Guest Editorial: Disability Perspective on City Hall

by Bob Planthold on June 3, 2005

The disabled stay the last group clearly and continuously excluded from power in SF, victims of Nixonian “benign neglect”, ingrained cultural
traits, condescending compassion, but especially denial and avoidance by the fully able-bodied.

Notice the Bd. of Supes. chambers every time you enter it. There are two signs on stanchions meant to be up front, reserving front benches specifically for seniors and the disabled.

Half the time the stanchions are off to the side or back several rows. Which means that seniors and the disabled have to take it upon themselves
to shoo away the fully able-bodied who squat there. The excuse given is that the cleaning staff or the deputy sheriffs somehow move them.
Whatever the reason, that it continually happens means no one cares to do anything about monitoring that seniors and the disabled get their proper
place in the Board chambers.

At the 2 June mtg. of the Supes. Finance and Budget Committee so-called “progressive” Supes., compassionate Supes., as well as attorneys–from
City Attorney’s office and elsewhere blithely walk by and ignore this relegation of disabled access signage to an unusable place. Remember, attorneys are officers of the court; so, why is it so difficult for them to pay attention to an obvious slight and obvious failure to perform?

It’s pervasive but unconscious. The fully able-bodied don’t have a need to pay attention to what’s around them, relying on a belief they have an adequate sense of balance and easy movement. But, that obliviousness also means the fully able-bodied regularly pay less attention to their
environment than someone who has to continually think about how to navigate and function.

Now, here’s an analogy that the overwhelming majority of fully able-bodied just absolutely lack the mental and emotional capacity to accept. Most people believe that, if someone who works out with weights and other exercise equipment EVERY day for years, then that person is likely to have better developed muscles and body skills than someone who
sits at a desk all day every day for years. So, why can’t the able-bodied accept that those who absolutely have to pay scrupulous attention to every detail of their environment just to be able to function are better observers–and therefore better analysts–than the inattentive and oblivious able-bodied? If we who are disabled can keep in our minds many multiples of facts on how to function, doesn’t that logically indicate at least the possibility that the disabled, in fact,
have better judgment about their environment than the inattentive slackers who are fully able-bodied? That is, we think BETTER because we pay more attention for longer periods of time to what’s happening.

Here’s where ingrained cultural traits come into play. Too often the old Greek maxim of “A sound mind in a sound body” get twisted around by the
fully able-bodied into the contrapositive–” If you don’t have a sound body then you don’t have a sound mind.” We who have a disability are
viewed as weak-minded, simplistic, and self-serving in our approaches to issues.

We are characterized as “whiners” by some media and advocates–precisely because we point out the multiple and continuing failings by the fully
able-bodied to simply do what they are supposed to do regarding access. It’s rather like a parent trying to potty-train a toddler or a puppy.
You have to repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat and…. It’s a shitty job, but we have no choice about having to continually try
to educate the oblivious able-bodied.

Here’s where the proclamations of progressiveness and compassion are suspect. Can anyone recall ever seeing anyone with an obvious disability
working at a staff job in a Supervisor’s office?
Where and when did the unknown memo come from that the disabled can’t perform any staff function in a Supervisor’s office?

What about even noticing a cadre of people with disabilities who function as interns / volunteers in any Supervisor’s office? The Mayor’s Office
on Disability hasn’t received any request from any Supe. to solicit volunteers or interns from amongst those agencies who work for and with
the disabled. Does the emptiness and resounding NO offer a hint at how inclusive are our elected officials? We are not there, so our experience
and views are not part of the thinking and analyses that flows through City Hall.

This failure to consider the disabled for employment is far more pervasive than just amongst Supervisors. For nearly a decade, ALL heads
of MTA or DPT [ the now-departing Michael Burns and all recent former heads of DPT–Fred Hamdun, Stuart Sunshine [ heir apparent to Michael
Burns ], and Bill Maher all absolutely refused to implement a state law authorizing hiring the disabled to specifically enforce parking
violations affecting access–such as violations of blue zones, bus zones, + / or blocking a crosswalk. Why? Each claimed, without any evidence or research to back it up, that they were acting out of concern for the physical safety of the disabled. Similalry, all versions of the now
defunct Parking & Traffic Commission ignored this hiring and enforcement opportunity when presented with it. Managers and commissioners alike
claimed we disabled would be assaulted by irate drivers getting a ticket. Which means each of these managers accept this behavior as a common
hazard of the job. Somehow it’s okay to allow the able-bodied Parking Control Officer to be assaulted but not the disabled PCO? Isn’t that
itself a form of discrimination?

These managers all exhibit patronizing attitudes–looking out for the safety of people with disabilities because we can’t defend ourselves against bullying scofflaw drivers; yet they also refuse to allocate the staff to enforce access laws in a timely way. It may also be that they are reluctant to have DPT employees who will efficiently and effectively enforce all traffic violations. I’ve made informal surveys of the
parking practices within a few blocks of City Hall and noted I could write nearly half a million dollars of tickets a year for parking violations in the greater Civic Center area. So, is it also partly a fear that hiring the disabled might result in the cars of important people regularly getting tickets? What could the city have done with such extra revenue if we disabled had been hired years ago to enforce parking violations that affect access?

Which goes to the question of the learning ability of most politically-minded fully able-bodied people. Listen to the words used to exemplify a statement about promoting diversity. How often does one hear the disabled as automatically
included in the groups that are seen to be necessary example of diversity and inclusiveness?

Language reflects experience. Lack of continually including the disabled in discussions on diversity reflects the denial and avoidance of the fully able-bodied.

We’re not automatically included in anything in city services. This even goes to the ability to organize an effective voting bloc. Still
fully-accessible voting technology is either not certified for use or considered too expensive. Somehow, the civil rights of the disabled to a
secret ballot can be delayed or circumvented if there’s some unspecified level of costs attached. So, it’s a case of: We can have the same
rights the fully able-bodied do IF implementation doesn’t cost too much? What type of civil rights approach is that—rights can only be worth
implementing if the “haves” don’t suffer any reductions when considering including those who “have not”?

Such is the state of inclusiveness, the sham of diversity, and the obliviousness about the disabled at City Hall.

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