Since I began this quest for a resolution to the ill-conceived roll out of a bike sharing program here in Dallas I have reached out to every conceivable entity in the hope that someone would listen and take to heart the impact on the mobility challenged community. For the most part, the correspondence I have received from city leaders and officials has been disappointing, and that is saying it kindly. I have been met with platitudes, willful obtuseness and an apathy that kicks me in the gut. To be fair, the timetable for resolutions seems to have been accelerated a bit with possible fixes promised sometime in May. Maybe this lone voice coupled with those of you out there who were as offended as I was provided some sense of urgency which if true I want to thank those of you out there who joined me in beating the drum.
However, this is just one battle, one issue that has exposed a problem that is endemic within government and even within business. Through this process I learned that neither the city nor the companies involved in this debacle have someone who is mobility challenged sitting in an advisory role, sitting at the table negotiating, planning or being involved in the process. I had the chance to share a back and forth with Jared White, a manager for the City of Dallas and someone who has been called the “Mobility and Transportation Czar” of Dallas. Below is the last email I sent him:
Dear Mr. White:
First let me say that when I begin these letters to you I feel like I’m quoting a character from a Tarantino movie. I know that you are a busy man, and my issue may seem trivial and I freely admit that in my last communication I had too much passion and not enough reason. So, here we go, “Take-2,” Mr. White.
Frankly I am a bit stunned. I was hoping to learn that you possibly had someone on staff or in an advisory capacity who is mobility challenged. When you look at just my community, those who are blind or visually impaired and look at the number of Dallas citizens, 150,000, that are served by the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind it becomes clear that there is a very large and active disabled community. Active is the key word here. Our ability to “Be” active is the point that I want to drive home with the city of Dallas and the companies vying for space in the Bike Sharing possibilities of the city. From the beginning, I have expressed to the print and on-air media that I am not opposed to this program. In fact, I see the efficacy and value as Dallas is growing at an exponential rate and programs like this can and will ease the traffic concerns experienced by the city.
That being said, one man’s cure is another’s disease. This solution represents a problem for the mobility challenged. Those of us who use the sidewalks as our roads, our path to basic freedom of movement. My fear is that if you do not include those with disabilities in forming solutions you are creating a new problem. I say this from personal experience. I find myself leaving my home solo less often instead relying on others because of the obstacles that have been introduced. I know there have been more concerns than those you received from me and an individual in a wheelchair. I have listened to and read many stories of people with guide dogs who are not trained or prepared for this eventuality. The same is true for those in wheelchairs, those who suffer from muscular degeneration and are forced to walk with crutches. Not including these people in this process, proactively including them and giving them a voice will force them to retreat from society because of a lack of freedom of movement.
You ask me to make some recommendations that might assist you in establishing the rules and regulations. I read an article earlier where you anticipate possible fixes as early as May. I agree with several of them however you are still missing what I feel is a very key demographic. So, let me offer you this single, simple fix. Introduce the voice of the disabled to the negotiation table, listen to their concerns and yes even their solutions. This isn't a foreign subject to us, we have battled for ways to be heard and to be seen as contributing equals to society. Believe me when I say that you just might be surprised by what it would mean if you extended an olive branch to a community impacted by the direction we are heading. As you speak with these companies I would also recommend that they also seek advice from the disabled communities they plan to go into. I believe that both you and these companies will be able to find common ground, a new path and a new direction that isn't reduced to a simple statement like “One man’s cure is another man’s disease.” Now here comes a little of that passion leaking out of me, I will continue to bang the drum on this until I feel the message is resonating, until rather than being ignored and marginalized we are included as partners helping to shape transportation and mobility issues as full citizens of this great city. Thank you for reading this, for taking the time and I truly hope it helps.
Eric L. Burton
The simple fact that these companies as well as the City of Dallas “Did Not” include as a matter of common practice, input from a large section of their respective communities shows where my frustration blooms from. I want everybody to stop for a moment and understand that the reason this is important is because today it is the disabled Vs the government and bike sharing companies in Dallas, tomorrow it could be something in your backyard, an issue in your community that impacts your personal freedom or that of someone you know and love. My battle, my frustration, my desire to be seen, heard and then treated like a full citizen of my city will be your battle or perhaps it already is. The point is, change only happens when we grab it, shake it out of the security of its own well-crafted comfortable bubble. We are responsible for making our voice be part of the conversation as well as part of the solution. When we sit idly by hoping that others will surely take our situation into consideration then we fall into the old saying repeated to us as children, “When you assume you are just making an ass out of you and me.” Those who are disabled are not assuming that everybody should accommodate them to the exclusion of everybody else, they just want to be part of the conversation, part of the planning and part of solving issues. Of course, that is just my take.