The Coastal Post - August, 1997

Marin As I See It

So what if you're disabled? The Supes don't care

BY SANFORD I. GOSSMAN

Many of the county-level folks who some of us elected and the people they hire don't care much about the disabled. This was made clear at the recent budget session of the Board of Supervisors. The event is supposed to be a meaningful exercise of public input to help guide the supes about how the taxpayers who elected them want their money spent. For years, the County of Marin has done for the disabled only what the average restaurant does: wheelchair ramps and toilets with bars mounted to the walls. But there is more that is required of public entities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 mandates lots of things that our elected officials ignore.

The courts are supposed to have assistive listening devices and signs that tell the public about them. They have a few devices, but it took a suit filed by me in federal court last March to get signs posted telling the hearing-impaired public that they were there. Court staff was too busy to create and post them before, for more than six years. But there are less devices than courtrooms, and they are aren't kept there. The reason? The big lie from John Montgomery, Chief Executive Officer of the Marin County Courts, is that between uses they are required to be charged. Like all the receptacles in the courtrooms are taken or are reserved for Christmas tree lights, vacuum cleaners, and power drills! Not long ago, one I was using failed. Slipping off the cover of the battery compartment revealed leaking batteries that can't be charged. The courtrooms that have more than fifty seats in the gallery are supposed to have assistive systems built-in. That's how it is in San Francisco, and Santa Rosa too. But John would rather spend your money on huge computer monitors for a futuristic graphics system that won't be operational for many years, if ever; expensive conference tables made of exotic wood; conference drawing boards that disappear when not in use; and plush office surroundings for himself fit for a Donald Trump assistant.

Lower a counter in C-10 so that a wheelchair-bound citizen can pay a traffic ticket or file Small Claims papers with dignity? Hell no, that would be too expensive. Seems like John would rather shop than comply with the law.

In April of last year I sat as a reader for a visually-disabled woman during a jury trial. Since John Loll, Marin County A.D.A. Coordinator, sees his role as an answerer of questions and not as an advocate for the disabled, this unfortunate woman was humiliated for four days.

We sued the Marin Courts, five judges, and Mr. Lolls. The deposition of Montgomery and Lolls taken not long ago revealed the absence of any meaningful policies and procedures for the disabled. Yet, during the supes budget sessions, Montgomery and Presiding Judge Vernon Smith were applauded by Supe Kress for their fine work. Supe Moore expressed his pleasure with them too. When I asked why money for the disabled was not included in the budget for Health and Human Services, which is headed by a medical doctor, the question was ignored.

Then many of the clients of Whistlestop Wheels arrived. They filled the chambers. They had canes and wheelchairs and oxygen bottles and guide dogs. They were there to protest a possible $57,000 reduction of the annual county contribution to Whistlestop. Supette Rose quickly took a stand: The devil wants us to do it and his name is Marty Nicholson, Marin County Administrator. The IJ shouldn't have reported it, sez she. Scared ya for nothin'. Sorry 'bout dat. You needn't have come, but we're glad to see ya. Many of them spoke. Some with eloquence. They got their money. I think it was because they were there. And because they had a lot to say. It just shows that in-your-face confrontation gets the attention of the supes when voters take a stand. Then came the question about raising the charge for a ride by 20%. I quickly explained three ways in which 700,000 rides, 800,000 rides, and 1,200,000 rides could be saved by better psychological screening of Sheriff Deputies and easy reductions in animal-control costs. The response? Comments ignored.

You can't relate? All it takes is a few more years, or an accident tomorrow and you're in the disabled category. So you'd better care. And do something now to get rid of the indifferent scoundrels who we employ. It's much easier when you are healthy.