Disability Valentine’s Day Remarks

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Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Joel Solkoff, Author and Disability Advocate, Noon Valentine’s Day 2018, Upon Establishment of the Ad Hoc Effort to End Segregation and Marginalization of the Disabled & Elderly, State College, Pennsylvania, Levitation @ Borough Hall

We are here today for three good reasons.
The first—since it is no accident this demonstration/levitation is taking place on Valentine’s Day— we are here to celebrate love. For reasons personal and intense, ever since 1981 annually this day has become a key stone for special thanksgiving.
The second is my personal acknowledgement of survival. Four months ago I celebrated my 70th birthday. At 28, I was diagnosed with a form of cancer which a generation previously was universally fatal. My family and friends who visited me flocked to my hospital bed convinced I would die shortly. Now, nearly all of them are dead. And I have survived, surprised I was able to reach the Biblical age of three score and ten having fathered two daughters and  able to greet my granddaughter who will be celebrating her second birthday in April.
Third  is the confession that as a paraplegic of 24 years and a card- carrying senior citizen, I am all too often angry my community here in State College does not treat me with the respect I believe I deserve. Of special consideration on this day that celebrates love is the recognition that anger is counterproductive. This demonstration/levitation represents my effort to transform my anger–not an easy task when I consider the standard set by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with whom I marched.
When four African-American children were killed by a bomb while attending church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1963, Dr. King said, “You can bomb our homes and spit on our children and we will still love you.” Yes, I am committed to non-violent change. However, the more I consider the tragedy suffered in Montgomery, the more difficult appears to me the challenge of not reacting with anger.
Indeed, my angry recollection of the reality of segregation here in State College must seem trivial by comparison. Consider, however, the reality of the situation: Over 27 years ago, President George H.W. Bush said :

“With today’s signing of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.

Yesterday, I read this sentence to Terry Williams, the Borough of State College’s excellent solicitor. I asked him why, twenty-seven years later the once-closed doors to public accommodations were not opened to me in State College. Specifically, how it is a new restaurant here in the Borough was able to open up with doors closed by technically meeting the building code and the Borough’s own public accommodations ordinance. Terry said because there is a difference between what President Bush said and what the law does.

The solution is simple. The legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania should pass a law stating no new restaurant can receive a building permit unless its entrance is wheel chair accessible. I urge each of you to make contact with Rep. Scott Conklin and Senator Jake Corman, who represent us, to sponsor and work to pass such legislation. Unlike the Borough Council and the surprisingly large number of other government entities who presume to represent us, the Commonwealth legislature does have the power to do that.

The legislature also has the power to rid the Borough of unnecessary and costly regulations that give disability access a bad name. The most egregious is the requirement that Hope Valley Optical,  office buildings, and other stores  in State College have a specially designed water fountain for the disabled. Back in the day when I could walk, I did not regard it as necessary that my optometrist have a water fountain nor pay a monthly bill to ensure the water’s refrigeration. For months I have been trying to obtain an actual figure regarding how expensive a wheel-chair accessible water fountain is. On Monday, I learned one aspect of the expense is the necessity for extensive plumbing and related retroitting.

Mindful that I might diminish today’s cause for celebration by further elaboration, I will end with this. The motto of the international disability rights movement is: “Nothing about us without us.” In this  age, when the disabled and elderly are presumed to have the same rights as everyone else, it would be beneficial for our government officials at all levels to consult with us.

–Joel Solkoff

This Valentine’s Day Levitate for Disability Access; Don’t Crawl

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