An ABC television affiliate in northern Virginia reports that the Obama inauguration planning has been devised so as to discourage people with disabilities from attending. Surely one can understand how the problems of logistics–how to move people with mobility accommodations through the vast thrhongs of citizens who will be clogging the streets and the public transportation systems can’t be easy to resolve. And yet I would argue that this logistical difficulty or the fact that making accommodations isn’t easy is always the excuse that’s trotted out by the benignly ableist city planners, architects, aircraft engineers, academic dean’s offices, stadium officials, software developers, manufacturers of technologies, restaurant owners, oh on and on the list can go.
There really isn’t much more to be said about this matter alas. As the above article suggests, people at the Obama inauguration committee say that they’ve done all they can do to make the proceedings accesible. I believe them though not because I think they’ve turned earth and sky upside down but because the relative “built in” inaccessibility of our nation’s second rate public transportation system and our inability to build disability into the first tier of event planning are commonplace matters that all pwds can relate to. “Oh,” someone says after the first plans for moving crowds and setting up seats, “Oh, yeah there will be disabled people, we better figure out what to do about them.” By then its too late.
People don’t generally say: “Well, one in 4 to 5 Americans has a disability so let’s make sure this thing will work for that many people.” A noteworthy example of this principle has been demonstrated by the University of Michigan’s clumsy and lawsuit bedraggled effort to renovate their football stadium.
How and when will disability accommodations go from being a clumsy “add on” to a “built from the ground up” concern? Will, as some now say, the aging of the baby boomers bring this about? Will a new generation of war veterans help the disability rights community and their veteran elders to keep the pressure on? Surely these things are true. But the “truer” thing is that our nation’s universities must be teaching courses in disability studies and thereby introducing our next generation of planners and movers and shakers to the issues of universal design and best practices for making people friendly public spaces.