All America city discriminates against disabled

By Eileen Feldman
Wicked Local Somerville
Posted Jul 02, 2010 @ 12:49 PM

Somerville — This past May, the Community Access and Inclusion Project took advantage of the Housing and Urban Development Annual Plan(HUD) citizen comment period to send in a complaint regarding Somerville’s continuing use of federal funds to roll out programs that treat residents with disabilities like second-class citizens.

We provided a sampling of issues to demonstrate how, for each of the three HUD national objectives, the city fails to eliminate barriers to equal opportunity, fails to expand economic and affordable housing opportunities, and fails to examine and eradicate blight and substandard conditions for minority, including disability minority, low-income residents, while using HUD funds.

We noted how the city continues to fund and approve the construction of multifamily housing that doesn’t even adhere to the Fair Housing Accessibility Design standards, which have been in effect since 1991.

We noted that the city continues to spend money on streetscape “improvements” without even taking the care to inventory the entire street network; determine where the safety and access priorities are; and make a comprehensive plan to close the gaps in the pedestrian network, especially within very-low income neighborhoods and where municipal facilities are located.

We noted how a HUD-funded city partner, whose motto is, “Empowering residents to sustain a diverse and affordable Somerville,” doesn’t even provide a safe route to an unlocked accessible door so that rolling participants can join in without having to call staff for help when they arrive.

Again, we complained about the City Hall Annex, a major municipal facility that houses the Veteran’s Services, the Health Department, the Somerville Cares About Prevention and Trauma departments, the Human, Multicultural and Women’s commissions, the Housing Division, the Retirement Board, the Arts Council, the Environmental Offices, the Conservation Commission, Shape Up Somerville and Tobacco Control.

City Hall Annex is inaccessible to all people who cannot climb stairs. It has a front entrance with unsafe handrails and no proper signage; an emergency
exit in the back only for stair users; and a locked rear door on street level that leads to a locked elevator in the dirty, dark basement.

Last week, the city responded with many deceptive claims to disacknowledge these issues, including their statement that City Hall Annex is accessible because it provides “an operational chair lift in the rear of the building to accommodate mobility impaired individuals.”

If this rear entrance is transformed into the primary entrance, and a safe pedestrian route created along the side of this facility, everyone can be integrated from the start. Best practices prioritize human rights.

This locked rear door is illegal, discriminatory and a Federal Department of Justice complaint waiting to happen. Entrances to governmental programs should not be locked to some residents, while others are free to come and go as they please. Elevators and lifts should also be independently usable unless completely infeasible; in which case, signage and controls are placed in such a manner as to ensure quick service by the key operators.

That’s the law and it is as clear as day.

Why would the city continue this degrading practice of making people with orthopedic, neurological, musculoskeletal, respiratory and cardiovascular conditions have to ask permission before using their public programs?

In good times and bad, residents with various types of disabilities are routinely and disproportionately denied access to a multitude of opportunities,
programs and services, merely on the basis of disability. Since the fellow in the corner office is a lawyer, these ongoing issues are not unintentionally ignored.

The only thing that’s necessary for discrimination to continue is for witnesses to remain silent.

Eileen Feldman, a resident of Ward 3, is the project director for the Community Access and Inclusion Project.

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