. That’s not something we always get to do.

So I can relate to what this teen must have felt when he found his bike missing. Like his family, mine must have been equally baffled when they discovered my bike missing, something I was ashamed to tell them happened (because of course I was told to take good care of it – and saw it as a personal failing that some criminal youth decided to be nasty). I’m glad he got a new one, and I hope that the family can keep this one from being stolen (and I hope they catch the thieves that stole the last one). Fortunately my family was always able to replace my bike – they weren’t rich, but mom always found something for me and I always ended up with something I was really happy to have. I’m glad A.J. can enjoy his rides again! I know how enjoyable a simple bike ride can be.

All that said, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just be left alone when we have enjoyment? Hopefully A.J. gets that chance now.

Gaps in the ADA

Courtesy of the Durango Herald, we know about the plight of a disabled visitor to Durango, Colorado (USA). It highlights one of many gaps in the Americans with Disabilities Act, and shows how different lobbyists ensured loopholes existed in the ADA.

(note that the ADA is a USA law, so what I say here doesn’t apply to other countries)

In the story, you hear that taxi services aren’t required to be accessible (and some pretty disgusting comments from the owner of Durango Transportation, who notes “special needs require special services” after, in the article, explaining that a person using a wheelchair would pay $72 from his company to get to to town from the airport (an able-bodied person would pay $25). It should be noted that an advocate in the town said there was a different side to this and that local transportation companies were unwilling to provide any assistance. Another transportation company, Animas Transportation after mentioning an $85,000 cost for a van with a lift, said, “The additional costs of the liability insurance will make ‘your eyes water’.” which is yet another stereotype of the disabled that typically isn’t based in fact: that we’re a liability and safety risk (perception of higher liability insurance cost is also not a valid reason for discrimination under the ADA – that’s been fought in court).

I’ll note that the ADA prohibits the surcharge as described above, and it certainly does apply to Taxi companies. And while taxi companies are not required to purchase accessible automobiles (sedans), all other new vehicles purchased must be accessible (this link also talks about surcharges being prohibited). Big surprise, though: a business (or two!) that doesn’t think the ADA applies to them. It’s also interesting that transportation businesses aren’t expected to make their transportation accessible in many cases (buy used vehicles or stick to just buying sedans), but another business who isn’t a transportation company, such as a hotel, is required to be fully accessible if they provide a shuttle service. I have a hard time believing that a hotel faces less of a financial hardship to equip their shuttle van with appropriate lifts (or providing equivalent service) but a taxi company is unable to do the same – particularly since these same taxi companies may be contracted by private businesses to operate shuttle services (so you would think it would make good financial sense, if you want private contracts, to have at least one accessible vehicle!).

As an aside, kudos should go to Doubletree Hotels for having an accessible shuttle (as required by the ADA for a hotel shuttle – unlike taxis, hotels don’t get any exceptions for accessibility in their shuttle service) – apparently the only one in Durango. Unfortunately the man wasn’t going to the Doubletree. But it’s nice to see Doubletree is willing to sell their product to both non-disabled and disabled people, and comply with the law, since sadly many businesses are not. It should also be noted that the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway managed to make their historical steam-driven train and facilities accessible, something that taxi services can’t manage to do.

Just what isn’t covered by the ADA, as far as public access? It turns out a lot. But we start with the two main categories of exceptions from Title III:

  • Private Clubs (basically anyone who can also exclude someone on the basis of race)
  • Religious Organizations

For physical accessibility, however, there are additional exceptions (this is in addition to the numerous exceptions in the design standards that say things like a toll road can build completely physically inaccessible tollbooths and then, because now a wheelchair user can’t access them, not hire people who use a wheelchair even if the user could otherwise do the job well):

  • Taxi service automobiles (sedans, not vans)
  • Houses (builders can build a 5,000 house subdivision without making even one house in the subdivision accessible, unless they have a sales office in a model home, in which case that one home must be at least partially physically accessible)
  • Air and rail transportation (these are covered by other laws)
  • Anything a State historical society decides couldn’t be modified
  • Apartment buildings in most cases
  • Homeowners associations in most cases
  • Most multi-story office buildings with less than 3,000 square feet per floor (physical access to space is not required)

I’ll also note there are many other exceptions, such as movie theater captioning (they don’t have to do that).

The ADA is a good law (and does apply to the Durango taxi services!), but it’s still has gaps that we need to continue to work to close. We aren’t done yet.

Typical. Just so typical.

I saw this newspaper article, talking about the Denver-area mass transit board of directors, entitled Disabilities Sideline RTD Members During Team Building Go-Cart Race, and have wanted to blog about it for a few days.

First, the title is a bit inaccurate.  It wasn’t disabilities that sidelined the members, but rather the attitudes and behaviors of the president of the board.

A short summary: to develop “cohesion” and teamwork on the board, a non-inclusive teambuilding activity was chosen by the board president, that left two members unable to fully participate.

A local trouble-maker (I.E. someone critical of RTD) posted this Youtube video:

RTD, or the Regional Transportation District, is the Denver mass-transit organization that manages, among other things, paratransit.  This agency has had a s storied past, with advocates using inaccessible RTD busses to pave the way for the wheelchair lifts you will see in almost all transit buses in the US today.  Of course it took lawsuits, blocking busses with bodies and wheelchairs, and generally mass disruption to make RTD put the lifts on their busses.  Every year or two since, there’s been a court case against RTD regarding inaccessible busses, broken lifts, disrespectful drivers, busses passing by disabled riders without picking them up, and even drivers lying about the working state of the lifts.  And every year or two these get settled, typically out-of-court, with promises by RTD that they will do better next time.  Except they don’t.

So, you would think that a 15 member board of directores that includes disabled members would know about the recent litigation against RTD.  Or how they cut off 120 disabled riders because they were “providing service above and beyond requirements” (link includes video) and we just couldn’t have that.  Or perhaps they would know about the disaster when RTD tried showing off their shiny new rail cars to the disabled community (in fairness, they promised – again just a promise at this point until we see how the service works – to fix those problems).  I’m not saying that RTD is bad or good here – just that board members obviously must be aware that disabled people actually exist, since at the very least these pesky disabled people have caused RTD to expend some effort.

Apparently, however, the board president is unaware of that.  Or unaware that accommodations matter.  Even for a “team building” activity (why on earth would you want to include everyone on a team building activity?).   If a disabled board member isn’t accommodated, what chance does a disabled citizen have when it comes to their transit services?

I could talk about the level of service RTD provides, as they continue to cut bus routes (and as you cut bus routes, you also cut off people who can’t use that route – RTD isn’t required to provide services to disabled riders more than a certain distance from a regular bus stop, nor required to provide that service outside of the regular bus stop’s schedule).  I could talk about the complete fiscal disaster of FastTracks (so, really RTD – you actually built a cost model that assumed tax revenue would increase over more than a decade, but building supplies and services would not change cost at all?  WTF?).  But I’m not going to.

I’m just going to say: rather than focusing on teamwork, why don’t you figure out how to involve all of the board members in the process of running RTD.  However, I imagine we’ll get little more than another promise that you’ll do better.