Disability Perspective: Is Our Voice Being Heard?

by Bob Planthold on March 30, 2009

This occasional column has taken to task various city departments and programs for their institutional unresponsiveness and insensitivity to people with disabilities. It’s now time now for a progress report, of sorts, on some positive changes that are being worked on.

Before that, though, it’s also worth noting that previously almost all tips and feedback come from people and agencies involved in providing services / advocacy for people with disabilities. Despite religiously forwarding all my various columns to all the Supes, all their named aides, affected department heads, other elected officials and to relevant others, still they all equally religiously ignore and resist any response of any sort about illegalities, biases, neglect, under-funding, and/or discrimination by city agencies and departments against people with disabilities.

None have called for hearings; none have asked for follow-up. That says something about the attitudinal segregation prevalent throughout City Hall and city government.

Apparently, it’s still as true now as decades ago, any civil rights struggle has to expect pigheadedness, self-serving egos, and self-justifying political twaddle. With that expectation of a need to keep chipping away at the emotional armor so many public officials use to avoid positively responding to all the disability communities, there’s some heartening news from one city agency’s top management.

Recent columns and public comments about parking enforcement problems elicited a request to meet with top management of various parts of SFMTA and their enforcement head, SFPD Dep. Chief Antonio Parra.

Result? Wow! A new attitude is evident. And a change in enforcement approach is starting.

Changes in approaches to enforcing parking on sidewalks will be starting with changes in training and oversight. Even MTA Director Nathaniel Ford gets in the act, personally calling in sidewalk-parking violations he spots while at different meetings.

These enforcement improvements apply to any sort of motor vehicle — whether delivery truck, motorcycle, car, or ??? — parked on the sidewalk at any time, including during the time-blocks when posted street cleaning occurs.

There even will be some analysis on how to improve enforcement in the immediate environs of the greater Civic Center area, heretofore a “go slow” zone for timely and effective enforcement [ in the view of p.w.d.s, lest important people get tickets ].

Maybe such improvements that especially benefit p.w.d.s can even have an effect on the thinking of traffic commissioners, another group that sometimes fails to address the safety concerns of people with disabilities when they [ partially ] forgive tickets against parking violators.

Another program making travel safer for people with disabilities is S.P.O.T., spearheaded by the SFPD working with SFMTA and DPW.

SPOT is an attempt to educate contractors about the need to keep sidewalks and curb ramps open, as well as comply with all requirements about working in traffic lanes.

Because SPOT works with contractors, it has a low profile amongst other city agencies–and even with the general public. So low, in fact, that it STILL doesn’t have any visibility on the SFMTA website, even though months ago SPOT was supposed to be listed on the “Construction” page of the SFMTA website. Fortunately, SPOT will get visibility amongst peace officers and pedestrian advocates during a presentation at the bi-annual California Office of Traffic Safety summit, being held in SF from April 8th through 10th.

Finally, another advance in parking enforcement for people with disabilities. Due to many media stories and complaints about able-bodied people abusing use of blue parking placards belonging to others, MTA is looking at developing legislation that makes it easier to go after such scofflaws.

Stay tuned, there may be more improvements in sidewalk safety and enforcement by DPT, SFPD, and DPW.

For any readers who think these columns can be helpful to improving city government, feel free to forward this along to other city agencies and elected officials–as a way to show them San Franciscans really are interested in responding to people with disabilities.

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