My daughter, who has been in a wheel chair for almost two years has told me her own horror stories about navigating the Tel Aviv streets and sidewalks. These--streets and sidewalks--were not built in the early years for accessibility. No one had any idea what that was. The disabled were in essence shunted aside, and were effectively excluded from typical activities which we consider to be 'normal' and which are totally accessible in the United States, such as traveling by bus to a restaurant, being able to enter the restaurant and sitting at a table, going shopping at the shuk (outdoor market), going to a movie--just to name a few. There is very little in this young country which is accessible to people in wheelchairs. Israel is somewhat like the United States was before the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act,which was enacted in 1990 and amended in 2009.
The activities which I mentioned above being inaccessible are bad enough, but how about something we do not even think about here in the United States: getting into an accessible bomb shelter when the warning sirens go off, 15 to 20 seconds before the rockets hit? Unfathomable!
In an article by Ben Sales published in the JTA on June 27th, he describes the terrible situation in Israel with regard to disabled access. It's unconscionable. I enlarged below the photo of Naomi Moravia, chairwoman of the organization Struggle for the Disabled, to show you how
a wheelchair-bound person would be totally vulnerable in a rocket attack: unable to enter the bomb shelter not only because of a locked gate, but very often (most often) the actual sidewalk is not level and is broken or cracked and thus uneven, creating dangerous navigating for someone who is unable to stand, let alone walk--like my daughter.
Naomi Moravia, chairwoman of the Israeli nonprofit Struggle for the Disabled, in front of a locked gate that leads to a bomb shelter in Sderot. Many shelters throughout Israel’s embattled South are not wheelchair accessible. (Ben Sales)
...Moravia can’t run. She can’t even get up on the sidewalk. Pushing a lever on her wheelchair, she rolls down the street looking for a ramp or a dip in the curb that she can ascend without tipping backward.
If she can manage to reach a shelter in time, she often won’t fit inside, stymied by tight corners impossible to negotiate in a wheelchair. Of five shelters in Sderot’s central district that Moravia tried to enter recently, only one was accessible.
“If there’s a siren and I’m not in a protected room, all I can do is sit in my wheelchair and pucker my butt,” said Moravia, the chairwoman of the Israeli activist group Struggle for the Disabled. “I just wait to hear the boom. There’s nothing I can do.”
This so reminds me of what my daughter is doing, advocating for change in Israel-including with her volunteering at the Center for Independent Living's Tel Aviv branch--awareness-by the government as well as the general public. Awareness leads to understanding the needs of those not as fortunate, those who need physical assistance of some kind. And it leads to accessibility: renovating existing entrances, repairing and accessorizing sidewalks to be usable by the wheelchair-bound, and legislating for new construction to be accessible to all.
Meanwhile, the accessibility situation is grim for Israel's disabled.
What "horror story" (see the very first sentence in this post) happened to my daughter? Some time ago, in the course of navigating her wheelchair over bumpy and cracked sidewalks, she actually encountered a "ramp" for the disabled. Unfortunately, it was built badly, uneven and incorrectly banked. The result was she fell over in her wheelchair on her back and into the street, right in front of traffic. She told me that several drivers driving on that street saw her fall, screeched to a stop, and got out to help her right herself. She was scared and dazed--and VERY angry at the system. She travels everywhere in her neighborhood by herself, wheeling herself to the store--supermarkets, the pet supply store, Ace Hardware, HomeCenter--and even though she takes a cab to the Azrielli shopping center, she sometimes wheels herself back, and that is a distance of 2.2 kilometers (1.37 miles, and across the Ayalon highway), with nothing more than her upper-body strength. She has to traverse inaccessible areas, and I worry myself sick over this. But she wants to be independent. I understand, and I'm proud of her for it.
And I worry.