Courthouse Access Is About Democracy
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 13, 2003
EUGENE, OREGON--On Tuesday, August 26, officials with the General Services Administration will hold a public meeting to discuss access to a new federal courthouse.
GSA officials say they plan to make the $70 million courthouse accessible to people with disabilities by providing an outside elevator and a ground-level door for wheelchair users when the elevator is not working.
Local advocates have said the building needs a ramp so that people with disabilities can enter the building through the same front doors as everybody else.
Federal judges in the Oregon district say the courthouse designers should "maximize" the building's accessibility. They note, however, that they can only make requests to GSA.
Past meetings with local advocates and building planners have resulted in design changes.
Wednesday's Register Guard included a wonderful guest opinion article by Elizabeth Wheeler, whose 3-year-old son has cerebral palsy.
"I never realized before how many messages a building sends," Wheeler wrote. "Buildings often presume that there are the 'main people,' who enter on two feet, and then there are the 'other people', who enter on wheels."
"At the new courthouse, we have the chance to symbolize equal access before the law in concrete physical terms, through the kind of disability access we choose. All the citizens should get to come before the law in the same way."
"I am not interested in a streamlined and beautiful order that doesn't welcome my son, that tells my son, 'Don't work too hard at the extremely strenuous and inconvenient task of learning to walk in that walker because this federal courthouse, because this blessed Constitution and Bill of Rights, because this system of democracy, is kind of for you and kind of isn't, because fully including you is impractical and takes up too much room.'
"My son might grow up to be an attorney and might plead cases in that courthouse. It would be more dignified and professional for him to enter the court along the same route as his client, the judge and the opposing counsel in the case - but beyond this, it would be just and right."
"Advocates for disabled get their day about court" (Register-Guard)
"Guest Viewpoint: Courthouse should offer 'open door' to everyone" by Elizabeth Wheeler (Register-Guard)