On July 26, 2021, America will celebrate the 31st anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This comprehensive civil rights law prohibits discrimination in the workplace, requires equal access to state and local services and benefits, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in private public accommodation, and enforces access to telecommunications and the Internet. ADA paved the way for equality for people with disabilities. Shouldn’t we have access to the sidewalk we walk on?
Before this dreaded pandemic, my wife, who was 28 years old, asked why I no longer drive my wheelchair next to hers to the local grocery store or anywhere else. My reaction was based on a number of factors including muscle weakness from Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II, the inability to cross the intersection in the allotted time, and the cracked and uneven sidewalks and streets.
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That’s why I’m a member of the El Paso Complete Streets Coalition, a collaboration of local and national organizations that work together to improve road safety and the general health of the El Paso community. “Complete roads” is a term used to describe roads that allow safe and comfortable travel for all users and for all modes of transport.
Complete streets have infrastructure and design components such as safe crossings, barrier-free sidewalks and cycle paths that make it easier to go to shops, cycle to work or cross the street to and from the train station.
The definition of an accessible street or sidewalk depends on the type of disability. People who use mobility aids such as manual and motorized wheelchairs would benefit from a wide, smooth surface with no cracks, bumps, or steep inclines, as well as the installation of curved ramps when a new or modified pedestrian walkway crosses a curb or other barrier across a street, Road or highway. Curb ramps should be contained within the pedestrian crossing markings and the boundary between a sidewalk and the road should be recognizable from beneath your feet.
Blind people need hearing and touch sensory information delivered at the pedestrian button of an accessible pedestrian signal, and those who are not blind but visually impaired need zebra stripes with contrasting colors. Pedestrians who are deaf or hard of hearing would benefit from wider sidewalks with more space for pedestrians to use sign language or watch each other walking together. People with intellectual disabilities need signs that are easy to read and understand.
The accessibility of sidewalks and streets is prescribed by the ADA, but El Paso should not limit itself to minimum requirements. The city should break new ground to create a pedestrian-friendly sidewalk network that benefits everyone. Adopting a full road policy will do just that.
The great philosopher Socrates said: “The secret of change is not to focus all your energies on fighting the old, but rather building on the new.” El Paso should continue to incorporate standard accommodation on our streets and sidewalks, while being open to innovation Ideas stay.
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With the resources available to us today, we have the potential to create a more accessible and inclusive community by breaking down prejudice, ignoring false information, and embracing technology. People who are “inclusive creatives” can develop new accommodation methods that can be beneficial for everyone.
Some ideas that can improve access include programming audible signals that not only provide a countdown but also name the intersecting streets; Installation of a wire with beads with Braille, which can be used by blind or visually impaired people to navigate sidewalks; Replacing concrete with a smoother surface that won’t crack or rise easily; Posting signs on cycle routes containing a picture of a bicycle and a wheelchair; Installing a vibrating plate on a curb cut for people who are both deaf, blind, or who benefit from sensory stimulation. The promotion of accessibility can only be hindered by the narrow-minded.
On July 26, 1990, people with disabilities celebrated independence from isolation, inequality and ignorance in this great country. We changed a nation that my people viewed as charities or innocent souls who were sick and needed to be healed. Yes, society should continue to narrow the gap between isolation and discrimination, but we should also celebrate what we have achieved so far.
I look forward to celebrating the anniversary of the adoption of the ADA and hope to soon be able to celebrate the adoption of a complete road directive for the city of El Paso. Then I can walk again with my wife on beautiful and unrestricted sidewalks.
Joseph “Joey” Acosta lived in El Paso all his life and is committed to equal employment for people with disabilities.