The take ACTION! class is quickly approaching the end of the course and are getting their ideas together for their final project. The focus is going to be on accessibility and the participants will be making a booklet highlighting some of the building standards included in the ADA and Fair Housing Act and showing positive examples as well as examples of items that need to be improved.
Choosing this topic reminded me of how inaccessible public places like homeless shelters, which are on the list of buildings that are supposed to be able to be accessed by anyone, are to people with disabilities. Not long ago we got a call from a local news agency who was working with a woman that had been evicted. This individual, who had a significant disability, was in need of emergency shelter, I proceeded to give the names of some local shelters in Gwinnett and close by, but I was told that these were not wheelchair accessible. I was shocked. After talking to some coworkers I learned that most homeless shelters in the the Metro Atlanta area are not accessible for everyone and this left me absolutely baffled. It’s bad enough that people with hearing impairments and mental health diagnoses have trouble getting services, but a person in a wheelchair can’t even get into many of these buildings to try their luck in getting supports from these agencies.
The other surprising thing to me was that the news wasn’t going to cover the fact that many shelters are not accessible. How is that not a newsworthy story? People with disabilities, a minority group that anyone can become a member of at any time, a group that commonly live at or below the poverty line and the largest minority group, can’t access a building that, by law, is supposed to accessible to all people. The woman being evicted was a story, but the fact that she couldn’t find shelter couldn’t be mentioned or followed up on. I asked the person on the phone if this wasn’t something that should be followed up on and she didn’t really have a response. I think I might have to take matters in my own hands and do some investigating in the places that I can get to. Being able to get into the building is one problem, but being able to get to the building is another level of difficulty. Inspired by my take ACTION! participants I plan on making a “report card” for places and letting them know how they could improve access for all of the people that want to come in, not just the ones that can climb the steps, speak directly or see the signage. We must advocate for positive changes in architectural and transportational barriers if we are ever to be able to fully participate in the communities in which we live.