Monday, April 16, 2012

"Life's a Beach!"

Life’s a Beach!
Kevin Bruce Parent, All Rights Reserved

When I go to the beach, I expect to see sand, and lots of it! When I go to a plant sale at a public park, I expect to see plants. I love plant shopping, and find every experience to be educational. As an experienced gardener I know a lot about plants, but I don’t know everything. New cultivars are constantly being developed, and that keeps life as a gardener very interesting. I just saw a beautiful yellow yucca, identical to the red yucca, but with a gorgeous yellow bloom. (Hesperaloe parviflora, Agave Family: (Agavaceae), Yellow Yucca. Also called: Yellow Flowered yucca, False Yucca.) When I see something like this, it truly excites me. Now, if someone could only develop a yellow vinca, life would be good!

When I head to a public beach, I also expect to find van accessible parking, an accessible route, a ramp and, hopefully, a rubber mat covering the loose sand between the ramp and the hard packed area near the water. If there are bathrooms and showers, I expect them to be accessible too. Some beaches also provide beach chairs with rubber tires that make traveling over the sand even easier. I simply expect equal access, and I expect it to be maintained.

(Mobi Mat at Tybee Island)

When I go anywhere these days, ideally, I shouldn’t have to think about accessibility, especially when it is a public event. After all, who is the public? Any event planner certainly takes this into consideration when planning an event, right? Not.

Human nature, for the most part, is to be compassionate and helpful. These are qualities that you want to see in people. The thing that most people do not realize is that people with disabilities don’t want to be perceived as helpless. The first thing that I heard when I moved to the South in 1990 was “Darling, anytime you come here, we’ll gladly carry you in.” This was at a corporate party at a historical property, a property with air conditioning and indoor plumbing. I looked at the guy, and told him quite frankly, “that it wasn’t the trip in that scared the hell out of me, but the trip out!” Imagine being carried down 3-4 flights of stairs by a bunch of executives who had been drinking all evening. Sadly, this was the same facility that very recently (20 years later) thought it was okay to carry our highest honored Medaled War Veterans in for the Medal of Honor Convention. I was told that they would ask them to get there early so they could be carried in out of sight. This was a horrible dishonor to say the least. This disgusted me, and why I once again became an advocate.

I do not want to be carried in, pushed, or taken care of. When I go out to buy plants, I want the dignity of maintaining my independence to the fullest extent possible. I do not want to hear about your understanding of people with disabilities because you once had a friend that was disabled. If you have such a great understanding of what people with disabilities need, you must also be aware of the importance of maintaining their dignity by providing an environment that promotes as much independence as possible. If you are so sympathetic, why wasn’t this taken into consideration when planning your event? Is this really too much to ask for in 2012?

When I learned of the location for the yearly plant sale, I started asking questions beforehand. I knew this public park from previous events. I knew it was bad, but I had forgotten how bad it was. A last minute attempt was made by the city regarding accessibility. The park is located in the front of a church, so they tried to steer people to the church parking lot in the far rear that lead to a supposed accessible route. They said that there would be van accessible parking there, but there wasn’t. It was also located a block from public transit. If someone needed the accessible route, it would have been almost impossible to get to. Signs were placed, but they were so small and flopping around from the wind that if you weren’t looking for them you wouldn’t see them. No accessible on the street parking, and sidewalks in disrepair. I parked in a space with no access aisle for my ramp to deploy. If someone had parked next to me, I would have been blocked out. I was told that the gate would be locked from 9-2 p.m., because of the church school that was in session. I went at 3:40 p.m. and the gate was still locked. There was a phone number, so I was thankful that I had my phone. Unfortunately, it was still in my van. I was lead down a narrow path, where things got even worse.

I was lead to a ramp that went to a very sandy pathway. On both sides, a long continuous curb blocked access to every exhibit. I tried pushing through the sand and popped a wheelie to one row of tables. I bought a cat mint (Nepeta cataria is a plant in the Lamiaceae family), and I tried mentally to block out the accessibility issue. I was there to buy plants, and to talk about plants. I couldn’t. The sand got deeper, and the curb got higher.

People were kind, and there were plenty of offers to help. This event could have been a blast at an accessible park, one with accessible pathways that connected the many exhibits and plants. There are so many surface materials that work great, and pack down firmly.

In 2012, this simply should not be an issue. No one that plans any type of outdoor event can ignore the needs of the public. Because the Executive Director had only been with the sponsoring organization for one week, I was very kind. I offered my assistance with planning any future outdoor events. To the city, I will not be so kind. They know better, or at least I thought that they did.

My dollars are green, and my personal dignity is strong. When I’m affected from pursuing something that I am so passionate about, because of an obvious lack of planning, I take it personal. I’m realistic in the sense that I don’t expect the entire park to be paved, but I do expect what’s required by law. (Too little was done, too late.) I’m encouraged by the numerous plant sales elsewhere this past weekend that I’ve seen pictured throughout Facebook, sales where everyone could participate and focus on the beauty of the plants. In today’s world, new and old, equal access should be a given.

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