I've written many times about the very high employment rate among people with disabilities vs. people without disabilities in this country. Yes, even with the huge jobless rate, people with disabilities are still the largest segment of the population that remain unemployed. In June 2009 the percentage of people without disabilities who were employed was 65 percent. The percentage of people with disabilities who were employed was 19 percent. That is a staggering number. Even when the economy was humming right along people with disabilities were not making a dent in the workforce.
I've thought long and hard about why this situation never changes for the better and I thought I had beaten it to death in my own mind-that was until last week. You see last week I was contacted by a local person with a disability who is actually employed and has been gainfully employed for many years. Yippee! That sentiment was short lived because, as usual, an unforeseen barrier to retaining employment has occurred.
Let me preface this by saying that what is going on is not illegal. It's really short-sighted and small-minded but it's legal. As we all know the Village of Saranac Lake has implemented new parking restrictions. I don't live in the village, so I have not memorized the restrictions. I will say this though-when TLCIL relocated to Broadway one of the "must haves" for us was parking. Parking for people who require accessible spaces is a huge deal. You have to be able to get in and out of your vehicle otherwise why park at all?
There are designated accessible spaces in Saranac Lake, but I'm willing to bet my life that maybe one (but I really think none) is by-the-book accessible. This is a story for another day-soon.
Now, the new public parking restrictions call for 2hr.parking. Again-I don't live here, my office has its own parking-I'm not sure where/what is changing to two-hour parking.
I do know this-the accessible space this employee has been using for years will now, or already has, become a designated two-hour space. Again-this is not illegal. All of the spaces in this particular area are being designated as two-hour spaces-not just the accessible ones. The difference here is this-for people who do not need accessible parking to get to their places of employment this change is just a hassle. For employees who cannot get to their jobs because they can't get to them or get in or out of their vehicle this puts their employment and other people with disabilities "employability", on the line. It's not a simple "move your car every two hours issue" for these employees.
Let me put this to you in very simple terms. You use a wheelchair or some other type of mobility assistive device. You drive to work (yes, there are vehicles right here in the Tri Lakes that people who have mobility impairments can, and do, drive). You get to work. It's early so an accessible parking place (and I use that term very loosely) is open. You park there. You lower your ramp and exit the vehicle. You go to your job. Two hours later you leave your job to move your vehicle. We'll say it's 11 a.m. now. Guess what, no accessible spaces are open?
You pull into a regular space where there is an empty space next to it. You park here because you need space to lower your ramp to get out. You get out and go back to work. Two hours later the same thing happens again. You leave work to move your vehicle. Yee ha, you see that the accessible space you were previously parked in is open again! Bummer!
When you get to your vehicle you find out someone has parked in the empty space next to you. You can't lower your ramp to get in. How long will you have to wait for the other car to move? You look up and see someone pulling into the accessible spot you were going to use. Now what? You see what looks to be a nice person and ask them to back your van out of the space for you so you can get in it. They oblige and you're back in business. Back in business to do what? Can you imagine having to do this 4 times a day?
Is it legal? Yes. Is it an absolutely horrifying way to go through your workday? Yeah!
This is happening right now. Are the powers that be aware of the situation? I am told that they are and have declined making any alternative arrangements. Do they have to? No. Should they? Of course they should.
This issue can be solved right now and the Tri Lakes Center for Independent Living can help. This incident is not the only one of it's kind, I'm sure and it certainly won't be the last. So how about a novel little idea called foresight?
The powers that be can partner with TLCIL and agree to issue special permits to employees with disabilities who require accessible parking and must park in public parking spaces. Accessible places would still be first come, first served however the permit would allow the vehicle to remain in that place for the duration of the person's workday.
This is by far not the only disability issue that the Tri Lakes is going to have to deal with and keep dealing with until we get it right. Let's look ahead to the future and plan for it now. So, wadda ya say? Stop in and talk to me about it. I'll even let you take my parking space behind our office while you're here.