Monday, July 22, 2013

Accessibility and the Texas Legislature, Part 3

Previously: Part 1 & Part 2.

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

When my friend Katherine agreed to pick me up and take me to the Capitol for the final day of the HB2 debate, I needed to find out what their accessibility was like.  Specifically, as someone who can't stand for extended periods of time, I wanted to know if they had wheelchairs available for patrons of the Capitol.

I went to the Capitol's website and looked at their accessibility information. Here's what it had to say about physical access:
To request this service, please call [Capitol Visitor's Services at] (512) 463-0063. The office provides wheelchairs and can conduct tours using sign language. If requests are made in advance, the office will try to make whatever accommodations are needed. The Senate Sergeant's Office handles special accommodations for senate hearing rooms, and the House Sergeant's Office handles special accommodations for house hearing rooms. Capitol Visitor Services will gladly forward requests to either office, as appropriate.)

I was a little concerned that the Capitol had no immediately obvious dedicated accessibility office other than the Visitor's Services.  But I called them anyway.  I was informed that two wheelchairs (only TWO?!)  were available on a first-come, first-served basis. I would have to leave my driver's license in order to take one of the chairs; I would also have to return it by 5pm in order to get my license back.  I asked her if she was aware of what had been going on in the Capitol regarding HB2 and pointed out that having to return the wheelchair at 5pm might not be sufficient if the proceedings went until all hours of the night.  She double-checked with her supervisor (she said) and came back to confirm that the information she had given me was accurate.  Obviously, this was disappointing news to me.

(Full disclaimer: I was so irritated by the information she gave me that I didn't even notice that it said to contact the Senate Sergeant's Office for accommodations in hearing rooms.  I'm not sure if that would apply to the senate gallery or not.)

I relayed the above phone call on Twitter, and many people contacted me about possibly renting a chair or maybe getting a bunch of chairs to the Capitol so that MANY disabled people could participate in the events.  However, both of those plans did not come to fruition.

As stated in Part 2, Pamela and her husband let me borrow their Rollator, which came with another set of accessibility issues.  So...we had just moved past the wooden benches where I had been sitting when I saw Pamela's husband with the Rollator.  It took a little maneuvering since I had my backpack, but it worked quite well as a seat/wheelchair.

The issues began when the gallery line started moving, and I went to find the elevator.  I admit, I had not looked at a map of the Capitol before heading up there that day.  I mean, I had been there several times in my younger days, and hard could it be to find an elevator, right?  RIGHT?!  Pretty damn hard as it turns out.

I went to the Rotunda and saw a sign for the elevator pointing towards the North entrance, but then I didn't see any elevators. The elevator signs seemed to be pointing towards the bathrooms, which were on opposite walls.  I don't know who designed this area, but essentially there is this little alcove where the elevators are.  Meaning, if the elevator doors are against the "regular" wall, there is an extra wall about five feet in front of the "regular" wall, which blocks the line of sight in actually seeing the elevator doors (god, I hope that made sense...I wish I had gotten a picture).  This extra alcove wall also made it damn near impossible to get the Rollator near the elevator until I actually had to get in it.

Let me digress for two seconds since I mentioned the bathrooms.  The women's bathroom had one accessible stall (expected), but overall it was TINY.  There was no room to really put the Rollator (especially since there was someone changing a baby in there), but the accessible stall wasn't big enough to take it in there with me.  So, add bathrooms to the list of accessible fails at the Capitol. End digression.

The elevators were incredibly slow, and there were quite a few people who wanted to use them.  From what I could tell (and as someone with fibro, I realize not all illnesses are visible), it seemed like the people who were using the elevators were mostly those who needed them.  The third floor (where the Senate gallery was located) also had the weird alcove wall thing, but I managed to get through there.

But apparently, my fun was just beginning...

Again, due to the length of these posts, I have decided to add a Part 4 to this series, which should include my experiences in getting into the Senate gallery.  Stay tuned!

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