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Disabled Persons ~ continued from November 2017 issue pdf page 5

Sidewalks

Suddenly, as here on 21st Street, NW, someone in a wheelchair confronts an impass in the absence of the required warning signage. photo--Larry Ray--InTowner.

Suddenly, as here on 21st Street, NW, someone in a wheelchair confronts an impass in the absence of the required warning signage. photo–Larry Ray–InTowner.

By far, the number one complaint by the disabled and elderly is sidewalk closings which seem to be unplanned and haphazard. Often one will be halfway down the block before one discovers that the sidewalk is closed. Construction and moving companies seemingly get no permit to close the sidewalks. Instead, they put up handmade signs and effectively close the sidewalks.

Here, in the 2100 block of P Street, NW, the required signage was put up but not in the proper place -- it should have been at the beginning of the block at 22nd Street to warn persons heading toward 21st Street. photo--Larry Ray--InTowner.

Here, in the 2100 block of P Street, NW, the required signage was put up but not in the proper place — it should have been at the beginning of the block at 22nd Street to warn persons heading toward 21st Street. photo–Larry Ray–InTowner.

Metrorail

It is helpful that Metrorail has designated seats but how many people obey the signs. Not many, especially school students. Maybe Metro should mimic Atlanta’s Marta rail system which provides constant announcements reminding about its designated seats for the elderly and handicapped.

Special Challenges for the Hearing Impaired

A hearing-impaired friend in Dupont Circle relates the challenges he faces when transiting DC — whether on Metro, by taxi, Uber, bicycle, or on foot. A major challenge with hearing loss is understanding speech in noisy environments. He says that use of reflective surfaces and loud music in restaurants and other venues provides particular challenges, even when he’s wearing hearing assist devices; but the din from traffic and car horns, helicopters, and construction sites is often too much competition for verbal communication. Because hearing impairment shows no physical signs of disability, communication in any noisy environment (including public and commercial transportation) usually requires a verbal request to accommodate his disability, which (once they’re aware) many people will accommodate — at least temporarily.

Many District residents are resigned to enduring excessive levels of noise in their neighborhoods as an inevitable burden of city life, but there are things they can do to mitigate the burden.

Picture you are wheelchairing to Raymond Elementary School in Petworth, rolling downhill on Rock Creek Church Road and encounter this situation:  only 14 inches on one side of the sign and a mere 8 inches on the other. photo--Larry Ray--InTowner.

Picture you are wheelchairing to Raymond Elementary School in Petworth, rolling downhill on Rock Creek Church Road and encounter this situation: only 14 inches on one side of the sign and a mere 8 inches on the other. photo–Larry Ray–InTowner.

Although the DC government imposes a noise curfew for construction between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., construction crews and delivery vehicles arrive early and idle their vehicles, trash trucks rumble to their destinations, impatient drivers honk their horns, motorcycles and mopeds gun their engines, automobiles with aftermarket mufflers can be heard for miles, and even gardeners with gas-powered blowers add to the din that can have serious health effects on residents trying to rest, or at least have a moment of peace.

District residents who encounter excessive noise, especially when in violation of noise ordinances, can file a complaint through the Mayor’s online 311 system. Violators can be fined up to $500 and 90 days jail –- as provided by the Disorderly Conduct Amendment Act of 2010.

The DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) cites DCMR 20, Sec. 2700 which states that it “is the declared public policy of the District that every person is entitled to ambient noise levels that are not detrimental to life, health, and enjoyment of his or her property. It is hereby declared that excessive or unnecessary noises within the District are a menace to the welfare and prosperity of the residents and businesses of the District. It is the declared public policy of the District to reduce the ambient noise level in the District to promote public health, safety, welfare and the peace and quiet of the inhabitants of the District, and to facilitate the enjoyment of the natural attraction of the District.”

It has been suggested that the District should also include noise regulations as part of the motor vehicle regulations pertaining to inspections, buses and trucks – specifically banning the use of what is known as aftermarket mufflers that bypass the catalytic converters. These are mufflers that are electric or cable activated, thereby transforming cars and motorcycles to sound like a race cars.

Handicapped Parking

An example of how the city designates  metered spaces reserved for handicapped drivers can be found at Conn. Ave. & Q St., NW; note the red top & blue background notice at the bottom. photo--Larry Ray--InTowner.

An example of how the city designates metered spaces reserved for handicapped drivers can be found at Conn. Ave. & Q St., NW; note the red top & blue background notice at the bottom. photo–Larry Ray–InTowner.

It is challenging to get a designated handicapped street parking space. DDOT examines the availability of street parking and whether there is off-street parking. They need to also examine the potential of stair climbing that may impede the ease of off-street parking.

Then there is a problem of timely rescinding any parking and signage if the person has died or the disability has been overcome. DDOT depends on being informed by neighborhood residents when it seems that the agency is unaware of changed circumstances. Unfortunately, this ad hoc arrangement appears to result in many outdated signs designating reserved handicapped parking spaces.

As an experiment for this article, one Columbia Heights resident used the Mayor’s 311 online system to state that a particular handicapped designated space was no longer necessary since the handicapped person had moved. Here is the response:

“Dear Resident, Your request for Parking Enforcement at [redacted] OTIS PLACE NW,WASHINGTON,DC,USA,20010 was completed on 11/15/2017 and has been closed by Department of Public Works. A comment has been added to your Service Request 17-00642557. Service Request Status:       Closed. Case Closure Comment: DPW Officer observed location, no violation.”

It is clear that the 311 service request was directed to the wrong agency; that is, parking enforcement of the Department of Public Works rather than DDOT which actually puts up and takes down these signs.

Conclusion

Greg, a customer of Soho Tea and Coffee at 22ndand P Streets, NW, reminisced about the “old days” when disabilities were hidden and not accommodated. This resulted in people with disabilities being confined, not being able to work and feeling out of the mainstream. Things have changed for the better as can be noted as by U.S. News & World Report now rating DC as #10 in its Best Places to Retire category; DC also has been rated highly for public transportation, though well down in housing affordability.

Creativity is one of the keys to successful accommodation of the increasing numbers and variety of those with disabilities. One also wonders about the role of driverless cars; thinking about wheelchair accessibility, will their designs help or hinder those with disabilities. And what about walk and don’t walk signals; should tactile and audio interfacing for the visually impaired be added?

Residents (except ones who shovel the snow in front pof their houses in the winter) say they love sidewalks made of bricks and Belgian blocks; maybe it's reminiscent of “the old days.” Practically, however, for the disabled, especially those using wheelchairs, it can be a major challenge. photo--Larry Ray--InTowner.

Residents (except ones who shovel the snow in front pof their houses in the winter) say they love sidewalks made of bricks and Belgian blocks; maybe it’s reminiscent of “the old days.” Practically, however, for the disabled, especially those using wheelchairs, it can be a major challenge. photo–Larry Ray–InTowner.

At the same time, there are dangers to creativity. The developers of The Wharf residential, commercial and mixed-use project along Maine Avenue on the southwest waterfront did not want “clean lines” but instead what they call “city chaos” –- manifested by having little ups and downs of the sidewalks and the use of uneven bricks and Belgian blocks. However, this creates problems for people with disabilities, especially for wheelchairs.

On balance, the District excels in accommodating those with disabilities and most residents seem to think DC is generally living up to these aspirations.

*Larry Ray is a former president of the North Columbia Heights Civic Association (NCHCA), previously served two terms as a commissioner on the Columbia Heights ANC just south of Petworth, and serves as Next Door Coordinator for NE Columbia Heights.

 

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