Ever notice how subtle change is sometimes? You know, like a new building appears where you were sure there was a field yesterday? That’s how I felt when I started researching this article about access to people with disabilities in our community. I found many things I had forgotten weren’t always there and now I see more and more access every day. Almost all the large department stores have electric carts. Even five years ago this was very rare. A few stores had one, now the average is four. Accessible bathrooms are being remodeled to include an accessible stall, lower sink and dispensers and larger turn around areas for wheel chairs. Automatic doors are becoming more common as are entrances with no steps. All of our city buses are equipped with lifts. If you don’t live close enough to a bus stop, and you qualify, Access Express will pick you up at your door. OATS provides vans with lifts outside the city limits. Everyone benefits, people with disabilities, people with baby strollers, and seniors with canes or walkers.
The community is finally realizing that the more they respond to the customers need, the more money they make. It has started a mind set in entrepreneurs to offer more and more convenience. For instance, pizza isn’t the only thing you can get delivered to your door. A growing number of grocers will take your order over the phone and deliver it to you. Many pharmacies are doing the same. There are even people who will holiday shop for you or run errands for a fee. Homes can be built already accessible now so it will be ready as you grow older when remodeling is usually too expensive on a fixed income.
There are approximately 54 million people with disabilities in the United States and now communities are watching this sleeping giant wake up and demand equality. Slowly but surely, it is being granted. The Americans With Disability Act is a great liberating piece of legislation but it sits silent until you give it a voice. Success has happened because of people’s perseverance and determination to set things right. Freedom is the responsibility of all people who enjoy it. We must be ever diligent, ever watchful. When you observe no access, grocery carts parked in a disabled parking space, electric carts broken or not even available, bathrooms inaccessible, entrance doors too heavy to open; speak up, write a letter, make your requests be known. You can call Southwest Center for Independent Living (886-1188) and we will assist you in pursuing it. But, your voice is the most important. You are the customer and all of us have a right to all the services our community offers. Do it for yourself, do it for you grandparents, your grandchildren, do it for freedom.