Inaccessibility of CHA Developments


The Americans With Disabilities Act was established to address a problem which affects 19.4 percent of the U.S. population. The act attempts to create accessibility and opportunities for this disabled community, to level the playing field and therefore eliminate those barriers which exist and which have become glaring in the light of multiple negative factors to be considered in our society. I have learned during my preparation for this story that there are several problems which are difficult to address and factors of inaccessibility which are difficult to overcome.

I interviewed two key officials of the City of Chicago in order to obtain some answers to what I had earlier encountered as some serious problems of accessibility. On June 4, I interviewed Donald R. Smith, Commissioner of the Chicago Department on Aging, and a week later, on June 11, I interviewed Lawrence J. Gorski, director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.

Smith has had a wealth of experience in public service. Prior to his current position, he served as director of finance administration and assistant director for his current department and in such City of Chicago agencies as Model Cities, the anti-poverty program, and the Urban Renewal Project. Before serving with the City of Chicago, Smith served with the U.S. Peace Corps.

Gorski has been in his current position for seven years. He previously owned and operated his own public relations business and served for seven years as a legislative aide to Illinois State Rep. Art Berman, now a state senator.

The Chicago Department on Aging serves a population aged 60 and over and this age factor itself renders a high percentage of this population as disabled to one extent or another. When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was established, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had the responsibility of mandating accessibility regulations for federally funded housing such as CHA and a decision was quickly made to integrate individuals with mental or behavioral disabilities into public housing, a situation which generally involved senior housing developments.

Bringing individuals mental or behavioral disabilities into senior citizen public housing complexes generally created some serious problems but it was the easy way out for HUD because of the lack of accessible housing for individuals with physical disabilities. The mandates of ADA are that all government-funded housing comply with accessibility regulations and that all public accommodations be accessible and with no exceptions.

Let me now discuss some of the inconsistencies which relate to the availability of accessibility in some public accommodation. I first became aware of this when I had wanted to ride a bus provided by HOME, a company that transports the residents of senior housing developments to a store for grocery shopping. I had inquired of other residents of my senior housing development as to whether the HOME vehicle was equipped with a wheelchair lift and I was informed that the bus was equipped as such. The bus was parked in an area between the two buildings which comprise the Eckhart Park Senior Housing development with the passenger entrance facing the Noble Street building. (I reside in the Greenview Ave. building.)

But when I went around to board the bus, I was confronted with the fact that the vehicle was not equipped with a wheelchair lift. I had earlier phoned the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and when I was asked my age and replied that I am 64, I was immediately transferred to the Chicago Department on Aging, who advised me that all the vehicles in use were wheelchair accessible. After discovering that the HOME bus was not accessible, I telephoned the Department of Aging and the person I talked to this time advised me that I had been given inaccurate information. Since the HOME service is not related to City of Chicago services, the department has no responsibility.

In addition to discovering the HOME shopping service was inaccessible, I also discovered upon going around to the passenger entrance side of the vehicle that a ramp was missing from the pavement between the two buildings. I brought this matter up with Larry Gorski, who said that the CHA has the responsibility of installing permanent curb ramps to replace what was obviously a temporary accommodation. I also discussed with Gorski other matters that made it difficult for people with disabilities to get around: street and sidewalk pavement irregularities, erosion and damaged or missing curb ramps. Gorski said the City Department of Transportation has responsibility for the management of street pavement accommodations.

In discussing the matter of accessible transportation, I discovered that it is not clear whether or not certain types of these services may be equipped with wheelchair lifts. I contacted the HOME company via telephone and was advised that the company did not have any vehicles with wheelchair lifts because of current limitations in their budget.

This led me to contact the Chicago Department on Aging again and I was first advised that the only available accessible vehicles supplied on a routine basis are used for medical purposes, most specifically for dialysis patients. The Department on Aging officials later clarified that the vehicles were supposed to be used on a temporary basis until such patients have established certification for accessibility via CTA Paratransit Operations.

The Chicago Department on Aging, in providing trips and other activities for seniors, especially during the summer months when there are so many activities, will provide transportation including accessible vehicles but these are school busses that are made available by the companies who own them. Accessible vehicles are generally more expensive and the problem has been that disabled individuals are not always available for use of these vehicles.

Another problem with the accessibility is Taxi Access Program (TAP), a component of RTA and CTA Special Services. Such taxi drivers may use discretion as to whether or not they choose to carry a disabled passenger who is not able to walk because of liability criteria.

The last problem I would like to discuss involves transportation carriers who provide services voluntarily and without charge or contractual obligation, such as the HOME service. Judging from my experience and the information I collected from the city agencies, inaccessibility will remain a problem until more mandates are provided.

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