Sunday, July 28, 2013

Accessibility and the Texas Legislature, Part 4

Previously: Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

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

When last I left you, I had just gotten off the ridiculous elevators on the third floor of the Capitol.  I was unsure where the line for the Senate gallery was because there just SO MANY PEOPLE.

Luckily, I saw my friend Jessica and she pointed me in the right direction.  Additionally, she found someone (a Capitol employee? a volunteer?) who could help me in the way of disabled access. So this person escorted me up to the front of the line and then I went through the dreaded DPS search.

Let me be clear right up front.  I am a grad student.  I was using my backpack that day because I wanted to bring my computer, my heating pad, etc.  There was basically pens, papers, post-it notes, etc thrown all in my backpack and/or crushed underneath stuff, etc.  My backpack is a mess because I use it for a lot of different things.

Something else that also needs to be said: I was getting over what can only be described as the plague from a few days before.  I had been sick for a week and was unable to keep ANYTHING down (including water, crackers, and soup).  I was still very gingerly eating - a cracker here, some toast there - and I was drinking tons of water to stay hydrated since I'd been throwing up for a week.

Ok, so things I was required to throw away or otherwise dispose of in order to get into the Senate gallery (please note: I didn't have any tampons or pads in my bag, so obviously they couldn't confiscate those):
  • Pour the water out of my reusable water bottle into the garbage
  • Throw away a still-sealed bottle of water that was being distributed by volunteers.
  • Throw away all food, including chips, saltine crackers, and portable applesauce that I either brought or got from volunteers.
  • Throw away a practically new box of Kleenex because it counts as "paper." (I have terrible allergies and have to have Kleenex everywhere I go...I brought a whole box because I knew it would be a long day)
  • Throw away all Post-it Notes (which I use to annotate the books I read for grad school)
  • Throw away all scraps of paper (thanks for helping me clean those out Mr. DPS Guy)
  • Throw away all packaging that pens and pencils come in because it counts as paper (seriously?!)
  • This wasn't me, but the teenager behind me had to throw out her HOMEWORK because she also brought her backpack and her homework was on paper.

So, by the time I got to the gallery, I had my computer, my heating pad, some cords, and some pens. No food, no water, no paper.

In order to get into the gallery, visitors are required to go up a few steps.  Thankfully, they had a sort of mini-elevator or lift in a separate room.  Unfortunately, since I was borrowing the Rollator, I didn't know how to collapse it or fold it down, so I couldn't sit in the "regular" seats without blocking aisles with the Rollator.  Anyway, I can't remember if it was a Senate page or a DPS officer who told me, but they said I could sit in one of the four (ONLY FOUR) areas designated for wheelchairs and just sit on the Rollator since I couldn't collapse it.  The other three designated areas were occupied by PWD.

Unfortunately (again), this meant I could not sit with my orange-shirted comrades in the gallery.  The areas surrounding the accessible seats were filled with blue-shirted people.  As I lamented on Twitter about my predicament, two orange-shirted people came over for a little bit and commiserated with me, for which I am EXTREMELY grateful!

I got into the gallery a little before 2pm. Due to the gallery not being quite filled, Dewhurst called for the Senate to be "at ease" until 2:30pm. By the time 3:15 or so rolled around, my back was already screaming.  I wanted to stay in the gallery, but my back had other ideas.  As I rolled my way out of the gallery, I seriously was crying (silently) that I was physically unable to stay in there after I had waited SO LONG.  I went back downstairs and into the auditorium.

Considering this series is already 4 parts long, I think I'm going to end it here.  The auditorium was quite comfortable and I didn't really encounter other issues (except for the staircase in Rep. Farrar's office) after that.  Thank you for listening to my story, and I hope I have shed some light on the issues disabled people face regarding accessibility.

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