Access Report

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I moved into a Chicago Housing Authority senior housing development on March 30, 1996. I had never resided in CHA housing prior to my move last year and the move was the result of my becoming disabled and needing to use a wheelchair in April of 1993. I was age 60 when this occurred and was 63 when I made the transition from regular private housing to CHA housing; I was no longer able to be employed and being in a fixed income status made me unable to afford the private housing lifestyle I had been accustomed to prior to my disability.

Without a ramp, this sidewalk on the Near North Side becomes a cliff for individuals who use wheelchairs. Photo by Thomas Merriweather

I received a referral to senior housing in early March 1996 and the building I was sent to only had vacancies on the 14th floor, which the manager of the building believed to be unsatisfactory because of my wheelchair situation. I was advised that when an apartment on a lower floor became available (and some were vacant but not ready for occupancy), I would be able to move into one of these. As it stands, an apartment on a lower floor could not become available on a timely basis and I was referred a few weeks later to my current development where a vacancy did exist on the second floor.

The purpose for a lower-floor occupancy for persons who use wheelchairs is that in the event of a fire, it is easier to remove such residents from the premises if they are on lower floors. But routine problems of elevators frequently being out of order are not being addressed on a timely, consistent basis. At the time of the writing of this story, there were breakdowns of both elevators in my Eckhart Park Greenview building twice over a period of less than 24 hours. Residents who are able to walk were forced to use the stairs, which are located at one end of the building and therefore inconvenient for a large number of residents who are unable to walk.

The missing ramps between the buildings in CHA's Eckhart Park development make mobility difficult for residents with disabilities. Photo by Thomas Merriweather

On July 24, 1997, at Navy Pier in Chicago, Access Chicago, the first exposition sponsored by the Mayor’s Office on People With Disabilities, was conducted between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. While attending this exposition, I was able to visit several of the exhibit booths and obtain much useful information, including certain requirements for accessibility of CHA buildings. According to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, all CHA buildings and residences are to be accessible to occupants who may be in wheelchairs or use other means to transport themselves. This applies to closet spaces and other storage areas in the apartments. It should also apply to other facilities in the housing developments and an example might be mailboxes, etc.

These mailboxes are out of reach for those who use wheelchairs for mobility. Photo by Thomas Merriweather

In a previous story, I revealed that in the area between the two buildings of the Eckhart Park development, there are no ramps to accommodate residents in wheelchairs who may be traveling between the buildings. At a residents meeting on Sept. 26, the development manager announced that improvements this fall will include the replacement of those missing ramps along with such other improvements as the installation of handicapped accessible doors for the entrances into the buildings.

Other ongoing problems of inaccessibility have been the lack of availability of appropriate vehicles to transport disabled individuals to various activities as sponsored by CHA, the City of Chicago or other agencies.

As cited in an earlier story, I discovered that the availability of accessible vehicles to transport wheelchair-using residents is limited and only available when requests for such vehicles is made by a sufficient number of disabled residents. I also discovered that CHA has only a single accessible bus available to residents and that this is only used to transport residents who use wheelchairs from one development to any other development for a particular activity.

This closet in a CHA senior apartment is out of reach for those who use wheelchairs for mobility. Photo by Thomas Merriweather

In my first story for RJ in the winter issue, I related some unfortunate incidents I had experienced in using CTA Paratransit Operations and as I write this story, I continue to experience these less than satisfactory incidents.

In preparing for this story, I talked to two residents who use wheelchairs in my Greenview Avenue building on this subject of accessibility. The first resident expressed general satisfaction in her five years as a resident of the development but has had no need to use other than medical transportation since she only travels for this purpose. When asked about CTA Paratransit Operations, she said she has never used the service but that all she has heard about it is on the negative side.

The other resident, an occupant of more than 15 years, complained about not being able to ever reach a CTA Paratransit carrier during her attempts to call in order to schedule trips. The resident said that a busy signal was all that could be received on those failed attempts and that a telephone with the automatic redialing feature was not available to her.

I explained her the procedure I have been following for over 2 years which involves dialing the direct number to the carrier I use and pressing the automatic redial button back and forth with the dial tone button until I am finally able to get through to an operator to request my trips. I explained that this procedure sometimes will require up to about 40 minutes but that I will eventually reach an operator and then schedule my trips for the next day.

CTA Paratransit Operations does maintain a 1-800 number which should eliminate the need to call a carrier directly and receive a busy signal and even when such calls are made when the service opens at 5 am weekdays and 6 am weekends. I recently tried to use this number and all I received was a busy signal. Some obvious improvement is needed here and in the entire system.

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