ACTIVIST FOR DISABLED ACCESS BRUSHES ASIDE OTHERS' RIGHTS

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Having just read Jean Marbella's article about Marilynn Phillips in The Sunday Sun and Phillips' recent guest column in The Carroll County Sun (July 21), I feel compelled to reply.

There is no question that people with disabilities should be able to enjoy a full, rich anddiversified life. There were too many years when too little action was taken to make accommodations suitable for effortless access, but new buildings and those with major remodeling are now made accessible by law.

Phillips has limited her protests to old existing structures where complying with access codes is very difficult.

I am quite aware of the barriers that buildings can cause. As a retired architect I amalso aware that the costs of overcoming all of those barriers are much higher than Phillips will concede.

In Marbella's article and inPhillips' guest column headlined, "Access for the disabled: It's easy, cheap and it's the law," she brushes off cost as minimal. She cites only two examples of "cheap" renovations. One is a hinge that will make a doorway wide enough for a wheelchair if it is only 2 inches too narrow. The other is a ramp that she built herself because she was unwilling to pay a craftsman a decent wage and the overhead and othercosts of being in business.

Most modifications are neither cheap nor easy. Millions of extra dollars were required to make Baltimore'ssubway fully accessible.

I can assure her that the extra space needed in a toilet room to make a toilet stall accessible to her are not minor. Not only must the stall be larger, with a special toilet fixture and special well-anchored handholds on stronger than usual partitions, but the door must open outward and the toilet room itself mustbe made larger to make room for the door swing.

All of those extra square feet cost the same as the other space in the toilet room. Ina new building, the space can be designed in from the beginning, butexisting buildings are much more difficult and it is much more expensive to make corrections.

In addition, the extra space added to the toilet room is space taken from income-producing areas. Toilet rooms are just one example. The cost of many other modifications, such asputting an elevator in a two- or three-story building that may otherwise not need one, are even more costly.

It is Phillips' "impression that most Carroll County businesses currently not accessible can easily and inexpensively comply with ADA requirements."

A normal, comfortable stair uses an 11-inch tread for each seven inches of rise.Steeper stairs use even less horizontal space. The steepest ramp suitable for a person in a wheelchair will require 70 inches of horizontal distance for every seven inches of rise, plus a six-foot flat areaat the top of the ramp if the entrance door swings out as building codes require in public buildings.

If your door sill is 2 feet above the sidewalk, the ramp needed to accommodate Phillips will be 26 feet long. Do you have that kind of space? Does she really consider such a ramp "easy and cheap"?

Do you have a vestibule so that bitter winter winds do not blow into your office? It is unlikely that Phillips will be able to go in the outer door and still have room to open the inner door. Where will you find the room to double the depth of the vestibule?

This example also is true in some toilet rooms. Taxesare based on total building value, including the extra costs for making special provisions for various handicaps. The extra costs do not stop at construction but continue for the life of the building.

There are many different kinds and degrees of disability, and the necessary modifications for one handicap will not be the same modificationneeded for another and may actually cause a problem for some.

I wear trifocals and curb cuts required for her wheelchair have caused me to stumble when I expected to step up or down. Blind people need Braille notations on elevator buttons and directional signs and a change of floor surface to warn of some change in condition that may be hazardous; deaf people need warning lights instead of bells to warn of danger; persons who are mobile but are not in full control of their muscles need sure footing but with surfaces that are not too rough.

Although designers of buildings are doing as much as possible, thereis always some disability that will not be adequately addressed. Notevery handicap is even known about until someone who has it brings it to public attention.

In Marbella's article, she is quoted as saying that the Arts Council had "plenty of time to comply," and that may or may not be true regarding the central office, but the Arts Council is much more than just a downtown office building.

Many local arts groups depend on help from the Arts Council in order to provide worthwhile and enjoyable events in the communities. The county Crafts Guild receives a small amount of money that helps defray some expenses of our Annual Studio Tour. The members of the guild pay most of thecosts. Due to Phillips' intervention, we have had to drop some of our members' studios from the Studio Tour because of that grant from the Arts Council.

Part of the fun and all of the instructional valueof a studio tour is to see where and how our members work. Not all of our workshops are accessible to a wheelchair. My own shop requires that I move sideways in order to move from one machine to another. Several years ago a lady in a wheelchair did come to my shop and I was able to show her everything she wanted to see and she thoroughly enjoyed herself, and she did not have to enter my work space to have thatfeeling of pleasure. We had a nice conversation and even shared a glass of wine.

This year my shop cannot be part of the studio tour because of Phillips' confrontation. I will be transporting my toys to another location in an old historic schoolhouse building that must have a ramp built just for this two-day event. We expect Phillips to show up.

Another annual Arts and Crafts Guild Show is sponsored by the Carroll County Arts Council in New Windsor. It is a show that the entire community anticipates with pleasure. Many of the crafts-peopleand artists have regular customers who come year after year.

It is hard to find 100 percent accessible space for a medium-size event such as this show in a community that has mostly old buildings. We have been very successfully using the gymnasium at the Brethren Service Center for a number of years.

Last year, Marilynn Phillips startedher campaign against the local Arts Council. We set aside two parking spaces and paid someone for four days to stay in a part of the building that could be used by a wheelchair, but which would normally be closed. Wheelchairs are available that can climb stairs.

Why shouldn't she be required to provide herself with the latest technology that can make her as independent as she wants to be? Since the only toilet room does not admit a wheelchair, we had to make it off limits toeveryone except people working in the show.

Phillips never showedup and neither did anyone else needing wheelchair access. The two parking spaces were never used, and all of the rest of our customers were inconvenienced by the lack of toilet facilities. That can be a problem for some of our older customers and for some children.

This year we will not be able to use a balcony overlooking the main room because it is available only to those who can climb stairs. Many of ourvery old customers who move with difficulty have made that climb, but this year at least 10 artists and crafts-people have been told thatthey cannot be in the show because of this loss of space.

Phillips says, "I'm not depriving anybody of anything." I disagree. She is depriving the artists, and she is depriving our community.

Yes, shedoes "embrace her disability" and wears it as a very large chip on her shoulder. She claims not to want special treatment, but what she demands is special treatment. Doesn't she consider the availability ofsign language interpreters and the printing of Braille materials in every business special treatment?

She wants it to be normal, and to some extent it should be, but it is still a special service. Sign language is a different language from English, so where is the line tobe drawn for providing special language interpreters? How many languages are there in the world?

I was in an accident that left me with a not-quite-normal left shoulder. It is very difficult for me to reach out to a toll booth or to use a drive up bank window. That is a disability.

Should I make a nuisance of myself until someone makes the facility useful to me without "special" treatment? My wife never quite made 5 feet and I am only 7 inches taller. We live in a world designed for 6-footers. That makes us handicapped. Should we insist that no store shelf be beyond our reach? Should we be embarrassed to ask someone to reach something for us?

I normally drive a small car that has a low window sill. Should I insist that every bank window belowered so I can reach it? Then when I drive up in my pickup should I scream because it is too low? Does she think that all left-handers should bellyache if they have to use their right hand?

Those are inconveniences. Everyone has encounters that cause some frustration and inconvenience. I believe Phillips uses her handicapped status to try to eliminate personal inconveniences. She is unreasonable.

Marbella and others describe Phillips as being "confrontational" and "veryfocused." They are much too kind. The fact is that this woman is very unpleasant. She steps well over the line separating confrontationaland nasty and can best be compared to the small child who dumps all the pieces off of the game board when she does not get her own way. If she is not happy, then no one else can enjoy themselves either. I wonder, does she choose her friends on the basis that their homes are fully accessible to her?

She complains about being exploited as a poster child, yet she still hides her true, unpleasant self behind that poster-child smile.

Richard L. Anderson is an Upperco resident.

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