I often carry my camera on my daily dog walk to help me get out of my head and pay attention to the physical world. From my home street, I take a public sidewalk 600 feet or so along Highway 20, a busy four-lane highway. As the sidewalk gives way to the parking lot of Harbor Freight, a ramp smooths the transition.
That ramp is largely due to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990) which recognized the need for public infrastructure to provide accommodations for those who would otherwise be excluded from the use of public facilities, even those privately owned. It also set standards for new construction. Changes in the law were no doubt crucial, but they were accompanied by changes in our mindset---if you ever make friends with someone in a wheelchair, you'll never see curbs the same again. The ADA greatly improved the odds of making such a friend.
This summer, a new VA clinic opened in part of what had been the K-Mart, once the anchor of the shopping center before becoming a hulking dead weight as it closed. As the east corner of the building was repurposed, the old garden center and an older and never-used-in-my-time auto shop were demolished. Newly built interior walls divided the space into offices for the VA. Near the old auto shop, a new ramp led to a side door equipped with a passcard reader. A new parking area hugged the side.
As I strolled, I pondered the disconnect that seems to dominate the U.S. currently. Can we no longer love someone we disagree with? Have we lost our ability to care for someone less fortunate than ourselves? And as I walked, the VA parking lot began to bug me.
Note how the ramp leads from the door to a crosswalk to... a curb.
To be fair to the VA, quite a few parking spots are handicap-accessible. But the curb seems to say, ""Park elsewhere, if you're disabled." It's almost arrogant, unwelcoming. And so unnecessary. Why not put a smooth transition to the crosswalk, maybe even at asphalt-level and wide enough to easily clear of snow?
I can only assume that the VA and the contractor who built the parking lot were not communicating very well. Did the contractor even think about the disabled veterans who might use the space? I bet if the contractor had a son in a wheelchair, he might have questioned the curb design.
I believe that on some level, the contractor would be ashamed if confronted with the way he constructed the curb. But if made ashamed, he'd probably resort to excuses, "There's plenty of other places to park," or "I was just doing what I was paid to do." Shaming him won't make things better. Introducing him to some of the people the VA serves, welcoming him like a family member, might.