May 1, 2001 --
Tomorrow, May 2, Fresno, Calif. disability activists meet with Mayor Alan Autry and city officials to discuss the lack of curb cuts. The problem has already cost one Fresno resident his life.
For more than a year, Fresno wheelchair user Elias Gutierrez had been complaining about the lack of sidewalks with curb ramps in the areas where he had to travel, saying he was being forced into the streets to travel to shopping and to visit friends. On Sunday, March 18, the 60-year-old activist was killed when he was struck by a car as he was traveling in his power wheelchair next to the curb on Palm Avenue near Cornell. There were no curb cuts available to allow him to get onto the sidewalk.
"It's our worst nightmare," Fresno disability activist Ed Eames says of Gutierrez's death. "Elias has become the victim of this city's wanton lack of concern with the issue of making sidewalks a safe haven for people in wheelchairs."
The evening of Gutierrez's death, Fresno television stations broadcast the image of an overturned wheelchair on the sidewalk of Palm, and a single shoe in the street. Yet officials have not yet called for an increased program of installing curb cuts, says Eames.
What Eames calls the "totally inadequate" annual allocation to install curb cuts was begun only after another Fresno wheelchair user, Clayton Turner, was injured a few years ago; Turner's lawsuit against the city is pending, says Eames. "Lack of resources, combined with lack of commitment, sets the stage for future deaths of disabled people," says Eames.
Disability activists filed a class-action lawsuit in Sacramento over the lack of curb cuts 10 years after the ADA; in November, a judge ruled the city in violation of the law (read the story from the Sacramento Bee at http://www.sacbee.com/news/news/news/local06_20001122.html). Currently, Sacramento is installing curb cuts while the city appeals the ruling.
More background on Sacramento's battle to get curb cuts can be found in the July 26, 2000 edition of the Newshour with Jim Lehrer (transcript online at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/health/july-dec00/ada_7-26.html).
The curb cut battle is not restricted to California. Two years ago, wheelchair user Kelly Dillery made national news when she was cited by Sandusky, Ohio police for driving her wheelchair in the street; Sandusky has few usable curb cuts, either (Ragged Edge magazine's story is online at http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/0399/a399ft3.htm). in February, a federal judge ruled that Sandusky, although it did violate the ADA, might not have to fix its illegally designed curbs (more at http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/drn/030601on.shtml#229).