Sunday, February 26, 2012

Is This Your Town? (Part 3)

This is the third and final part of Mom's paper on barriers for people with disabilities in the early 1970s. In this part, she writes about restaurants, movie theaters and other public buildings. For the first part. For the second part.

The paper is undated, but clues, including Mom's maiden name and address signal it is from the early 1970s. The photo is of Mom at Mount Rushmore in the 1970s. Mom went to school in nearby Rapid City, before moving to her new home and new state in Iowa for a job at a hospital.

Is This Your Town? (Part 3)

What kind of entertainment can Mary expect in her new town? Several restaurants are ground level. Maneuvering room is nonexistent. When a room is full of people sitting at tables, there is barely room for anyone walking much less room for a wheelchair. Several of the newer chain restaurants or hamburger places do have accessible restrooms complete with grab bars.

One of the nicest places to eat, drink and have a nice evening with friends, is impossible. Many steps adorn the front with more steps to the ground floor bar. The dining room is on the second floor, with the ballroom on a third level. A Chinese restaurant is accessible to the eating area, however, the bar is down narrow steps and the restroom is small.

There are four movie theaters on ground level in Mary's town. You will have to get out of your chair and sit in the theater seats, so your wheelchair does not obstruct the aisles. The university shows movies in the Memorial Union. This is accessible from one door with an elevator inside. They have some removable seats along the aisle so you can remain in your chair.

The football stadium and the community theater are easily accessible. The auditorium connected with the university shows many plays and concerts throughout the season, but will present the same problems as the theaters.

When we take a look at the university's nearly 200 buildings, we find few are accessible. Most of them are old, multi-storied buildings converted to classrooms. Many tax dollars are wasted sending the handicapped students out of state to college. Much needs to be done in this area.

"Mary, this survey has really been interesting. Many of these things I hadn't thought of before."

"Beth, would you make a telephone call for me, cause I can't get into that telephone booth?"

"Guess that would be difficult with a wheelchair."

"Yes and I also can't reach that water fountain. And those revolving doors, escalators, turnstiles are impossible."

"Gosh Mary, I never realized all these problems and I've known you for a long time. I just never have paid attention."

"You know, Beth, society tends to build buildings for normal people. But who is normal? Everyone has something different about them. That's what makes us unique. Some of us have obvious handicaps, while others hide their handicaps. Some handicaps are temporary, while others are permanent. The amateur or temporary handicapped finds it much more difficult than those of us who have to live with it each day."

"That's right. I broke my leg last year and I was helpless. I don't think I went anywhere for a month because I couldn't manage our front stairs very well. It would have been great if our house had been barrier free."

Nearly every American will have a handicap of one kind or another during his life that may be temporary or permanent. It has only been in the last 15-20 years that the handicapped American has been permitted to be a productive member of society. All of the Marys of the country are no longer satisfied being barred from buildings so they have organized committees to check them out. As a result, a recent federal law now states that any federal building has to be built with accessible features. This should include the long door handles so the amputee can grasp them, warning signals for the blind, and sight signals for the deaf. A state law has also been passed that states - "any newly built, privately-owned public building, such as a restaurant, must be barrier free. Any five unit or more apartment house has to have at least one unit with some accessible features."

There is still much to be done. These laws must be enforced. Each building must be checked out, preferably by an "expert" - one who lives with the problems. We all need to be barrier conscious. After all, who knows what's in our future.

Connie, early 1970s

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