Dear Friends and Voters,
I recently had an opportunity to be interviewed by the Greensboro New and Record and attended two recent events in Greensboro held by CAN-DO (Consumers Advocacy Network-Disabled Organized) and the Joy A. Shabazz Center for Independent Living.
For those who are unaware, CAN-DO and the Shabazz Center are entities that assist the physically-challenged, whether they are blind, in a wheel-chair or have some other disability or physical challenge. The Shabazz Center assists individuals in a five-county area. For more information, visit their website at www.shabazzcenter.org. CAN-DO is associated with the center and provides a network for affected individuals to share experiences and to assist each other.
Right now, these organizations are involved in a struggle over public transportation costs which are scheduled to increase next year unless modified. As of now, users of the system ride on specialized community area transportation (SCAT). SCAT consists of mini-buses with special wheel-chair lifts and accommodations which allows physically challenged persons to have transportation access, whether it is to their doctor, a job or anywhere they wish to go. The Greensboro City Council voted to take away unlimited rides and more than double the costs for those riders who participate in SCAT.
As asked by the New & Record, what is my interest in these groups? Simple. I am someone who is disabled.
Like most people, I enjoyed good health for most of my life until August of 2004 when I suddenly lost my hearing. Ultimately, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Although I have the use of my legs and many of my other senses, my tumor and surgery has left the right side of my face paralyzed and I am deaf in my right ear.
While it has not impacted me significantly, it nonetheless has affected me. I have to drink everything through a straw and can only chew on the left side of my mouth. I have a muted sense of taste. I have constant tinnitus (ringing) in my right ear. At large gatherings, it is difficult to hear someone speaking. It is difficult for me to discern if someone says "hello" and I cannot see them. It is has affected depth perception and when the room is darkened, my balance can be affected. In fact, I have fallen once, so this is a legitimate concern as I age. I am physically challenged, just not nearly as severely as some.
But, this is not about me. It is to illustrate a larger point that even though we are fortunate, all it takes is some kind of accident or a disease to have a life-changing event of this nature. When something like that happens, you become more attuned or aware to the hardships faced by others. As have I.
Imagine what it would be like if you lost the use of your legs and were in wheelchair, or if you lost another physical sense like sight or hearing. Things that you took for granted when you were healthy are suddenly a challenge. And circumstances and situations which did not seem like a challenge when you were healthy suddenly become real obstacles.
For people confined to a wheelchair, the world is a much more daunting place. In areas where there is only grass, it is difficult to maneuver, especially when it rains. Old courthouses on the historic registry may be lovely to look at or visit, but when the courthouse requires you to ascend stairs just to go inside the courthouse, the courtroom is on the second floor and there are no elevators, how can a wheel-chair bound litigant be in court? Or a wheel-chair bound attorney for that matter?
I have became aware of the struggles of CAN-DO and the Shabazz Center and I am lending the support of my candidacy to these groups in order to make others equally aware of their situation in the hopes that this matter can be favorably resolved.
These folks understand that gas and transportation prices have increased. They get it. And they are willing to pay more and have offered proposals which provide for increased cost and reduced service, although more service than under the current proposal. However, they do not understand why their costs have more than doubled while the existing level of service that they had has been reduced. And many of these people are living on meager benefits such that they will not be able to afford the cost of the increased pass.
Comments by some fully-functioning members of city council display an appalling insensitivity and ignorance regarding their predicament. Comments have ranged from "let them stay home" to "let their families provide for them." Many people do not have families. Still others yearn to be live separate lives of independence or as near independence as they can be and SCAT allows them to do that. Others, as I have noted, simply do not have the financial resources and the proposal, if allowed to stand, may mean the difference between someone going to work or school or someone not going out all. They have even said this is not about civil liberties.
They are wrong. This is about civil liberties. It is true that nowhere in our US Constitution does it say that there is a right of transportation by SCAT. However, the 10th Amendment says that "[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." And the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution says that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Taken together, these two amendments leave issues up to the states, but states cannot deprive people of the same rights that non-handicapped people enjoy. Likewise, our state constitution provides that "all persons are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor, and the pursuit of happiness" and that "[n]o person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws."
Within this framework, we have the Americans With Disabilities Act ( ADA) of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., which was enacted by the first President Bush. State or municipal transportation organizations have obligations under the act to provide for transportation to those who are disabled or who cannot use regular transit. So this is very much about civil rights as provided for by the ADA and in the state and federal consitutions.
Fyodor Dostoevsky said that "[a] society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens, but by how it treats its criminals." To that I would add, a society should also be judged on how it treats its elderly, its very young and its physically challenged citizens.
Ours is a youth-worshipping culture. Even the models depicted in magazines and such are only ideals and not the real thing, as their images have been enhanced by a computer. Instead of honoring the elderly, we send them to nursing homes; even the best of them are sometimes nothing other than places to die. Some places allow child sex abuse and pornography. And when it comes down to the mentally ill, the blind, deaf or wheel-chair bound, or those possessing some other physical challenge, we "pretend" that they are non-existent and treat them like some kind of second-class citizens when they desire nothing more than to be productive and valued citizens just like the rest of us and they are entitled to the same laws and privileges that others have.
All of us, no matter our position in life have something to offer. God does not see as man sees, so even if you do not think a life to be worthwhile, God may do so. We should not aim for an equal outcome in life. That would be boring to say the least! But we all should have a place at the table. We should have the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and in our society, transportation, met so that we can be allowed to be the individuals we are.
We CAN-DO better.
Rachel Lea Hunter