Monday, September 18, 2006
Mr. Frances has a Change of Heart
After my last email, I got this response from Don Frances of the MountainView Voice:
I appreciate your position here. I didn't mean to say that your knowledge of the parking situation is inadequate, only that the specific submission you sent is inadequate. Especially in this case -- and especially from you, who are an expert on this issue -- something a little more profound than "it pisses me off" is in order.
I've seen plenty of blogs and can say without question that the language, style and tone used in them is not what's called for in news print. That's the beauty of blogs -- no rules -- but it's the rare blog entry that can be cut and pasted onto an op-ed page.
Meanwhile, your concern definitely has merit. In fact, the publisher has asked us to look into why and how those spaces were turned over to taxis so suddenly. We'll be looking into that in a future edition.
That said, maybe we could try a "do over," if you're up for it, with the intention of running a response from you on the taxi story. I think that, given your expertise, you are better qualified than anybody at putting the need for handicap spaces, including their location and number, in context -- and at providing interesting details that others may not know, such as the fact that taxis aren't required to be handicap-accessible.
Deadline for each week's paper is the previous Monday -- so for example today is the deadline for this Friday's paper. Our maximum-space guidelines for the op-ed page are: about 250 words for a letter to the editor, or no more than 600 words for a "guest editorial," meaning a full-length column.
Please let me know your thoughts on this.
Six hundred + words:
The View from Where I Sit
The July 28th Voice story, "Never a cab when you need one" by Daniel Debolt, described the lack of taxi access to the Mountain View Caltrain parking lot as viewed by neighborhood resident, Scott Neuman.
In addition to this story, the Voice also contacted the Joint Powers Board, which oversees Caltrain, about the problem. Apparently, after viewing the scene one time, a Joint Powers Board staffer, Joan Jenkins, expedited changing several parking places previously designated as disabled persons’ parking to taxi parking.
As a person with a disability who uses a power wheelchair for mobility, and who has sometimes parked in the disabled persons’ parking at the Mountain View Caltrain station, I was dismayed at how quickly and thoughtlessly the disabled (“handicap”) parking spaces were reallocated for taxis waiting for passengers – by mid-August!
The taxi parking could have been placed elsewhere and still be convenient to travelers arriving at the station by Caltrain or Light Rail – at a right angle to where they are located now for example, without eliminating any of the disabled persons’ parking. How was it determined that five taxi spaces were needed? The taxis seem to be congregating and waiting for radio calls, too. Is it necessary that all the cabs be in the same place? I thought that cabs needed to be spread about, by the very nature of their service.
The original design and placement of the disabled persons’ parking at this station was great. All of the spaces were adjacent to the platform and the asphalt is flush with the platform surface so no ramps or curb cuts are needed. This is easier and safer for both wheelchair users and for persons with other types of mobility impairments to navigate. The location is also closest to the waiting area designated for Caltrain passengers using wheelchairs – we are supposed to wait in a very specific designated area so that the conductors can spot us waiting. Unfortunately, unlike both the Light Rail and BART, wheelchair-using Caltrain passengers cannot board independently and conductors must assist us with either a lift built into one car on each train, a ramp for the Baby Bullet trains, or the older, manually cranked lifts, failing other methods.
Five disabled parking spaces were converted to taxi spaces at the north end of the platform and two disabled spaces were added at the southern end of the platform – for a net loss of three disabled spaces. The new spaces are significantly farther from the Light Rail, and from the designated wheelchair waiting areas for Caltrain, regardless of which direction you are traveling. Because there is a curb at that end of the platform, an asphalt “ramp” was poured to provide a transition to the parking lot – a transition that could be somewhat dangerous in the dark.
Taxicabs are not wheelchair accessible
Taxis are not required to be wheelchair accessible. Taxicabs are defined as on-call transit under the law, and as such, do not have the same mandates for accessibility as other types of public transit. (They are required not to discriminate against disabled passengers who have equipment that can be stowed in the trunk, such as folding manual wheelchairs, walkers, and canes.) Occasionally, a cab company will have one wheelchair accessible cab, but have to arrange the ride far in advance – which is antithetical to how taxicabs are intended to be used, i.e., as needed.
There is no doubt in my mind that this change occurred without serious or educated thought to how it would affect disabled users of the Mountain View Caltrain station. I hope that this decision will be revisited and amended. It would be an easy to restore the disabled parking to its original configuration and move the taxi spaces – however many are actually needed – to an adjacent location."
I'll let you know if 1) it gets published; and 2) if anything actually changes at the station...
Sunday, September 10, 2006
I just wanted to note that I've been adding new links to fellow crip bloggers. When I started blogging, close to a year ago now, I was reluctant to add links -- I saw so many sites where the lists of links to other blogs went on and on. I wanted to be a little more discerning. I'm somewhat of a snob about the quality of the writing, apart from the opinions expressed.
I haven't abandoned my snobbery, but I have also come to feel that some people are expressing opinions and/or experiences of such universal value that their content is more important than their spelling or grammar. I still think, however, that we need to strive for quality writing -- for the simple reason that good writing is taken more seriously than bad.
Along these lines, I feel that I must note that some of our crip friends in the U.K. are writing beautiful, literate stuff, most notably The Meanderings of a Politically Incorrect Crip.
On this side of the pond, Wheelchair Dancer writes about her world of dance and the larger world of disability with a perspective that is both broad and personal.
Rarely does a week go by when I don't encounter some disability-related idiocy. Sometimes I write about it and sometimes I don't. Reading the writings of my fellow travelers reassures me that I'm not the wrong-headed one -- despite efforts to convince me of the contrary.
I had sent a full-text copy of "Where the Cabs Are" to the MountainView Voice -- to the reporter and the editor -- by email when I first posted it on August 28th. I invited them to publish it as a letter to the editor or a stand-alone piece. I monitored the next two issues of the Voice (which is a weekly), and saw nothing, nor did either of the gentleman contact me.
So, on Friday afternoon, I resent the email, with this new message at the top:
"The email below was sent on 8/29/06 in response to the articles I read in the MountainView Voice about the taxi cab "situation" at the CalTrain Station in Mountain View. To date, I have not heard anything at all from the Voice -- nor have I been able to find anything in the Voice offering a dissenting or differing opinion to that expressed by Mr. DeBolt, which surprised me. Perhaps this did not make it to the proper desk? Thank you for your attention."
Later Friday afternoon, I was surprised to receive this email from Don Frances, who is the editor of the MountainView Voice:
"While I welcome any opinion -- even a dissatisfied one -- on the taxi parking situation at Caltrain station, it's very hard to know what to do with your particular submission. First of all, the tone is strange -- for example, you call handicapped people "crips," which I guess is supposed to be OK because you are handicapped, but which isn't appropriate for our paper.
Second of all, the content is mostly the story of your personal realization as to how and why a half-dozen handicapped spots went to taxis. In the end, this realization "pisses me off," as you put it. Well, so what? You don't have any numbers or facts available which would shine light on the fairness (or unfairness) of the new parking policy. I wouldn't be surprised if such a study required much greater resources than you or I have at our disposal, especially given the way anecdotal observation can be misleading. (For example, it's reasonable to assume that handicapped people use taxis too.)
The Voice is interested in reporting local news. So, if taxis, neighbors and riders are demonstrably unhappy with the parking situation, we'll report that. And if handicapped Caltrain riders, who plan on parking at the Mountain View station, are demonstrably unhappy with a new parking situation at the station, we'll run that too. Since you don't drive to the station, and don't seem to know much about it, it's unclear to me why we should run this.
My Response to Mr. Frances
"Dear Mr. Frances:
Thank you for responding to my email. Even a negative response is preferable to no response at all.
I am sorry that some of my language was offensive to you. I intentionally use a colloquial style of writing when I am writing for my blog, "Crip Chronicles". While I understand that "crip" is thought to be an offensive term by some, within the disabled community it is a term in regular use to identify people with disabilities.
Likewise, the term "pisses me off" was used with intention. I believe that people who read my blog, fellow "crips" and those with sympathies for our community, are frequently "pissed off" by situations just like this one.
Parenthetically, you might be interested to glance at the internet and the "blogosphrere" to see how many people are writing about "crips" and "gimps" with seriousness, thoughtfulness and respect for issues related to people with disabilities.
More formally, I was angered by a seemingly thoughtless action and the subsequent reporting of it as supposedly benefiting "handicapped" people -- to get easier access to taxis -- without looking at the impact of losing or moving handicap parking places at the train station.
The tendency of action "for" people with disabilities without consulting them is addressed by the phrase, "Nothing about us without us." James I. Charlton wrote a book about this entitled, "Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Oppression and Empowerment".
You mention that, in theory, "it's reasonable to assume that handicapped people use taxis too." Did you know that the law does not require on-call transportation, such as taxi cabs, to be wheelchair accessible? This is why, if I am using my power wheelchair, I cannot use a cab. A manual wheelchair user could only use a cab if they were able to transfer onto the cab seat, and if the driver were willing to assist in loading the chair -- if it were possible -- into the trunk.
Need it be also be mentioned that people with disabilities are less likely to be able to afford a cab?
I am sorry that you feel my knowledge of the parking situation is so inadequate as to be worthy of forming an opinion in regard to the disabled parking places. While I don't use the lot customarily, I have used it a few times. This led to my original remarks:
"One of the things I always admired about this station was how they had laid out the disabled parking. It is right next to the CalTrain south-bound platform, near to the cross-over to to get to the light rail line and to the north-bound CalTrain platform. All of the crip spaces are flush with the platform/sidewalk, so one does not have to negotiate any ramps or curbs; all of the spaces adjoin the sidewalk so the path of travel is completely safe."
Also, I am aware that the ADA (federal law) and Title 24 (California state law) mandate how many handicap spaces are required in public parking lots. There is a formula that can be found in the "CalDAAG" regulations. The only thing I don't know about this particular parking lot is how many spaces there are in total; the required number of handicap ("handicap" is the term used in the regulations) parking spaces is based on a percentage of the total number of spaces.
What I tried to suggest was that 1) this change was made without regard to how it might affect commuters with disabilities; and 2) this change was made without regard to actual demand for cabs at the train station. I was also expressing my anger at this -- because it is typical of my lifelong experience as a person with a disability.
I work full-time in a professional position in which I provide services for persons with disabilities; I have a law degree from UC Hastings College of the Law. I mention these things because I felt your response was somewhat disrespectful -- as though you were addressing an ignorant crank who is whistling in the dark about issues of which she has no real knowledge.
I can only hope that the next time such an issue arises which is covered in your newspaper, you might ask your reporter(s) to do a little research into the possible impact on persons with disabilities -- and not simply assume that it will be positive or neutral.
Teri Adams, J.D."
This exchange about the taxis is the second time in the last three months in which I have received a response that seemed over-the-top in comparison to what I had said to someone about a disability-related physical barrier issue. I always endeavor, however angry or disappointed I might be, to be thoughtful, articulate and considered in what I say. By the same token, I try to call 'em like I see 'em.
It is interesting to me how often this results in people responding by telling me that I either don't know what I'm talking about, am a wild-eyed hot-head, or a shamefully ungrateful crip. Excuse me -- ungrateful person with a disability.