Saturday, March 28, 2009

Texas Capitol Off Limits to the Handicapped

Last week, I spent some time at the Texas Capitol visiting legislative offices and attending hearings. I was reminded that the Texas Capitol is essentially off limits to the disabled. Because of security, there is no handicapped parking available to the public within a block of the Capitol. Even then, there is remarkably little handicapped parking available anywhere around that building. The Visitor's parking garage is over two blocks away. The only drop-off areas are at least a block away from the Capitol. This does not see to bother our legislators one whit.

"Ah," they will say, "Look at the people in wheelchairs who visit us."

Of course, some people in motorized wheelchairs can get to the Capitol. They have their own transportation.

How many people on crutches do you see? How many with a cane? Or perhaps with a bad limp?

Very few.

Before my hip replacement, I found it extremely daunting to go to my state's capitol. I had to plan carefully. I would park as close as I could with my disabled parking permit, then begin the hike to the Capitol. I tried to park where my walk would allow me to rest frequently and let the pain subside before proceeding. I would perch wherever I could until I felt able to proceed. Many times, I wondered if I would make it, but there was no alternative.

This arrangement has advantages for the legislature. Lack of access means they are not bothered by those pesky cripples. Oh, they have to put up with those in wheelchairs, but that is only a small fraction of the mobility impaired. If legislators never have to see the less than physically perfect during a legislative session, then they don't have to consider their needs. Afterall, if there are so many disabled, wouldn't more visit their offices? The elderly can be ignored for the same reasons. Who wants a bunch of hobbling seniors cluttering up the place?

Is there any solution?

I do not want security weakened. I understand the need to control parking near the Capitol. I propose a shuttle service from the Capitol to the Visitor's parking garage. Use modified golf carts to carry the public to and from the Capitol's doors. The shuttles should run as long as the legislature is in session and on any day as long as there are hearings being held.

If shuttles are not the answer, then perhaps the legislature could find other means. If more officers are available to examine vehicles, then cars, after careful examination, could drop the handicapped at the north doors of the Capitol. I would even submit to a background check, if it meant I did not face that hike to the Capitol to exercise my right to speak.

Texas should allow all its citizens to frequent the halls of the legislature. Make the disabled full citizens of Texas.

Photos by David Berkowitz

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