The latest issue sweeping the drama capital of Grays Harbor, known as Montesano to us locals, is the situation involving disability access. City Councilwoman Marisa Salzer has bared all and is standing on the principle of access for those in the community with disabilities. It must be a very difficult, personal thing to do. I doubt most of us would do it. It would be much easier to quietly accept the circumstances and meld into the warm comfort of living quietly in the background.
At the core of this issue is something much larger. The changing world around us.
It wasn’t that many years ago that anyone with a disability had virtually no rights to access. None. With the sweeping change that altered the nation via the civil rights movement in the 1960s, followed by gender equality in the 1970s, the trend spread to more focused, smaller groups of Americans. By the early 1990s, the issue of equality had entered the area of disability access.
It is a more difficult area to address. Afterall, you can’t point to one area. Some need assistance with just getting up a curb on a street, others with vision. Some, like our Marisa, need assistance with hearing. And, of course, there are others. Each is unique, and quite personal to the individual.
It is impossible for both myself, as well as most readers to be able to relate. We take eyes, ears and legs for granted.
Along came the laws from the Americans with Disabilities Act.
What the ADA regulations did was to give people with disabilities the vehicle to ask for reasonable accommodations. Reasonable is the key word. It is a cherished law to those neighbors of ours that need it. Cherished. The vast vast majority of people who require accommodations are very hesitant to ask in the first place and bend over backward to work with the agency.
Most companies and governmental entities are both happy and willing to make the adjustments necessary. It is for twofold reasons. First, it’s the law. Second, it’s the right thing to do.
There isn’t any one of us that isn’t a car accident away from finding ourselves in a wheelchair or a phone call away from a relative who lost eyesight due to disease, or any number of life altering circumstances. All of us are in the same boat on this one. The accessibility regulations within the ADA law impact all of us and I suspect would be looked at quite differently should one of us suddenly need it.
We have our first public issue concerning disability access here in Montesano. Most of us find it odd that it is even an issue. Marisa has asked for interpreters in the council chambers. She is deaf. She is an elected city official. Considering the money we throw away around here, a few thousand dollars a year for a couple of years is chump change. Well, in my opinion, it is anyway.
What we get is so much more, though. Marisa never wanted her disability to be an issue. She realizes that this situation is being watched by others with disabilities here in the community. There is a kid some place that may be in a wheelchair that will decidehis or her mind on if they may want to try to run for public office here in Montesano based on what happens with this situation. Will it be worth it?
I don’t believe that anyone at the city is maliciously trying to hurt Marisa, but I do think a certain level of generational ignorance is at work. The times have changed. In the past, people with disabilities learned to adapt to the systems around them. Today, via the ADA laws and regulations, the world is required to adapt to them. There are consequences for not doing so.
One of the reasons companies and governmental agencies are going out of their way to accommodate requests is that to not do so can become very expensive. Councilwoman Salzer has filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission. I suspect that should this situation continue and the city dig in its heels as they have done recently with other issues, the next step will be in court.
This is where you and I come in.
As taxpayers here in Montesano, we are financially responsible for the actions of our elected officials. We are also responsible for the actions of our city attorney. I, and many, are puzzled that basic advice and ramifications of not adhering to the ADA regulations are either not forthcoming to the city or it’s being ignored. You and I as citizens have no access to the conversations going on at City Hall.
It takes guts to do what Marisa is doing. Exposing your private life, becoming a topic of conversation over what should be more of a private matter. I admire her for it. And she isn’t backing down. She is a Bulldog.
The City Council needs to step up, and quickly. It may not be an issue that they want to take the reins on, but considering the recent developments, to not do so escalates the situation into an area none of us want to enter. Especially with Marisa.
The mayor has apologized. He says he’s willing to do what it takes to help her. We shall see.
Montesano is not a cruel town. Unfortunately, I suspect a simple solution will not be presented.
Tom Frederiksen grew up in Montesano and lives here today. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.