Friday, July 19, 2013

Accessibility and the Texas Legislature, Part 2

Previously: Part 1 here.

**NOTE: "disabled person/people" and "people with disabilities/PWD" will be used throughout this post.**

Throughout the first and second special sessions of the Texas Legislature, I had spent 99% of my time at home/work doing what activism I could using a live stream and my laptop. The second reading of HB2 took place on Friday, July 12...since I didn't have to work that day, Katherine was kind enough to come pick me up and take me to the Capitol for our Feminist Justice League D-Day.

What I am about to describe is indicative of my particular experience at the Capitol. I look forward to hearing other disabled people's experiences during either or both special sessions.

For your convenience, you can find floor plans of the Texas Capitol Building and Grounds here.

To avoid the atrocious parking situation, Katherine and I took the bus to the Capitol.  Our particular bus stop was closest to the West entrance of the Capitol; however, the accessible entrance to the Capitol is on the North side.

And so my choices began early that day at the Capitol.  Do I navigate the two short flights of stairs up to the West entrance doors?  Or do I walk the extra 100 yards (if not more...I'm horrible with distances) to get to the accessible entrance with elevators?  Since I had a cane and not a chair or Rollator, I opted for the closer West entrance.  Considering it was not the designated accessible entrance, I was not surprised to find the doors were not automatic.

After passing through the metal detectors (I voluntarily offered to pass my cane through the x-ray machine for the DPS officers' peace of mind), Katherine and I saw that the line to get in the gallery for the 2pm hearing had already filled the street level.  The DPS officers at the metal detector instructed us to go downstairs to the Ground level where the end of the line was.

And so I had another choice. Do I walk down the really steep (and apparently slick) steps to get to the ground floor?  Or do I walk from the West entrance, through the crowded lines on the street level, over to the Rotunda, and up to the elevators to go down to the Ground floor?  Again, knowing what a long day I had ahead, I opted for the path of least walking and took the stairs...VERY SLOWLY, I might add.

We got to the end of the line around 9:30-10:00am Friday morning.  We had heard the gallery would probably not open until 1:00-1:30pm, so we had quite a wait ahead of us.  There were no chairs available on the Ground level (that I saw).  However, there were stairs.  (This set of stairs was wide enough to hold probably four people across at one time and had a railing down the middle.  The gallery line was going up the left side of the stairs next to the middle railing.)  

I decided that, since there were no chairs, I would sit on the stairs.  I sat on the left side of the railing, as far to the left as I could go so I could lean up against the outside railing for back support.  I hadn't been sitting there long, when some type of "official" looking person told me that I would have to move because I was blocking people coming down the staircase, even though the staircase on the right side of the railing was practically not being used.  Not wanting to cause problems that early in the day, however, I dutifully moved over and lost my back support for the time being.

We eventually made it from the Ground level back up to the Street level, where there were actually wooden benches.  Katherine agreed to hold my place in line while I sat down for awhile.  I was carrying my backpack (also used for grad school), and I always keep a small pillow in there in case I encounter uncomfortable chairs in class and whatnot.  So I was able to stay seated and somewhat comfortable for a little while, but could not be near my friends who were still in line.

Around 11:30am, we had just moved past the wooden benches where I was sitting when Pamela and her husband blessedly showed up with a Rollator they had agreed to let me borrow (if I wasn't an atheist, I would be thanking every god and saint for their incredible generosity!).

Since this post is already a bit long, I will add a Part 3 and discuss the accessibility issues I encountered with the Rollator and what I had to do to get into the gallery. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing about your experience. I think it illustrates beautifully how "disability" is really an environmental phenomenon. People without disabilities don't realize just how many accessible features, mandated by the ADA, they use and benefit from on a daily basis. Where I was waiting in line, plenty of people were sitting in wooden chairs. Many others opted to take elevators instead of using the stairs. Ramps are often used by people with strollers. An accessible environment isn't "special treatment" for people with disabilities; it's creating an inclusive environment for use by all with benefits to more than those who have been stigmatized by learned reaction to disabilities.