How I Celebrated My Seventieth Birthday in Segregated State College, PA

 This is what a “wheel chair accessible” restaurant looks like in segregated State College PA.

 Video by Emily Hartsay

Cafe Verve received an operating license from Walt Schneider, head of code for the PA Centre County Council of Governments. To receive the license, the restaurant was required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Specific enforcement of ADA in this instance was defined by Commonwealth building code which establishes public access requirements. As a restaurant seating 50 or fewer people, Cafe Verve was required to spend $4,000 to meet the disability-friendly requirements in the building code. The restaurant decided to spend twice that sum making the bathroom in the restaurant wheel chair accessible and paying for a sign saying so. However, the restaurant was not required to make the entrance wheel chair accessible.

After crawling into the restaurant, I required a wheel chair to get to the bathroom.

In February, I called Walt Schneider to ask for an explanation. On May first, I met him at a meeting of the Bellefonte Borough Council. There, Walt promised to get back to me in two weeks to explain why the Cafe received an operating license.

On August 17th, Walt finally got back to me with the answer. The answer is that the restaurant was required to meet Commonwealth and Borough of State College regulations on accessibility for public accommodation. However [repetition is good for the soul], while Cafe Verve was required to make accommodations, the restaurant was not required to make the entrance accessible. Exclamation point.

At that occasion, there was a still-ongoing Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission formal complaint against the seven “liberal” members of the Borough Council of State College [see Phil Ochs] for disability discrimination in public accommodations and housing, Walt promised to get back to me “soon” so I could institute a voluntary discussion with the owners to resolve the issue. I had hoped to negotiate with Freddie Irani, one of the proprietors (and with the others whose names he agreed to provide) so I could celebrate on October 12th my seventieth birthday as a mensch. Walt pulled a Waldo again.
Because the restaurant provided a wheel-chair accessible bathroom, the Borough of State College authorized Walt Schneider to issue an operating license. Had the seven members of the Borough Council been doing their job and had Walt Schneider done his, they would have requested the proprietor voluntarily put the horse before the cart and make the entrance accessible. Failing that, they would have requested the Commonwealth legislature to revise the statute to allow reason to prevail. I have requested Rep. Scott Conklin to correct this oversight.
 My plan was to celebrate my birthday with my two vegetarian daughters and my one-year old granddaughter in the new vegetarian restaurant that had just opened across the street from my apartment. Instead of driving my Amigo mobility device into the front door, the government of State College required me to crawl. Consequently, I adapted Lesley Gore’s classic and sang, “It’s My Party and I’ll Crawl if I Want To.”

–Joel Solkoff, Disability Advocate

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