Guest columnist Walter Lloyd: Does public accessibility not apply to me?

  • Walter Lloyd at the Palau de la Música in Barcelona, Spain. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Published: 2/8/2019 8:49:08 AM


Before visiting a public space, have you ever had to consider that you may not be able to access it because the space is not accessible? Well, I have to think about that all the time.

The ADA (the American Disability Act) was created in 1990 when George Bush was president. This act, and I quote, “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government programs, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.”

I have had many experiences that prove that this law is not properly upheld. Just because I have different abilities than other people does not mean that I should not be able to access buildings that they can access. We, as people, have to realize how crucial and important it is for everyone, no matter their conditions, to be able to move around all by themselves. As Noel Helm, a disability coordinator at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College in Kentucky said, “Being disabled does not mean Un-abled, just Different Abled.”

A common space that many people attend is a public college. I feel that everyone should be able to access what they need, right? Well, when I go to UMass, I experience a lack of accessibility around the campus, and I think it is unjust that everyone cannot access all of the facilities.

One time, my mom and I went to the UMass Fine Arts Center to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. The show that we wanted to see was open to the public. The accessible entrance to the building was out of the way and hard to find. When we arrived at the entrance of the exhibit, we were faced with four steps leading down to each side of the gallery but no ramp for wheelchair access. Now, I understand that many buildings were built before the ADA was passed, but it is still very frustrating since UMass is a state school. UMass should at least try to make the campus more accessible. The university claims that they prohibit discrimination against people with physical disabilities. Yet, there are parts of campus that are not handicapped-accessible. If they are not accessible, UMass should not claim that they are open to everyone.

I have been to New York City many times throughout my life, and in the entire city, less than a quarter of the city’s train stations are handicapped-accessible, depending on the structures working properly. On one of my visits to the city, I had difficulty navigating the street curb ramps as many people stand there and I found they were not wide enough for me to pass other pedestrians. In 2015, fewer than 10 percent of the curb ramps along Broadway in Manhattan were brought up to the ADA standards. Curb cuts in New York City is a widely discussed issue.

One wheelchair user, Dustin Jones, told The New York Times he experienced an incident where he nearly tipped out of his chair due to curb cuts. Dustin feels “… it’s very unfair. These types of things should not be happening in a city like this.” Other cities in the world provide infrastructure that does not pose the same problems to wheelchair users. When I traveled to Barcelona, Spain, the curb cuts were wide enough for everyone to use.

Now, I am not saying simply fixing all old buildings will change accessibility. We need to educate the community about accessibility, and the challenges some face, and make people aware that their actions can affect others. There are many steps beyond just fixing buildings in our fight to protect the rights of those who depend on ADA laws to access their community.

We need to keep creating awareness, no matter what it takes. People need to realize how important having access to public spaces is. I believe that public spaces should be accessible to the entire community, no matter a person’s individual circumstances.

Walter Lloyd, 13, is an eighth-grader at Amherst Regional Middle School. He enjoys painting and exhibiting his work, traveling, and spending time with his three siblings and folks in his limited spare time.

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