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One Million Bucks for a 10ft Ramp

  • Posted by Wheelchair Dancer
  • 28 Feb 08, 7:56 AM

Oh. No. It's a historic building. We never thought disabled people would need to go THERE and do THAT.

Well, surprise, surprise.This is from the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Thanks to a maze of bureaucratic indecision and historic restrictions, taxpayers may shell out $100,000 per foot to make the Board of Supervisors president's perch in the historic chambers accessible to the disabled.

"It's crazy," admits Susan Mizner, director of the mayor's Office on Disability. "But this is just the price of doing business in a historic building."

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick said Tuesday that the issue went to the heart of liberal guilt that often drives the city's decision making. He also choked on the price tag, and asked that the board take some more time to come up with an alternative, like maybe just getting rid of the president's elevated seat.

The root of the problem dates back to when City Hall got a $300 million makeover in the 1990s that made just about every hallway, bathroom and office accessible to the disabled. The exception was the board president's podium, which is reachable only for someone who can climb the five steps from the chamber floor.

The understanding was that the room would eventually be made fully accessible. But no one worried about the podium until 2004 when Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who uses a wheelchair, joined the board."

Well. Lookee here. Another danged selfish wheelchair user. Exploiting liberal guilt on her own power trip. I mean, really. It's bad enough that cripples run for (and get into) public office, do they really need to get onto the raised podium?

Instead of blaming the team who did the remodel or the people who let the details slide never assuming that a wheelchair user would desire access to the podium, bloggers and journalists are blaming Ms. Alioto-Pier for wanting the same things that her colleagues have. She wants to get on the podium and will exploit liberal guilt in order to be able to do so. It's a power trip on her part.

It's true that being able to access the raised podium is not absolutely critical to Ms. Alioto-Pier's ability to do her job; it doesn't prevent her from working or being effective. But in my view that's not good enough. If you are going to be accessible, you should be accessible. Using the podium seat thingie is a symbolic part of the job. It represents the authority (and power, I suppose) of city supervisors. It's one of those things. If it matters -- i.e., if it is important for supervisors to display their authority in this way, then it should be available to ALL city supervisors -- and if it doesn't matter then, the whole thing can be removed. From my point of view, it's an all or nothing thing.

Access is not a product of liberal guilt. I can barely write that without feeling annoyed. Liberal guilt doesn't elect disabled people to office. Liberal guilt doesn't make them effective supervisors. It's really one of those awful things where no one plans for a disabled person to show up, and then, when she does, there's an "oops" moment. I'm tired of oops. Oops does not facilitate equality: planning does.

City Hall is a beautiful historic building. BUT it is a municipal building -- and the claim that historic preservation should come before access does nothing for me. City Hall is where we HAVE to go to transact our civic responsibilities. It should be accessible to all citizens, in all ways. Accessibility enables historicity here. City Hall is a building that should be able to accommodate and reflect the changes in American culture. We have moved from a world where disabled people did not play a large part in civic life to one where they can hold office. City Hall, the symbol of San Francisco, should reflect that history. Historicity is not necessarily about holding a frozen moment suspended in the past. Historicity also incorporates the present. AND this present requires access for a disabled city supervisor.

I will never hold public office, but when I roll into the beautiful lobby, I feel like I am a part of that city history. I have danced in the open hall space there in the name of accessibility and disability pride. I have attended the wedding of a friend at City Hall. The building is part of my personal history with San Francisco -- and I am part of its history, too.

That, in my view, is the argument for inclusion and access: disabled people are part of the city's past, present, and future. The building that symbolizes the city should represent all of its citizens. It should allow all of its citizens to participate in city life. Then, and only then, will City Hall be a historic building.

• Visit the website of the ahistorical, presently-focused Wheelchair Dancer

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